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8 Reasons Why CouchSurfing Works for Me

8 Reasons Why CouchSurfing Works for Me

This is a guest post by Amy from Smiling In A Foreign Land. Amy has just returned from 20 months traveling in Europe where she stayed with 83 CouchSurfing hosts in 24 countries for a total of 322 nights!  She is now planning to move to China to teach English for one year and will definitely be returning the favor to visiting CouchSurfers.  You can follow Amy’s blog at SmilingInAForeignLand.com, on Facebook as ‘Smiling In A Foreign Land‘ or on Twitter @InAForeignLand.

Barcelonetta

The view of the Mediterranean from my CouchSurfing host's flat in Barcelonetta, Barcelona, Spain.

Most tourists stay in hotels. Many backpackers stay in hostels. I prefer to stay with local people. Through CouchSurfing.org, travelers, regardless of age, wealth or interests, can stay with a host for free. CouchSurfing, or CS, is a website connecting travelers with locals. It offers cultural exchange through hospitality. CouchSurfing is my life when I’m traveling. Even if I’m not staying with a host, I try to attend events organized by local members or meet up with other travelers. CS is my world-wide social club and anyone interested in travel is welcome to join!

I’m not here to tell you that CS is better than staying in a hostel or hotel. CS is definitely not made for everyone and not everyone is a good fit for CS. Some backpackers enjoy hostels for the backpacker community they meet there. I just happen to be one of the people who prefer CS. Here are 8 reasons why CouchSurfing works for me.

1. I get to choose who I stay with

In a hostel, you’re in a dorm room with up to 10 other people. You don’t get to choose them, so it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll click with them or not. While searching for a CS host, I can scan the profiles to find someone I have something in common with. Maybe they’re a musician, an avid reader or they’ve traveled to my hometown or been someone I want to go. Finding a CS host with a common interest makes for a more personable and unique experience.

2. I get to explore residential areas of cities

CS hosts usually don’t live in the center, where most hostels are, so by staying with a host, I get to see a non-touristic part of the city. In Paris, my host lived about 30 minutes by metro from the center, but in a beautiful neighborhood with not a tourist in sight. Another plus: street food is cheaper in tourist-free neighborhoods catering to locals.

3. My hosts can tell me what is worth seeing

Hostels might try to push their walking tour or pub crawl or the ‘must see’ sites, but a CS host will tell you what they think is worth seeing. In Romania, I didn’t bother going to Bran Castle because my host informed me it was very touristic and not actually Dracula’s castle.

Me with my CouchSurfing hosts on a boat to see underwater caves in Lake Matka, Macedonia.

Me with my CouchSurfing hosts on a boat to see underwater caves in Lake Matka, Macedonia.

4. I get to see unusual and non-touristic sides of daily life

It’s not too often you get a cultural experience while watching television. While I was staying in Pompeii, my hosts pressured me to cut my visit to the site of Pompeii short so I could join them for the Naples-Rome football match on TV. I’m not much into football, but seeing a dozen Naples fan screaming at the TV made for a memorable non-touristic experience.

5. I get to see day-to-day life

Staying with someone for a few days, I inevitably get to go food shopping with them. At home, grocery shopping is nothing special, but while traveling, I love it! With my CS host, I get to learn new foods that I’m afraid to try on my own. I can also get translations of foods and ingredients from my host so I know what I’m buying later on.

Me collecting seaweed for composting with my host in Dingle, Ireland

Me collecting seaweed for composting with my host in Dingle, Ireland.

6. I get to eat authentic food

Staying with a CS host, I get to see what they eat in normal life. In Greece, that meant walking down the road to buy gyros from the neighborhood fast food restaurant. This might sound disappointing until you realize they are the best gyros in town and were left undiscovered by tourists because of their location on the outskirts of town, their unappealing storefront and their lack of English menus. As a lone tourist, I would have never found this place, but with my CS host, it was a normal part of their daily life.

7. I get to be a normal human being

In a hostel, you’re always on the go with travelers you meet. Since you’re only in the city for a few days, you want to see it all and do it all. With my CS hosts, I recognize when the weekend is and plan my schedule around that. I have my five-day travel week lined up with my host’s five day work week and I take the weekend to spend with my host. Going out and experiencing the nightlife with the rest of the city is better than going out on a Tuesday just because that’s when other hostel guests are hitting the pub.

