Couch Surfing: Changing Perceptions

Accommodation is often one of the most expensive aspects when booking a holiday, so if there were a way to avoid spending £400+ a week in an average hotel you would want to know for sure, right? If my mother were answering this question, the answer would be “no, I don’t want to know!” simply out of worry. Couchsurfing has been around for decades and has increased with popularity since travelling and social media has become more accessible, yet there is still a taboo around the topic. Learn from my personal experience using the Couchsurfing app and see what difference in thoughts you have afterwards.

Who uses Couchsurfing?

Everyone. That’s right, we don’t all wear a replica of Joseph’s technicolour dream-coat, smoking weed, looking to hook up with a host. I’ve seen people of all ages on Couchsurfing, although legally you have to be 18 to participate. From personal experience the majority of hosts offer their home because they’ve been travelling and understand the expense of the world, so having been guests themselves, returning the favour by hosting someone is a small favour that they are happy to offer.

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How does Couchsurfing work?

Every member has a personal profile with the option to add a description, photos and availability to host or seek somewhere to stay. If you know the dates and location of your trip you can post a public notice letting hosts within that area know that you are looking for somewhere to stay. People have the option to privately message you offering somewhere to stay or to ask if you want to meet up in that area. After stalking their profile to get an idea if they are legitimate or not you can accept or decline their offer and negotiate the plan to meet from there. If you stay with a host there is also the opportunity to review them, likewise the host can review the guest. This is automatically made public on your profile for others to see and is more than often a major factor when deciding who to stay with/ have stay with you.

How do you know if a person is safe to stay with?

You don’t… sounds fun right? I personally judge using three pieces of information: photographs, reviews from other members and personal description. Judgemental or not, photos are a natural aesthetic way of seeing if the person is someone you would be happy to stay with or not. Reviews are the biggest factor that I make my decision from as it gives you an insight of someone’s personality from anothers perspective and experience. Finally, a personal description could be entirely fictional, but using common sense and taking reviews into consideration can make the process of understanding the intentions and legitimacy of people that bit easier.

CONSIDER: Couchsurfing works both ways, you don’t know who your host is in reality, but nor do they know you. It’s okay to be sceptical and query who really is this person you are staying with; just remember they are probably thinking the same of you. Be honest, ask questions and always tell a trusted friend or family member the address and name of where you are staying.

Where do you stay?

It depends on each personal circumstance. Some offer their couch, others have a blow-up mattress, if you’re really lucky they’ll have a spare bed, or they might even offer to sleep on the couch and you sleep in their own – thanks Nosser!

Why would you want to couch surf?

£400 for a hotel, £100 for a hostel or couch surfing for free with the potential of meeting amazing friends from all over the world. I’ll pick the latter! Saving money on accommodation is a huge bonus for sure, but the real benefit that I enjoy most about Couchsurfing is that you get to know one person in great depth over a few days, which brings out the potential to be life-long friends from two completely different parts of the world. Learning about another’s culture and seeing places through the eyes of a local make all the difference and can turn you from tourist to traveller.

What’s the weirdest encounter you’ve had on Couchsurfing?

One potential host required a survey to be filled out and sent back as a way of assessing his idea of “the perfect match.” Some of the questions included “what drugs do you do? If any at all, be specific” and “what physical connection are you looking for?” I’m glad to say we weren’t the perfect match and we never met, which I’m clearly devastated about.

“You’re a white British female with blue eyes and blonde hair, there’s no way you’re returning home safely!”

Touch wood… I’m not home yet. But from the experiences I’ve had and some common sense about using the app and trusting strangers I would like to think that the majority of Couchsurfers have good intentions and offer their homes out of generosity. The biggest lesson I’m still learning is not to be so naïve, which is extremely difficult considering I tend to see the good in people. What I am looking forward to, however, is meeting up with my first Couchsurfing host from Hawaii when they visit London for New Years!

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