Sleeping together with newly born cats, in a pink coloured baby’s room or in a student’s party house share, there are few experiences I haven’t yet gained with Couchsurfing.
My personal story with the website started in 2012 in Rome, and this one is also one of the most marvellous memories I have. One week in Italy’s capital, in a two-room flat share with three other girls, who insisted that I had to stay in my own room – Better than any star hotel in the world. Not only that I didn’t pay a cent (Of course not – that’s how Couchsurfing works!), I also had all the extra advantages you will never receive in a hotel: You get to know the city’s true face, locals often accept the job of a personal guide and show you around or give you good hints, present you to their friends and bring you to the city’s greatest bars or parties.
As a single female traveller, it was usually quite easy for me to find a “hoster”. Until now, I have made about fourty Couchsurfing experiences, mostly as a “surfer” (that is to stay at someone’s home), but also as a hoster and a couple of times by taking part in Couchsurfing events. The obvious advantage is that you don’t pay for staying at somebody’s apartment, and you don’t even need to offer the person a “couch” in return (I put that in quotation marks because at least for me, I mostly slept in a real bed or even had my own room). Of course I would have liked to invite my hosters back, but pretty often I didn’t even have any personal “home”, but stayed with friends and family. However, I feel like giving back these wonderful moments the day I will have my own home and a bed or at least a couch for strangers. Not necessarily those that hosted me, but it works more like a chain: Just like your parents educated you, gave you love and a home, you will one day give it back to your children – it’s the same with travellers, just like a family, the “Couchsurfing family”.
Besides, as I just mentioned, you experience the real life of locals. Listening to their point of view, you can even make part of political discussions. That was the case for example in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2013, where I stayed at a couple’s apartment: During dinner with friends, they explained me how life is like during an economic crisis, how hard it was for them to find a job and how many people are disappointed about the European Union. I sometimes was even hosted by families, either with children or with parents at my age. I tasted the best local dishes, learned new recipes and usually cooked at least once for my hosters (since I don’t know many German dishes, I prefer to offer typical French “galettes” – easy to prepare, enough for everyone and adults and children love it).
Couchsurfing is also fun when you travel with friends – though it might be more difficult to find a place, depending on how many you are. But if you don’t yet have any experience with Couchsurfing and don’t feel comfortable travelling on your own, consider taking a friend. By the way, people often ask me about safety: They wonder how I can feel secure at a stranger’s home, alone as a woman, or how I can be sure that the person I host isn’t a thief or worse. Well, whatever you do in life, you can never be sure that everything works just like you imagine – and especially not during a journey. I can only confirm that never has happened anything bad or dangerous to me (the worst thing was once a hoster who didn’t appear although we had agreed that I would stay with her, so I just went to a hostel). The site ensures safety through the comments you can leave on profiles, so fake profiles probably wouldn’t last long.
Commentaries of course also are a very important part of your profile. Before their first Couchsurfing experience, many complain about the fact that they have problems finding their first hoster or couchsurfer. And that’s somehow logical – people generally trust more in Couchsurfing members who have already been “tested”. So if that’s a thing you worry about, my advice: Ask a friend who is already member to write you a comment – or go to a Couchsurfing event, talk to people and ask them to write you one, so at least your future hoster/surfer knows that you are a real existing person.
And even if you don’t need any comments: My experiences with Couchsurfing events have always been very good ones. You meet lots of interesting people from all over the world and you can speak different languages. They usually take place in bars in the evening, but sometimes you can also go to activity events, such as games evenings.
Yet I still feel obliged to mention Couchsurfing’s disadvantages or problems you may encounter. First of all, and that should go without saying, of course it’s nothing like a hotel. You cannot expect your hoster to fetch you from the airport, to get your own room or to have breakfast ready in the morning. But apparently there are people who have misunderstood the site I can tell from what I have heard from other members. They believe Couchsurfing is a way to travel for free, or even sometimes see it as a dating portal. These confusions might also come from the change from a non-profit organisation to a for-profit organisation in 2011 and are a reason for some people to prefer other, non-profit sites, such as BeWelcome or hospitality Club. There have been lots of controversies about the changing of the site to a for-profit organization and some people left it out of protest. They miss the true “Couchsurfing spirit”. Some even reproach Couchsurfing for censoring their members.
But if these are no reasons for you not to use the site, and obviously they aren’t for me either, you should however keep in mind always having a plan B. You cannot count on strangers to a hundred percent, since you did not make a “reservation” as it would be the case for a hostel or for Airbnb.
The other thing I realized while travelling on Couchsurfing is that you usually get to know less people than if you travel in hostels. Or at least, if you’re on a longer trip and would like not to continue travelling on your own, you’re more likely to find somebody in a hostel than on Couchsurfing. You can have great fun with your host/ with your surfer, but if you’re unlucky and you don’t get along so well with each other, it can also become a little annoying. That’s different to a hostel: Since there a so many people, you can just talk so someone else, you’re less dependent.
Despite those negative aspects I can only advice: You cannot judge if you don’t know! Have a try and you will see which way of travelling suits you!