I’ve been couchsurfing for nearly ten years now…
I’ve surfed over a hundred times and hosted travelers from around the world on about thirty occasions. For many years, Couchsurfing was pretty much my entire social life – I was a Couchsurfing convert…
You don’t need money to travel. You may have hardly a penny to your name and yet the world is yours. As long as you are happy to roll with the punches, to stick out your thumb and to meet new people; it’s always possible to travel the world!
Sure, it helps to have some cash in your pocket for food and lynx but, at the end of the day, travelling can be a lot cheaper than simply hanging out in your hometown.
Allow me to explain…
It may not always be easy or comfortable but travelling when you’re broke can be the best and most rewarding form of travelling that there is.
I did it for a long time, the clue is in the name of the blog…
Let’s start with hitchhiking. This is clearly the most cost effective way to move around that there is, you simply wait by the roadside to find somebody headed the same way as you and you share the ride and, hopefully, some good conversation. Makes perfect sense right?
Thumbing lifts has been with us as long as there has been transport to thumb down and hands to thumb them with. Free dig’s on the other hand, were always traditionally much harder to come by and in the old days were pretty rare occurrences that usually happened only by pure luck. Accommodation, therefore, remained the biggest cost the traveller had to bear, although I usually travel with a tent and the single greatest prohibiter to a life of continued travel.
Nowadays though, we have Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing has changed the world… the site is essentially a giant hospitality website where you can find people to crash with or to simply hang out with.
Couchsurfing allows travellers to find hosts and hosts to find travellers. The ethos is simply that members host people because they like meeting travellers and because they know that someday, somewhere, someone will return the karma and let them flop on their couch.
The internet solves all…
Since its meteoric rise to global dominance the internet has in so many ways reduced human interaction. People can now work or study online without ever meeting their peers and a precursory glance across the tables of any coffee lounge in the world will demonstrate that even supposed friends often seemingly prefer to stare into a smartphone rather than engage with the people they are sat with.
On the flip side though the internet has also brought people together like never before. Dating sites have made countless love matches and spawned entire generations of kids, online fan forums are great places to find and meet people with the same passions as you and international friendships are formed through gamers playing World of Warcraft online together (although really these dudes should just hit the road).
Websites like Couchsurfing are now bringing travellers together. Rather than having to knock on every single door in Tokyo and ask “Hey do you like meeting travellers and happen to have a spare couch I can use tonight!?” (I once tried it, it took hours…) all you now need to do is simply upload your profile, say where you are going, reach out to some friendly looking individuals and wait for even more hosts to contact you; often, I’ll be inundated with requests from people who want me to come stay with them.
Couchsurfing can even effectively halve the costs of your trip and it has certainly allowed me to travel for far longer than I would otherwise have been able to. It was a crucial crux when I travelled around India for 18 months on a budget of about $5 a day.
Couchsurfing is a great way to save money but this isn’t really what it’s all about; instead, it’s about landing on your feet with a social life. You are staying with locals who know all of the best places and most fun things to do, you are shown sides of a city that you could spend weeks, months or even years failing to discover. When I got to Caracas, for example, my host took me on a motorbike tour of the city, took me to an acting class in a leafy suburb and also showed me where I could get delicious seafood arepas for less than 50 cents… Having a local in your corner, somebody to make friends with and to show you the hidden gems of a city is the real value of Couchsurfing; it’s an exchange of ideas and cultures. If you’re hitting the road on a budget (and if you’re on this site, chances are you are!) and plan on staying in one place for a while, getting a housesitting job can be a great way to stretch your savings.
Make new amigos!
By far though, the very best thing about Couchsurfing is that you can also make some amazing friends. Because you and your host can check each other’s profiles out you can find people with similar interests as you (travel of course been the obvious one…) so you are pretty likely to hit it off from the outset. Then you also get to meet their friends too and before you know it you have a whole entire gang of Couchsurfing friends.
When I first visited Bangkok my host took me straight out on the town for a whirlwind party tour which left my head spinning for days! Through Couchsurfing, I also got to stay in a cave with a Bedouin Rasta in the ancient city of Petra and in a hospital with an Indian brain surgeon. These are all amazing experiences that money just cannot buy! All of these kind hospitable people are now friends for life.
The good people at Couchsurfing have now honed in on the social and friend making aspects of Couchsurfing and unleashed a brand new feature, Hangouts. Allows you to find and meet with other nearby Couchsurfers so that you can arrange to meet up, go a beer or check out the city without actually staying with them. This means that you can meet and befriend even more cool Couchsurfers than ever before! You can sign up to Hangouts by clicking right here.
Remember, in life, you can never make too many friends and you can never do too much travelling. Couch surfing helps you to do both. That’s why it may just be the single greatest thing that ever happened to travel (at least since the invention of the wheel anyway).