Today I want to tell you what CouchSurfing is. Travelling is a way of life, an impulse from which one cannot escape, a search, a chimera. With the right mood, the traveller falls in love, gets intoxicated by the adrenaline that the journey itself releases.
With your backpack on your shoulders, the world is not a monstrous and frightening place, but an immense playground that hides great lessons in life. Travelling is the best way to know and learn: languages, cultures, religions, habits. And who better than a local person can teach the hidden secrets of our travel destination? That’s why those who love to travel will love CouchSurfing.
What is CouchSurfing
Couch Surfing literally means “surfing on sofas” and this already says it all: just as a surfer rides the wave for a few seconds, the couchsurfer “rides” the sofa for a handful of nights. In slang, the host is called “host” while the host is called “surfer”. Launched in 2004, the couchsurfing.org application collected an incredibly high number of followers, growing exponentially to 15,000,000 surfers in January 2018.
Couchsurfing how it works
Couch Surfing is ideal for those who travel alone, and for those who, like me, change residence very often. It is a site that allows you to make friends easily and find people with very similar interests. For example, not to generalise, but being on CouchSurfing already gives you an idea of the person: generally a very resilient and strong-minded person, probably a serial traveller, a fierce adventurer strictly without a lira.
And if you are interested in other “tricks” to travel low-cost here are some tips not to be underestimated: Flying low cost ;-)
What may seem at first glance only a platform is actually much more: it is a way of life.
Once you enter the loop, it will be impossible to escape and with each new trip you will want to discover the city in the company of a local. This is the added value of Coachsurfing: to detach yourself from the pre-established route for tourists and look at the city from a different lens: that of those who live there and know its most hidden mysteries. Your host will surely have a thousand stories to tell, a thousand anecdotes and a thousand tips and recommendations on what should and should NOT be done in the city.
Often, when I move to a new city, I stay the first few days at a host’s house and through Couch Surfing I have created deep ties and friendships. When I moved to Paris in 2013, I remember that an Algerian boy hosted me in the Parisian banlieue of Choisy-Le-Roi, his Mexican roommate used to party after party! Instead, here in Brussels I had such a good time with my host that we met almost every week for dinner or to go to the Sunday fruit market. And very often the surfers he is hosting at that time are also on our Brussels tours. For example, a few weeks ago we took two Argentinean body painters who, accompanied by their younger brother, competed worldwide in body painting. Take a look at their masterpieces on Instagram, you will find them under the pseudonym Twinsfrombeyond. With their brushes, bodies come to life and come alive!
Sleeping for free: commonplace or lifestyle?
One of the most common misconceptions of the community is to have a free bed, then to sign up, to ask for hospitality, just to stay at lookout. Clearly, the concept of “free” is tempting and appeals to even the most fearful, but remember that this is not the purpose. Common sense, in fact, says that one does not take advantage of the hospitality of the Good Samaritan. To show gratitude, a plate of pasta, a kebab, a beer or a coffee, a box of biscuits, which I know, something handmade, even the simplest of gestures will surely be appreciated!
At the end of the day, to say that only those who travel physically would be limiting: the hosts see the world go through the living room and just like the surfers, everyone learns and teaches at the same time. In this way, CouchSurfing is a two-way street, a mutual exchange of teachings. From each surfer there is something to learn: language, culture, customs and habits to name a few.
What to do and what NOT to do
- Take care of your CouchSurfing profile – try to personalise it with photos, funny anecdotes and more. Equally important: when you send an accommodation request, try to make it suitable for the host, enter a witty comment and maybe something you have in common. For example, rather than writing “hi, I’m coming to XYZ on Wednesday, can you host me? It is better to write “Hi, I saw that you both like reggae and Nepalese cuisine, and that we both visited Morocco, would you like to have a chat over a mint tea? The second message is undoubtedly more appropriate because it shows that you have read the host’s profile and that your interest in getting to know him is not limited to a free cot.
