Couch surfing - a new wave of travel

Why sofa surfing trumps hotels

by
Hannah Bryan

Couch surfing - a new wave of travel

Imagine you’re on a blind date, except this time your ‘date’ has brought their sleeping bag and toothbrush with them. Don’t worry though, this isn’t an advert for a new dating site, this is couchsurfing.
With less in our wallets today, the savvy backpacker needs to be more resourceful now than ever before. That’s where the worldwide phenomenon of couchsurfing comes in. A free way to see the world, it has introduced a new wave of travel in to the industry.  Yes, you read it right, it’s completely free!  The lack of cost is just one of the reasons why the number of couchsurfers has increased over the past year and now has an astounding four million users, with that number set to quadruple over the following years. Keeping it simple, the name says it all, you move from sofa to sofa staying at people’s houses. 

So how does it actually work?
Like a blind date you’ve checked out each other’s profiles on the couchsurfing website (www.couchsurfing.org) but instead of those first date butterflies, you’re gaining an insight in to another culture far beyond what a guide book can offer you.
Once you’ve created your profile, stating where you want to go, the languages you speak, and where you’ve travelled to before, you have two options; surfing, or hosting. If you’re suffering from the travelling bug, hosting a couchsurfer will keep it at bay. It allows you to immerse yourself in another culture and teach others about your own without even leaving the country. Whether you’ve got a fully equipped spare room complete with en-suite or just a sofa in the lounge, it doesn’t matter; you just have to be welcoming and enthusiastic about meeting new people and sharing experiences. 

Is it safe?
From the very beginning there’s a huge degree of trust; you’re relying totally on a stranger to open their home to you and they are trusting you, as a stranger in their home. Members on the site are encouraged to leave detailed references of their experiences and can rate people as positive, negative or neutral. The site also offers optional verification of name and address for a small fee which then displays an icon on your profile showing users that you have been verified. 

Why do it?
As well as saving money on accommodation, you’ll also have the invaluable privilege of knowing an ‘insider’ to the city you’re staying in. Hosts will be able to take you to places the guidebook can’t; those little hidden coffee shops, restaurants and bars and the hidden gems of the city the tourism industry is yet to discover. Not only are they often the best experiences, but you won’t feel like such a tourist either. 

“It feels like the whole world is your family.”
Jana, 23, from Latvia is an experienced couchsurfer and I caught up with her whilst she was couchsurfing in Sheffield. She started using the website five years ago and has since travelled to Estonia, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovakia, England and Germany.
She said: “It feels like the whole world is your family! From the moment they trust you with their full address, make you a meal, lend you their best pillow, to trusting you with their key, it really is amazing.”
Jana has never had a bad experience couchsurfing either, she said: “You always have a choice to say no, so make a plan B and find two people that can host you.” 

Tips on how to stay safe
Like any area of travel, there are aspects which aren't safe and could put you in danger. To avoid getting in to dangerous situations always make sure you give someone the name, address and contact details of where you are staying. Make alternative arrangements as well so that if you do feel unsafe or uncomfortable in someones house you have somewhere else to go. Travelling in a pair or a small group offers added safety as well and can make the whole experience much less daunting.