Free Hugs action with CouchSurfers in London, England

Free Hugs action with CouchSurfers in London, England.

8. I make a new friend

In hostels, guests come and go, so maybe you connect with someone one day and they leave the next. Most of my CS hosts I still keep in touch with and I know where they are so I can go back to visit them. This is true, of course, in hostels, but I feel the connections I’ve made through CS are a lot stronger than in hostels. A few of my hosts I’ve traveled with after staying with them and I’ve really enjoyed seeing them again.

CouchSurfing is a really amazing organization and community of travelers. Whenever I can, I try to find a host or meeting through CouchSurfing and I really treasure the friends I’ve made through CS.

Have you CouchSurfed before? Do you agree with these 8 reasons? Do you have any other reasons why you think CouchSurfing is great? Please share them in the comments!

39 Comments

  1. Posted March 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    We haven’t tried couchsurfing yet but we’ll definitely sign up for it! Like Amy says, it’s a fantastic way to meet people, get ‘off the tourist track’, get a glimpse of someone’s day-to-day life rather than just a tourist version of a town. Great post.
    Globetrottergirls recently posted..Leon’s no gem – that’s what we love about it

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Globetrottergirls!

      CouchSurfing is certainly a way to get off the tourist track and it’s oftentimes let me explore a totally different culture! Out of my first 7 host in Ireland, only one was Irish, so I was able to explore South African, Italian, German, Polish, French and American cultures living in Ireland, too! I guess it’s like double-tasking in cultural immersion that way! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  2. Posted March 29, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I have never tried couch surfing but the only reason is because I am a very private person. Plus my feet honk after a long day out exploring!!!
    Natalie recently posted..Turkish Women – Meet A Mother Called Hatica

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      Hehehe! I’ve never heard of anyone’s feet ‘honking’ after a day out! :)

      Some CouchSurfers only host, some only surf and some don’t do either. :) Especially in big cities, there are often meetings organized for locals and travelers. Just Friday night I met up with about 6 other CouchSurfings in my hometown (population of 80,000 people and over 400 are on CS) for drinks in town and a barbeque at someone’s house. If there aren’t meetings are you don’t want to host anyone, you can also send messages to meet up with people. It’s a great way to make friends! :) Especially when you move somewhere new! I’ve already made some connections with CSers in China, where I’ll be moving in a month or two, and I feel better knowing I can make friends once I’m there. :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  3. Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Fully right here! I couchsurf as much as possible, and do it for these same reasons. Half the places I go, I actually don’t care that much for the “traditional” tourist attractions, but would rather meet locals and hangout in real places. Couchsurfing is one of the great ways to get plugged into a new place in a hurry!
    Migrationology recently posted..17 African Cultural Values To Know Before You Travel to Africa

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! CS is probably the quickest and easiest way to get to know the local culture. :) After spending 20 months traveling with CouchSurfing, I can’t imagine traveling without it!
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  4. Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    I have yet to try couchsurfing, but the concept intrigues me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it. It made me more comfortable with the idea.

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      Great to hear, Samantha! CouchSurfing is really worth trying out! Even if you just want to use it for meetings or to get suggestions from other travelers, it’s great! CS can be used however you want to! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  5. Skott and Shawna
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Awesome article!!! We have only hosted once (in order to build up a little Couch Surfing karma), but hopefully will again before we leave on our trip….come on down to Regina people….stay with us!!!

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Skott & Shawna! I’ve had a few invitations from hosts to stay with them when they lived near where I traveling, but not somewhere I planned on going. :) It’s always worked out great! Check out the ‘nearby travelers’ on the main page on CS and maybe you can send someone an invite! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  6. Harrison
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    I’m always a fan of CS. I’ve had successful stays wherever I am, and hosts have gone beyond what they r required for just giving me a “place to sleep”. I can’t wait to continue to globetrot around and meet more CS-ers!

