Couch Surfing…It’s the latest craze, and the promise of traveling the world for very little money is appealing to all. Accommodation is a huge expense on any trip and unless you have family or friends to stay with, you will undoubtedly be spending a small fortune on a bed for the night. Couch surfing is an online community linking travelers with people willing to take them into their home for free in exchange for company, language help and the promise of cultural enlightenment with a new friend.
The program is not without problems and here we will examine the pros and cons of being a guest and a host, and you can see for yourself if the Couch Surfing community is really something you would like to be involved in.
Being A Host
- Meeting new people. I think this is the number one reason why anyone would open up their home to a stranger.
- If you can’t afford to travel or don’t have the time, hosting international guests is the next best way to get a cultural experience.
- Patriotism. Some people are proud of their heritage and want to show their country off to the world.
- Being a nice person. Knowing how expensive travel is and trying to pay it forward.
- Having strangers in your home is a HUGE risk.
- It’s not free for hosts. Guests use electricity, water, do laundry and then you have to figure out the food situation.
- It’s a huge time expense. Most people expect you to spend time with them and show them around.
- They are using your house and belongings and damage does occur.
- There have been a few reported incidences of theft.
- Some guests have no intention or interacting and have even invited other people back to the hosts home.
Being A Guest
- A free place to crash! what could be better?
- Meeting new people and making new friends.
- Free tour guide and first hand knowledge of the city and culture.
- If you are lucky your host might offer free dinner or breakfast.
- Language help if you are into learning the hosts language.
- Invitation to local festivals/weddings/family functions etc.
- Safety. This has been a huge concern since the beginning and rapes and assaults do happen.
- Unmet expectations. There are a lot of people on CS that use it for the explicit purpose of a free hook up.
- People are unreliable, they cancel last minute and you must have a back up host or plan.
- popular cities such as Paris and NYC are extremely hard to find a host in.
- Discrimination, women are chosen over men by hosts of both genders.
- What people offer might not necessarily be what you get when you arrive. (i.e people lying about sleeping arrangements).
- You are in somebody else’s house and must follow their rules.
- You might be asked to help out with household chores or pay for things that were not originally agreed upon.
Tips, Observations and Concerns:
- At the time I’m writing this there is no host or guest verification processes. Yes you can get ‘verified’ by the Couch Surfing site, but this is just a way for CS to make $20. In the past week I have opened 5 profiles in 5 major cities and have been inundated with requests to host and come and stay as a guest with no verification and nobody knowing if I was even a real person or not. This is extremely scary and my advice to that is, do as much research as you can about people before agreeing to meet. Reviews can also be fabricated by friends and family, so don’t base your opinions solely on those.
- You might not be the only one they are hosting at that time. You might be in a house with 3 other couch surfers. I must be getting old, but to me that’s just weird. May as well go stay in a hostel if that’s your thing.
- I hate to be judgmental, but I really worry about the mental sanity of people who have tons of references and make CS into a permanent lifestyle. What’s their motive for doing all this for free? Are they so lonely that they need to open their house to complete strangers and act like a taxi driver/tour guide? no disrespect, but it just seems like really odd behavior.
- Unfortunately a lot of men use Couch Surfing as a way to get free sex. They prey upon the vulnerability of women being in a strange country in a strange house and use that for their own sexual gratification. Don’t believe me? check this opportunist out then: How to seduce naughty couch surfing girls.
- For the aforementioned reasons, if you are a single man with no verification or references, you will have a really hard time finding a host. Men usually prefer women for the possibility of a ‘hook up’, and the women will choose other women for security and safety reasons. I’m not sure what the gay/lesbian scene is like on CS, but I’m sure it’s the same across the board.
- Crime is real my friends. There have been countless reports of rape, stabbing, assault, theft etc resulting from CouchSurfing. People are under the misguided assumption that because CS is a legit website, and these people who join have agreed to abide by the terms of service, that it’s safe and it’s just not. If fact it’s the perfect breeding ground for problems. Strangers + vulnerability + unmet expectations + the possibility of alcohol = absolute disaster. Now I’m not saying everyone is like this. There have been countless wonderful examples of human kindness and generosity, but your safety should be your number one concern.
- Don’t expect reciprocity. Just because you host someone doesn’t mean you will be hosted back someday. A lot of these travelers live in remote areas of the world, live with family and/or simply are not interested in hosting for whatever reason. If you agree to host, take it for what it is, and don’t expect a new best friend, a place to stay or even to stay in touch. Some do and some don’t.
- Be wary of scams! Six times now I have been asked to buy expensive electronics (laptops, GoPros, PS4’s etc.), and told I would receive payment as soon as I arrive. Really? Ummm NO.
- Expectations. Nothing is free in this world right? and this goes for CouchSurfing. You will often be expected to help out with household chores, provide food/drinks, give language help or whatever it may be. Now this might be perfectly fine for some people, but if you really can’t be bothered, your better off paying the $50 and staying in a hotel.
- Along with worrying about the motive of some of the hosts, I seriously wonder about the motive of some of the guests. I’ve received requests from people offering to buy me dinner and drinks in exchange for crashing on my couch. Now I’m no math expert, but if they can afford to buy me a $50 dinner they can afford a hotel.
- On a positive note, If you use CS as a place for just hanging out and meeting locals it’s fantastic! Chances are these people have experience with foreign guests and cultures, know where all the good tourists spots are and the best places to eat. That kind of knowledge is invaluable and it’s free! Make use of it and meet up with locals wherever you go.
- Host availability is solely dependent on location. You might have a real hard time finding a place in Paris or New York City, and no trouble at all in countries that have been a little bit cut off from the tourist track as of late, such as Iran, Egypt and Turkey. Most of these people are longing for tourists and interaction from foreigners.
- Before traveling, look at the Couch Surfing community at the place you are going. CS is totally accepted in America and Europe, but some countries, especially in the middle East and Asia, operate on a whole different dynamic. Some Arabic cultures don’t allow outside guests in their homes and having an unmarried/unrelated male or female in your house is totally forbidden. To some people, a person who travels alone and is unmarried is seen as loose or slutty. Also remember that some cultures haven’t caught up with the women’s liberation movement and by accepting an invitation to stay. you just might be getting more than you bargained for!
- Before agreeing to stay with someone, you really need to sit down with them and come up with a plan. Some hosts will expect you to be with them 24/7, and others will hand you the keys and walk away. You really need to be on the same page as far as what’s expected or it can cause a lot of animosity and unmet expectations. Communication is king. Let people know of your plans and find someone who is on the same page.
- Some people are just unreliable and don’t care about anyone else’s situation. They will cancel the day you arrive, leave you standed at the airport or train station, come up with a million excuses for their behavior and there is nothing you can do about it. You are not paying for a room and there is no contract or obligation to carry out the intended agreement. If you are like me and expect to have an itinerary and a place to stay when you arrive, have a plan B. Urgh! Being stuck in a foreign country with nobody you know and nowhere to stay makes me want to cringe!
So this has been my experience with couch Surfing so far. A good option for some, a not so good option for others. I would love to hear your experiences and if I have left any points out, please feel free to add them below. 🙂