Couchsurfing Around The World

Couchsurfing: The Budget Backpacker's Secret Weapon

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… 

Thumbs Up.

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. 

Couchsurfing in India

Me and my host at an Indian wedding.

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.

Couchsurfing in Jordan

Ghassab my host with Ed, my amigo, in Jordan

Hangouts

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).

Couchsurfing in cave in Jordan

Cavesurfing in Jordon.

7 Comments

  • Andrew says:

    How do you get around hitch hiking. I have hitch hiked in China and the people wanted me to pay them 100 rmb a ride of about 20 km. I am going couchsurfing in phillipines and Indonesia. I did it in India in manali and dharamsala. I feel it is safer than staying in a hostel. In Thailand I got raided for 500 dollars in rmb from Brazilian backpackers. The hostel ended up not being a good deal after all.

    • Will Hatton says:

      I normally just work out how to say ‘I don’t have any money’ in the local language; it’s true that some people will try to charge you but just politely wave them on till you find someone who can give you a ride for free 🙂

  • Your article was a good read, Will! When it comes to Couchsurfing, you may be interested in reading my latest article regarding this topic: http://etramping.com/couchsurfing-or-sexsurfing-what-is-the-difference-nowadays/

  • Raphael says:

    Great article, Will ! I’m going to Japan in 5 months and will definitely use Couchsurfing a lot, especially to meet people and hear them talk about their culture, their town/city, etc. I can’t wait !

    There is something I would like to know from you, though. Did you have a bad Couchsurfing experience at least once ? I’m not talking about hosts forcing you to pay money or harassing you in whatever way, but just once where you stayed at someone’s couch and thought “This guy is not the kind of person I wished to meet during my travel”. A boring/frustrating experience. I would like to hear it if possible ! Thanks again for the article.

    • Will Hatton says:

      Hey Raphael – yeah I’ve had a couple of bad experiences – one time a surfer at my place got absolutely wasted and was sick all over the place. Another time my host was unrelentingly hitting on me despite me being not interested. Nothing truly terrible has ever happened though 🙂

  • BackpackingTony says:

    Hi Will,

    Great article you posted on the benefits of couchsurfing. As a former couchsurfing host I have to agree with most of them. I have to disagree with one major point you made. Couchsurfing definately isn’t free. The cost is acutally quite high. Here’s a good article to illustrate my point. (http://www.angloitalianfollowus.com/why-couchsurfing-is-free-is-a-myth).

    While I highly doubt you’re the type of surfer listed in the article.You seem like the very respectful type. There is a cost to your host. The cost to the food you eat and your host’s personal time and space. While you may vouch that it’s voluntary and you’re a great surfer so it’s worth it, it does add up. When you were invited out with your local hosts, events cost money. Traveling for $10 a day wouldn’t allow you to experience what you did if it wasn’t for your host footing the bill for you (ie Petra has an entrance fee). Before I quit hosting I’d have surfers coming to my door expecting me to pay for everything to keep thier travel budgets low. After all, I’m the one earning money, not them. Money should never change hands but a good surfer will and should repay thier host for the costs incurred.

    In short, your emphasis was about Couchsurfing being “free”.The reality is far from it. This article only focused on the receiving end. Not on the giving end. I’ve had surfers leave me small gifts behind or help out around the apartment. They’ve shopped for ingrediants to cook me dinner from their home country. I’ve even received theatre tickets in exchange for letting a surfer stay with me. I’m sorry to say but surfers like yourself have made me decide to leave hosting on Couchsurfing. The intention that the concept is “free” has given the wrong impression to many people.

    • Will Hatton says:

      Hey Tony! A 100% valid point and you are totally correct; Couchsurfing is an exchange of ideas and a good surfer will never let his host be out of pocket; I often bring small gifts, a bottle of wine, or cook something when I am Couchsurfing; it shouldn’t be a one-sided exchange.

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