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      Yeah! Glad you had a good time, Harrison! Where have you surfed? I found people were the most generous in Eastern Europe. :) Of course, CS hosts are generous everywhere, but in Greece and Turkey, I usually had my own bed, even if it meant my host was sleeping on the couch! I felt kind of awkward about it until I realized it’s just their culture to adjust for their guest’s comfort. My Indian hosts in Germany and the States have all given up their bed for me, even when it meant they slept on the floor or shared a bed with their flatmate while I was there! Incredible generosity! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  7. Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    A great case for couch surfing. Its great that this comes from a girl too. I’ve always been a bit nervous about couch surfing but I’ve recently met so many girls who have done it and loved it that I think I should give it a try!

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Monica! CouchSurfing has a reference system that really helps the security of hosts and surfers. Especially as a female and a solo traveler, I feel better looking over someone’s references before I request to stay with them, meet them or host them. It’s almost safer than hostels in a way because you can choose who you stay with and that one person is looking out for you. If you have problems, your host is more likely to take the time to help you than a hostel staff member! :) Definitely give it a try! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  8. Posted March 30, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Mighty coincidental this post on CSing should come out today – and by likewise an “Amy” to boot!

    I’ve been CSing for 3 years now and just this past weekend hosted a most delightful lass named… Amy! We had great fun rummaging the local Goodwill and enjoying a Vietnamese lunch (her treat!) Plus I introduced her to geocaching (we found a most creative hide “Uh, pardon us, but we’re just… jump-starting a chainlink FENCE here!”), and she’s now back home rummaging through Craig’s List for a used GPSr!

    Surprisingly enough, while I’ve only surfed myself but once (w/ a great lass in Madrid for a night’s layover whilst flying from Morocco back to Seattle), I’ve found that hosting can be even more satisfying than surfing. It seems many use CS for a free bed (and it surely can save travelers a few rubles), but I’ve found that hosting in between my own travels is a fun way to meet folks from all over the world. Like Csurfers, we hosts can pick and choose when and who we open our homes to. And I’ve met a most interesting array of folks (a lovely young couple from France, a lass from Russia, another from New Zealand, etc.)

    In short, as Amy says – couchsurfing is a brilliant concept. A great way to have an authentic cultural exchange experience – be it as a traveler or a host.
    [email protected] recently posted..I heart NYC

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Dyanne! It’s true that some people do use CS for a free bed, but I’m usually able to ‘weed them out’ by looking at the references. I look for people who have done things with their hosts and attended meetings and events. :) I find the people who are more active on CS are the ones I connect more with! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  9. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    There’s some great reasons here! I am considering trying couchsurfing whilst on my RTW trip, but I’m slightly apprehensive being a solo female and all… But it’s definitely something I’d like to try at some point!
    Lauren recently posted..4 Months Until My Round-The-World Trip

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Lauren! Each CouchSurfing profile has references left by other members. By reading through these (I focus on those left by other females my age), I feel more comfortable and safe with my host. And if you have any problems with a host (happens very rarely) you can always leave (and leave a negative reference to warn future surfers). If you explain your situation to other hosts in the area, they are usually sympathetic and go out of their way to help you. :) If you need to at the beginning, you can always request couches only from females. :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  10. Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Definitely see the benefit of connecting with the locals via couchsurfing.
    Lauren Fritsky recently posted..Why I Drink Less in a Country of Drinkers

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Traveling to connect with the locals is very different than traveling to see the sites! I certainly prefer to connect with locals and CouchSurfing is a great way to do that! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  11. Posted March 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    We haven’t couchsurfed a whole lot, as we’re big on having our own privacy… but these are eight compelling reasons why we should try it a lot more frequently. :)
    Christy recently posted..5 Quirky Reasons We’ve Fallen in Love with Austin

    • Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Even if you don’t want to surf because you want your privacy, you can still meet up with locals and other travelers and attend meetings! Most big cities have a weekly meeting- usually drinks at a local (non-tourist) pub on a weeknight. They are a great way to meet interesting people and can be a memorable part of your trip! :) I’m sure you’ll find what works for you! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  12. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never couchsurfed but I am a frequent host when I was in Brussels and I’ve enjoyed being a hosts. It’s like having a friend visiting you – and I was able to go to sites that i didn’t frequent in the city to bring my guests around.

