By Deshnee Naidoo:
Would you like to travel the world but are held back by the daunting costs of accommodation?
What if I told you that you never had to pay for another hotel or hostel room again, no matter which country you went to?
No, it’s no joke. With Couchsurfing, you can do exactly that.
Couchsurfing was born when one of the founders, Casey Fenton, was travelling to Iceland but had no place to stay. So, he e-mailed 1500 random Icelandic students in Reykjavik asking them if he could crash at their places. Over 50 responded with offers and pretty soon he was touring the country with the locals. That idea and experience culminated in http://www.couchsurfing.com which was established in January of 2004.
What is Couchsurfing?
According to Wikipedia, Couchsurfing refers to the practice of moving from one friend’s house to another, sleeping in whatever space is available, floor or couch, generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house.
How Does it Work?
It’s free to register on the site and once you provide information and pictures of yourself and the accommodation you can offer, you are on a roll. You are either a host or surfer depending on whether you’re travelling or not.
If you’re new to this lifestyle and you’re not quite so comfortable with letting a stranger share your home or with sharing a stranger’s home, you can opt instead for just meeting a surfer for coffee or dinner and to show them around your town.
You could also join one of the many Couchsurfing events in your city. Check the forums on the site, there’s always something happening!
Although there have been a few incidents where hosts have used the site for sinister reasons, it is generally quite safe.
Credit card verification is used to ensure that people are who they say they are. This does include a payment of a few US dollars which goes towards the upkeep of the site. Verifying your credit card is not compulsory but it does increase your chances of finding a host/surfer.
A reference system is in place where other members can leave a public reference on a profile stating whether their experience with you was negative or positive and why. This can greatly determine if you get more offers from hosts/surfers or not and builds trust in the community.
Practice the safety rules you were taught and you’ll be fine.Â There is no monetary exchange involved except for food expenses. It’s generally accepted that you should leave a small gift or do something nice for the host like cooking a meal, washing the dishes or a bit of house cleaning.
If you’re lucky, you may get an entire bed to yourself but most times, it’ll be a couch or maybe even just floor space for a sleeping bag.
Essentially, it takes you out of your comfort zone and let’s you experience a place and culture different from your own through the lives of the locals.
Now tell me, isn’t that the whole point of travelling?