Many people I have uttered the words “Couch Surfing” to in conversation have looked at me like I said “shooting up heroin” and exclaimed,
Couch Surfing? Is that safe?!”
Justifiably, so. At first glance, the concept of using Couchsurfing.com is absurd; why would someone want to invite a stranger from the other side of the world for a sleepover at their house, expecting nothing in return?
I don’t know about you, but any discussion of safety always brings to my mind the questions; Is anything safe? Is crossing the street safe?
I’d like to announce to the community once and for all, that yes, Couch Surfing is not only safe, but super awesome; and I’d bet you a trip around the world that it’s significantly more safe (and more awesome) than crossing the street.
Profiles and References
Couchsurfing.com uses a system of detailed profiles and references. When you’re browsing for a host, you can tell which one’s you’d comfortable safe and happy with by reading about them. You’ll find a range of detail on profiles from cryptic pages with a photo and not much else, to intricate life stories that read like novels. If it’s your first time surfing, you’ll probably be most comfortable staying with someone with a detailed profile and a lot of references.
Surfers leave a reference rating of “Positive,” “Neutral,” or “Negative,” and write comments about their host. In my experience, 90% of people on Couchsurfing.com are awesome and have the feedback to prove it. The other 10% have some negative feedback that help us make an informed decision to stay with them or not.
Of course there is always a chance that we wont feel comfortable or “click” with a host, even if they have pages of positive feedback. I stayed with one guy whose page read like he was the Dalai Lama; but it turned out he wasn’t the right fit for me. It’s important not to have too many expectations and keep an open mind. Remember, being an amazingly adventurous traveler is about taking risks.
Note to women: If you feel safer surfing with a woman for the first time, by all means, do so. It’s hard for me to believe now that I was brave enough to stay with a man on my first couch surf (and it was my first night of traveling alone, ever).
Connecting with Locals
Couch Surfing is not just about a free place to stay. It’s about making a friendship with a local and exchanging knowledge. When we stay with locals, we learn about the area and culture more than we would otherwise. Our new friends might warn us against common scams, tell us neighborhoods to avoid, or inform us of cultural behaviors that help us stay out of trouble. You might find this knowledge in a book or elsewhere, but connecting with locals opens it for discussion.
Couch Surfing invites us to experience what I like to call “idioculture,” (the culture of an individual) in addition to learning the local culture. If you read profiles thoroughly and choose carefully, you’ll meet some exceptional people who may teach you profound lessons.
When I couch surf, I consciously search for hosts that share similar interests to me and who I think would be fun to hang out with. With each guest I’ve had unique, memorable experiences. In Australia, one person invited me to create an ashram with him. I convinced another that we should use his loose change to buy fifty McDonalds soft serves and hand them out to strangers. In Thailand, one of my hosts invited me to dinner at his parent’s; I got to spend time with a real Thai family. Another one hosted me at his Ecolodge bungalows in the mountains and took me trekking.
I also noticed that the more I used Couchsurfing.com, the more I found myself in “couch surfing” situations, detached from the website. Once the universe knew I was open to the concept of staying with new friends, I began meeting locals everywhere and receiving invitations from them. Though I traveled alone, everywhere I went, I felt a sense of community.
It’s About Exchange
It’s debatable whether people ever do anything completely selflessly (maybe monks do?). I think most people offering a couch on Couchsurfing.com have some intention to eventually surf themselves, perhaps with the people they choose to host. That’s why they’re offering, not because they want to murder you in your sleep.
Even if it’s not a literal exchange, it’s a karmic one. People open their hearts and offer kindness to strangers because they’d like others to do the same for them. Knowing this makes me feel safe using Couchsurfing.com. Does it make you feel better about it?
Couch Surfing is Radical
I want to live in a world where people trust each other and want to connect with new people from different cultures. Don’t you?
I think Couch Surfing is a progressive reform for society and people who use it are amazingly adventurous social activists. Do you?
Share your opinion and your personal experiences with Couch Surfing!