    And so far, all the couchsurfers have been very nice – one even surprised me and cooked dinner for me & my flatmates. :)
    Jerick recently posted..25travels is currently under construction

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 5:25 am | Permalink

      Great point, Jerick! As a surfer, I love knowing I’m going to visit new friends- I just haven’t met them yet! :) Having that feeling makes traveling very different. I love it when I can cook a meal with my hosts- whether it’s their recipe or mine. I sometimes make my CS-famous Peanut Soup for my hosts as a thank you. :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  13. Posted March 31, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Great post, Amy. I’ve been a CSer for many years and agree with all your points :D
    Roy recently posted..Jungles Of Panama

    • Posted March 31, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Roy! CS has definitely changed the way I travel! I can’t imagine my trips before CS! They were like a totally different person’s travels! :) I’m like a CS evangelist now! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  14. Posted April 1, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    I feel a bit strange that ive never actually tried the couch surfing sites but always couch surf…. as in just turning up and making friends and eventually finding somewhere to stay….. and if i cant find somewhere then i always have a tent and a hammock!

    ill def be looking into this in the future, great article, good read, good info and good times! woo!

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      I know a lot of people that couch surf without CouchSurfing and it works great! The website certainly helps plan it a little better for those of us afraid of showing up with absolutely nothing planned! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  15. Posted April 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    G’day Amy, I couldn’t agree more about CS and to all the travellers thinking about it I say “just do it” As grey nomads we have just spent a year travelling around Australia. I am 69 and Jack is 79, and the highlights of the trip definately include staying with amazingly friendly and helpful CS hosts.
    Pauline Carroll recently posted..Morpeth

    • Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Pauline! It’s so true that CouchSurfing isn’t just for 20-year-old backpackers! Surfers and hosts can be any age! One of the best parts is learning about people who are different from you- whether it’s culture, interests or age. As long as people are friendly, they’re right for CouchSurfing! :)
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  16. Posted April 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I signed up at Couchsurfing a while back. Your post is giving me the urge to go back to the site and actually start hosting. I have a spare bedroom if anyone is heading to Calgary!

    Thanks!
    Raymond recently posted..Travel Photo of the Week — Sloth Face- Amazon- Peru

    • Posted April 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Raymond! CouchSurfing is definitely something that shouldn’t be ignored! It’s a fantastic way to meet people at home or while traveling. Spare bedrooms are above and beyond on CS! I can recall the first time I had a spare bedroom on my trip and it was so nice to have my own space, even just for a few days! :) I hope you get to share your spare bedroom with many worthy CSers! :)

      ps- Your Twitter icon makes me dizzy! :P
      Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  17. Posted April 3, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    I always hated sleep overs as a kid because I hated staying in other people’s homes. I could never feel comfortable. That is my hesitation with couch surfing, but you do bring up some good points for trying it. I have heard the meet-ups are good for people like myself who don’t really want to couchsurf, but want to socialize with locals.
    Suzy recently posted..Just One Please

  18. Posted April 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Understandable! You wouldn’t be the only CouchSurfer who doesn’t surf! :) I’ve met a lot of CSers who just use it to meet up with people and attend the meetings. It’s also a great way to make new friends! I’ll be using it for that when I move to China next month. I already feel like I have made some connections with a few ex-pats in Kunming through CS! :)
    Amy recently posted..Turkey- The Eurasian Beauty

  19. Posted April 6, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I love couchsurfing. I love, love, love it. It has transformed the way people travel and for the better!
    Nomadic Matt recently posted..Win a 10-000 Trip Anywhere You Want!

  20. Posted April 8, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I am now convinced that couchsurfing is definetely worth trying when I travel to Canada later this year. Chees for the post.
    Mike Cotton recently posted..Ski resorts of New Zealand you must visit

    • Posted April 10, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      CouchSurfing is great! I just got back from a week in Vancouver, British Colombia and I met up with one of my hosts from Amsterdam who just moved to Vancouver and I was hosted by a CSers from China I met in my hometown! I was also able to meet up with some surfers for a Cherry Blossom Festival event and Vancouver’s 125th Birthday celebration!
      Amy recently posted..Book Review! Hokkaido Highway Blues- Hitchhiking Japan by Will Ferguson

  21. Posted October 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wanted to try couchsurfing. I’ve heard such positive things about it!

    It would be great to try this in my upcoming travels. What would you recommend as an appropriate time to request with your hosts? 1-2 days?

    Great suggestions!
    LAbackpackerChick recently posted..Where I’ve Been and How I Did It

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