If you’re in a college or a school, you might have stayed with your friends from high school in their college towns, or perhaps visited a friend from college who departed for a job or graduate program in another city. Despite lacking some of the comforts that come with having your own space in a hotel, the experience has always been fun and you didn’t have to spend a lot of money to see a new place. With CouchSurfing.net, a relatively new phenomenon utilizing online social networking to connect fellow travelers, you can make new friends throughout the world, surfing from couch to couch as you explore new places and cultures. Conceived by a former American college student who wanted to lower the cost of his trip to Iceland, the site was founded in 2003 and has grown rapidly over the last few years, attracting 2.5 million users. Searching for a new adventure this summer? Want to host someone else’s new adventure? Consider the following 10 reasons to couchsurf — you could be in for an experience of a lifetime.
- It’s free: CouchSurfing.net is a nonprofit organization funded by donations from its members. All commercial activity is forbidden from the site, which is entirely free to use. Hosts who attempt to charge couchsurfers essentially break the site’s moral code and are therefore removed.
Of course, nightly hotel payments can put a large dent in your budget, and for some prospective travelers, they can be the difference between going and not going. The site was created to make such trips possible for young people who otherwise couldn’t afford them.
- You choose the host: Profiles enable members to share their personalities, pictures and accommodations. The more information that’s provided, the more likely you are to find the right match. It’s not completely random like a hostel, and you won’t have to deal with the surprises that come with staying with a dozen random people. Ideally, you’ll find someone with similar interests as you — that way, you’re more likely to bond with them and have a more enjoyable experience as a result. When traveling, the social connections you make with new people from different cultures is half the fun.
- A good host is your best asset during your travels: If you’re traveling somewhere with which you’re unfamiliar, a good host can act as somewhat of a tour guide, informing you of the must-see sites and events. What food should you eat and where should you eat it? Which places are too touristy? Where are the best places to meet members of the opposite sex? Any possible dangers that should be avoided? You can’t beat the insight provided by someone who actually lives there.
- You choose whom you host: It works both ways. If you feel a prospective couchsurfer isn’t a good match and would ultimately be an inconvenience, you don’t have to accept them as guests. You also shouldn’t feel obligated to host someone when you’re otherwise busy and they would become a distraction. Hosting is an undertaking in itself — almost as much time and care should be put into it as when you’re traveling. There’s an unmistakable sense of satisfaction that results from inspiring an experience a fellow couchsurfer will always remember.
- Most couchsurfers are young people: According to the site’s statistics, 1,022,273 (38 percent) of its members are 18 to 24 years old, 867,097 (32.2 percent) are 25 to 29 years old and 396,230 (14.7 percent) are 30 to 34 years old. Couchsurfing is an activity for young people who want to explore and have fun. In all likelihood, you wouldn’t find and enjoy the best bars in Paris without a companion with similar social habits.
- The most desirable cities have the most couchsurfers: Couchsurfing wouldn’t be as appealing if most of its member were located in undesirable cities. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. The top couchsurfing cities — meaning those in which the most members live — include Paris, London, Berlin, Istanbul, Montreal, Vienna, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, New York and Barcelona. Been there, done that? Overall, members can be found in 230 countries and territories and more than 67,000 cities. You’re certain to find a host in a place you’ve never seen.
- It’s a community: Admittedly, couchsurfing isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain personality to thoroughly enjoy it and sometimes even tolerate it. But once you really get into it, you’ll discover it’s an authentic community with local meet-up groups and events. You can search for them on the events forum, where you’re bound to find something in your city.
- It’s an easy way to make new friends: The goodbyes you exchange with your host on the day you depart don’t have to be final. If you’ve bonded with them, invite them to stay with you at a mutually convenient time, or perhaps they’ll invite you for a return trip. The most remarkable aspect of CouchSurging.net is that members have the ability to cultivate worldwide networks of friends. If you really adore your friends in Berlin, for example, the city could become your home away from home, and a foreign haven from the mundane existence to which you’ve become accustomed at home.
- Your security is valued: You may have reservations about participating in such a community, and for good reason. Most people don’t trust their neighbors, let alone someone from halfway around the world. The founders of the site know this, and have implemented methods to secure members’ trust. Each profile allows personal references from couchsurfers who’ve stayed with that person and enjoyed their experience. Additionally, an optional credit card verification system ensures a member’s name and address are valid, and a vouching system highlights the community’s most trusted members.