- Sharing: as already mentioned, low-cost travel is all about sharing and learning, a meeting point for two or more cultures. That’s why, if you surf, I suggest you give something of your own. Typical cooking lessons are very popular: hosts love to taste new dishes and new recipes, and surfers are usually enthusiastic about sharing! I, for example, specialise in spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese omelettes! Maybe the omelette is not representative of Italian culture but hey, it’s hard to go wrong so: maximum result with minimum effort. A pearl: use a croissant as a sandwich, open it and put inside the omelette, the combination sweet + savoury will make the taste buds of the diners jump out at you. Add spices to taste, bacon and/or ham for non-veg. Just as everyone likes to eat, everyone likes music! The dance may already be too personal, but trying doesn’t hurt!
- Safety first. Although CouchSurfing has a toll-free number and a call centre that is always active, it is better to prevent than cure, as the British say “better safe than sorry”.
The world is a magnificent place, but it’s also varied, and alas, not everyone always means well. While on the one hand couch surfing teaches you to trust the other, to get out of your comfort zone and test yourself with a different culture and language, studying its aspects from a different perspective; on the other hand you expose yourself to a giant risk. Nothing will ever happen, but it is good to be aware of it.
Two tips: as soon as I get to the host’s house I send the location to a friend (and co-founder of this blog) so, in case something goes wrong, he knows where to start the search! (the myriad of horror movies I’ve seen have ended up conditioning me) Second tip: if you have a bad feeling or don’t feel safe leave, trust what your stomach tells you.
- Keep away from uncomfortable topics. Politics, religion, and ethical issues in general may warm the hearts too much. I remember a guy who, in order to come out of an embarrassing silence, started with “so in Poland abortion is always illegal, eh” this apparently innocent comment opened a furious debate that saw two factions lined up, on one side me and a Bulgarian pro-choice, on the other two Polish anti-abortionists. Not knowing who is in front of you is perhaps better to keep to more neutral arguments, so there is no risk of shouting and screaming in the middle of the room…
- CouchSurfing is NOT a site to stay for free, the host is not the cleaner and his home is not a hotel. Respect comes first. Remember that to allow you to visit the low cost city he has given you the keys to the house, putting his home and his personal belongings at risk. You are not the only ones at risk: even the host puts himself or herself at risk in equal measure. Be kind, friendly and grateful.
- Adapt to your host’s needs – if he gets up early because he has to go to work, avoid making noise at night. If he works from home, be aware that it would be better to avoid showering singing or cooking in your underwear.
- Be clean and tidy – look for a corner and leave your things there, avoid scattering them around the room, your host is not interested in your socks.
- Respect the rules of the house: can you use the kitchen or the computer in the living room? The washing machine? Put food in the fridge? Pay attention to the cultural and religious needs of the host, he might be Muslim and not eat pork or Jew and eat kosher. Do not be afraid and ask what he prefers to eat or drink, he will be happy to tell you about it!
- CouchSurfing is NOT Tinder: if you want to tow, download Tinder.
How does it work?
The site is easy to use. What you see is my profile: my photo from when I was in Morocco, feedback received, a small photo gallery and some friends I met on the street. The central table gives some general information, like how long I am registered, the languages I speak or would like to learn… who I am, where I go, what I am looking for, the philosophy of life and many other things. At the moment I live in a room seven steps x three (new unit of measurement) so I can’t host, that’s why my green status at the top says “wants to meet up”: I can’t host but welcome a coffee!
How to search for a host
Once we have created the profile, we are ready to surf! Just enter in the search bar where you want to go and voilà! The available host profiles will appear in front of us. You can filter the profiles according to age, gender, characteristics, languages spoken etc. All this so that you can share quality time with a person with similar characteristics to ours. For example, I like art and nature when I travel looking for someone with the same interests as me!
What are we doing tonight?
CouchSurfing also answers this question! Suppose we’re in San Francisco and we don’t know what to do or where to go, we can go and have a peek at the events proposed by CouchSurfing members and, if something attracts attention, join them.
Those who surf sofas have a thousand stories to tell, each trip a different story, a piece of life that sticks to you and accompanies you on your next trip, to the next sofa. CouchSurfing is not just a free place to sleep: it’s a hug along the way!
The Italian couchsurfing community is also growing every year, especially among young people who want to visit the world on low budgets and couchsurfing is possible!
So… are you ready for a new journey? Discover CouchSurfing!