I want to address the fact that, although GoMad Nomad readership is primarily budget, independent travelers, they are NOT all broke twenty-somethings. So I want to talk about the Couch Surfing Project, and how it’s for all ages. It is, however, only applicable for people who are interested in meeting other people.
Am I not too old for this?
No, you aren’t too old. Although only 3% of couch surfers worldwide are between the ages of 50 and 69 (72% are between the ages of 18 and 29) it still adds up to 70,000+ participants over 50, as the total number of worldwide couch surfers is almost 1.7 million. And with 75% knowing English, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a host whom you can communicate with. When you perform a search looking for a host, you are able to narrow your search by age or gender. And if you are reading this post, you are computer savvy enough to register for couch surfing and fill out your profile.
But I don’t like sleeping on couches
The second issue: sleeping on couches. After three years couch surfing around the world, I’ve only slept on actual couches a few times. Sometimes I’ve had my own bed, my own room, and I’ve heard stories of couch surfers having their own house! In Amman, Jordan, our host put a friend and me in a new, furniture-less apartment he hadn’t moved into yet. Every situation is unique. When reading a person’s profile, you’ll be able to see what kind of accommodation they are offering: futon in a private room, sharing a bed in their bedroom, or whatever the case maybe.
What do I owe my host?
You aren’t required to give your host anything. And they are not expecting any remittance. You may want to show up with a bottle of wine, treat them to dinner or a drink, or cook for them. There have been certain times traveling when I was financially inadequate and could only offer my in-kind contribution of making their house/apartment cleaner than I found it.
On the other end of the spectrum, you shouldn’t expect anything of your guests except common courtesies and respect of your living space and lifestyle.
Do I have to host?
You don’t have to host visitors, you can only host, you can do both. It’s up to you. You are able to set your status on your profile. If you can’t host, just change your profile to “no”, “meet for coffee or a drink”, or “traveling at the moment”
I prefer to sleep in hotels
Fine. Stay at a hotel. Couch surfing is still useful for you. You have the option of searching people who can’t host or would just like to meet up. I’ve met a guy in Tomar, Portugal for a coffee, several couch surfers in Stockholm for evening drinks, and spent the entire São João festival in Oporto, Portugal with a couch surfing group meetup. In Bordeaux, France a young Bordelais lead me around the mostly 18th century city, for a tour. The possibilities are endless. Maybe you want to do a language exchange or meet people to play music; just include that in your search terms. I know of a blacksmith and a bookbinder who recently left for Europe looking for Europeans who did similar work. I suggested couch surfing to them. Register, fill out your profile including a picture, set your status, and start surfing.
Will I save money by couch surfing?
Couch surfing may save you money. But do not use couch surfing only because you want to save money. Most of the time your host will introduce you to friends and you may go out for the evening and spend more money than you planned. Couch surfing is about meeting people, connecting, sharing similarities, celebrating differences, learning, enjoying life. If you couch surf in a place like Olso, Norway or Tokyo, Japan, you are bound to save money. But use couch surfing with the intention of meeting new people.
Is it safe?
There are some checks in place in order to make couch surfing as safe as it can be, namely an identity check and location verification. Listed on a person’s profile are the references that every couch surfing member can leave after meeting, hosting, or surfing with another member. There is also a vouching system in place. In almost 50 couch surfing experiences, I haven’t had one that I would consider not safe.
Give it a try
Couch surfing has enabled me to meet some amazing people and have experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve sailed with a host who is a skipper in La Rochelle, France and stayed in a hamlet in the Welsh countryside. And you don’t always end up with a host from the country you’re visiting, which can really add spice to your travels. I’ve stayed with a New Zealander in London, a Brazilian in Portugal, an American in Syria, and a Hungarian in Berlin.
I’m not the type of traveler who can show up in a strange city, pop into a bar and walk out with five friends two hours later. Couch Surfing helps me have a new friend in town the moment I arrive.
CouchSurfing is an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world. Since 2004, members have been using the system to come together for cultural exchange, friendship, and learning experiences. Today, over a million people who might otherwise never meet are able to share hospitality and cultural understanding.
Stephen Bugno has couchsurfed his way through Europe and beyond simply to see how people are living. His writing has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at: Bohemian Traveler