Two backpackers have just traveled 18 hours by train after camping for 3 days in the desert and they are heading towards your home. They most likely have been wearing the same clothes for multiple days, inevitably sweaty and smelly. Who knows what junk they are carrying with them, backpackers have a reputation as vagabonds.
This traveling couple reached out a few days ago asking if they can stay in your home for a few nights, for free. You’ve never met them, have no friends in common, and can only make your decision to accept or reject based on reviews given to them by random people who possibly don’t even exist!
Do you trust these dirty, stinky, backpacking strangers to stay in your home, with all your valuables, family, and invading your personal space? And let’s say you are crazy enough to say yes…why do you do it?
Desert sleeping in Jaisalmer, India
There is a tiny amount of exceptional people all over the world who are willing to open their homes to complete strangers! No second intentions or ulterior motives; they are known as Couchsurfing hosts, and the ones we met were remarkable people.
Couchsurfing is this incredible community that connects travelers all over the world. While on the surface it may seem like just a free way to crash for the night, at the core, it’s truly a platform to form a connection between travelers and locals everywhere they go.
With Pieri, our unofficial Couchsurfing host in Nuremberg
On our trip, we were the strangers. We were the smelly travelers who ‘surfed’ (lived) with 19 of these wonderful people; in almost every country we visited.
Surfing is not “staying” because staying implies that your host just gives you a bed. Surfing is about immersing yourself in the life of your host, or at least as much as he or she allows. It may sound cliche, but this is what brings about a different type of magic to the whole experience of traveling. It is what provides glimpses into worlds that are highly different in many ways and similar in others.
How does Couchsurfing work?
First, you create a profile. It is important to put some thought into your Couchsurfing profile because it’s the only thing your potential host has to learn about you when considering accepting you. It is not required that you host someone in exchange of being hosted but it is what keeps the community thriving. Do not sign up for Couchsurfing if you are just looking for a free place to sleep, you will not find anyone to host you.
Couchsurfing does not have to mean hosting someone at your place either. You use the platform to meet locals for happy hour, a tour of their favorite spots in a city, or just get tips from a local. Many people use it to make new friends in their own cities.
Saad, our host in Mumbai, is a fanatical rock climber like Andres and made sure to take us climbing outside the busy city
Why do people host Couchsurfers?
I think people open up their homes because they like to be connected to the traveler energy, even if they are not themselves in a position to travel. No second intentions or ulterior motives, simply because they are curious, a little crazy, and incredibly kind. We had people host us because they wanted to practice English, have political discussions, hear our travel stories, or because they thought we were from Hollywood, CA instead of FL!
Andres and his roommates once hosted a Couchsurfer back when they were in college, and the girl was strange, to say the least, to the point that it got uncomfortable. I can’t promise every Couchsurfing opportunity will be great, but that’s part of the thrill that only travel can give you!
I have never hosted anyone but that will change once we are back in our apartment. We can’t wait to pay it forward to all the travelers that opened up their homes to us.
The English students we got to meet through our Couchsurfing host, Noushad
Do you pay for Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is completely free. There are never expectations of money and if you feel you are being wronged, the person should be reported.
Because this is an exchange, there are different ways you can show gratitude to your host! Many times we would cook them a delicious meal as a thank you. Hosts are used to receiving these types of gifts but never expect them. If you are more creative you can leave something artsy, a book, or whatever comes to mind! Again not required, just nice to say thank you in your own way.
Is Couchsurfing safe? Would I Couchsurf alone as a woman?
Before our trip, I would have said no, because as women we always have to be extra careful about the situations we put ourselves in. But after getting to know every single person that hosted us, I would feel extremely comfortable being there without Andres. We met many brave solo lady travelers who had both good and negative Couchsurfing experiences. The important thing is to read the reviews from other backpackers carefully and use your best judgment!
“Showers” in the river behind the house of our first Couchsurfing host of the trip, Ruchira, in Tissa, Sri Lanka
Worst Couchsurfing experience:
There will always be icky situations you find yourself in. One of our hosts had a house filled with rats and another didn’t believe the Holocaust had occurred. Another one, despite giving us our own bedroom, just wasn’t a friendly person so we decided to go to a hostel instead. But never did those challenging moments deter us from Couchsurfing again.
Best Couchsurfing experience:
Meeting Saad in Mumbai and Danny in Berlin. They both went above and beyond to show us everything the city had to offer and truly make us feel at home. Wow, I get the chills every time I think of these 2 amazing souls!
Thank you to all of you!!
If you have any questions about Couchsurfing, leave a comment below or send us an email. We’re happy to help 🙂
Couchsurfing Around The World:
1. Ruchira, safari tour guide in Yara, and our first host of the trip!
2. Siva was a med student in Jaffna. We had dinner and walked around the city together.
3. Buddhi hosted us on our last night in Colombo before we flew out to India.
4. Noushad is the manager and primary English teacher at Brit Fort English School. He hosted us at his school where we got to teach for a few days, live with the students, and help them with their English.
5. Saad in Mumbai. This guy is the definition of Couchsurfing.
6. We never met our host in Jaisalmer but he owns a hotel, and he gave us a room. For free! He was busy at the time so we couldn’t hang out.
7. Manish is an ophthalmologist in New Delhi. Unfortunately, can’t find a picture with him but this was his twin bed that he let us take over while he slept in the living room!
8. Ipak in Kathmandu, Nepal. We ended up leaving his place early (no pictures)
9. Jenny took us for a beautiful day hike in Kuala Lumpur
10. Ferry hosted us above his delicious bakery in Medan. Ever wake up in a bakery to the smell of pastries in the oven?
11. We got to crash in the mock airplane in Than’s Hanoi restaurant with a bunch of other Couchsurfers.
12. Tuan & Winni and family hosted us in Ho Chi Minh City, and we got a chance to listen to their cousin playing live at a bar!
13. What a sweet guy. Yuuki is a college student in Sapporo and hosted us in his tiny dorm
14. Roman & Mika let us stay in a traditional tatami room in Furano, Japan.
15. Fred is from the Philippines and finishing his PHD on Seaweed, hosted us in Sapporo, Japan (no picture)
16. Jonson traveled around China for 2 years on his bicycle and now hosts people from all over the world in Guangzhou. He asks every surfer to pay him by writing a travel story in the notebook he keeps in his coffee table.
17. Lars made us the best breakfasts in Munich!
18. It was cold in Berlin but Danny definitely made us feel at home in his amazing apartment. Had fun joining him for the Berlin Couchsurfing weekly meetup.
19. Leandro owns a little shop outside of Mendoza, Argentina and made sure we had an awesome time in his city. He had a Couchsurfer from Nepal at his place, who was actually a Sherpa! and we all went hiking! Have you ever hiked with a Sherpa somewhere other than Nepal?
20. Eduardo is an Aikido Sensei and hosted us last minute. He even invited us to try his class while we stayed in Corrientes, Argentina.
21. We spent Christmas with Juan Pablo, a Puma Veterinarian in Iguazu
Honorary Couchsurfing hosts *Not on Couchsurfing but still hosted us 🙂
- Puchita/Grinspans, Israel
- Pieri, Nuremberg, Germany
- Los Gas, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Los Gas, Tigre, Argentina
- Ariana, Bogota, Colombia
- Estela/Gregorio, Caracas, Venezuela