Have you ever set foot in one place, made new friends from there, and explored it like a true-blue local?
I experienced all these and more when I got into Couchsurfing, an online travel community for travelers. It is a platform where you can stay in the homes of locals, host people visiting your place, meet up, or just share information about travelling. It is a social networking website wherein people commonly host travelers from all over the globe. They offer a room, an entire house, or even just one couch, thus the platform name. The best part is, this is done all for free.
Sounds like an amazing travel hack for cheapskates, right?
I honestly joined Couchsurfing because I wanted to spend as little as possible for my travels. Staying in a host’s home meant I wouldn’t need to shell out money for accommodation. Just imagine how much money I can save. I am never picky and could sleep on just about anywhere so I have no problems in this area.
But eventually, as I meet more people through the platform, I learned that Couchsurfing isn’t just about keeping costs to a minimum; it is one venue to share whatever you have: your home, food, or even priceless things like time or travel stories. You share what you can to complete strangers. And that, I think, is more valuable than a few bucks saved from my travel fund.
Couchsurfing has taught me the art of “pakikisama”, of eating what is served, and consuming it all! Also, of being a responsible and polite guest, of sharing stories, travel-related or not. I learned that you don’t need to be rich to travel or host people. Again, I made new friends hundreds of miles from home ☺️ Thank you @ritz_kevin for the generosity, care, and for showing me the side of Cebu that not all travellers get to see. Now, I can confidently say that I can commute around Cebu like a local! Parang Cavite lang! 😜 I promise to pass the kindness forward. I’m so excited to host Couchsurfers! Kelangan q na matutong magluto ermagad! 😅
Being part of the Couchsurfing community is pretty straightforward. It’s just like setting up a Facebook page.
- Register to couchsurfing.com
- Create a comprehensive profile. Again, comprehensive. Couchsurfing is a platform built on trust. You are reaching out to people from different parts of the globe so you want to provide as much information as possible. However, also be careful about sharing too much personal information. Again, these are complete strangers you are dealing with. See my CS profile here.
- If you are a surfer: a person travelling somewhere and you want to find people to host or meet up with you, you can announce that through a public trip. Interested hosts or locals will then contact you or you will be the one to send them requests.
- Alternatively, if you are a local who would like to host, tour, or meet up travellers, you can browse through these public trips and send private messages to the travellers.
- References, much like testimonials from fellow Couchsurfers, can also be exchanged to increase one’s reliability on the platform.
- You can also join events, hang out, exchange language knowledge, and many other things in the platform. There are Thirstday CS Meet Ups, tours, swimming lessons, and other activities hosted by travellers for travellers.
Got it, now tell me about your Couchsurfing experiences so far, Peng
I’ve already surfed, hosted, and met up travelers through Couchsurfing. Luckily, all my experiences are all positive and these connected me to amazing people from different lands. How did this happen?
I believe that in every decision that you make in life, researching goes a long way. Thus, whether I am looking for a host, contemplating on whether to accept someone as a guest, or meeting up a Couchsurfer, I read their profile very carefully. I only communicate with those with positive references from past Couchsurfers they have interacted with, I try to find a common interest that we might have, and then I take it from there.
Right now, I am conducting free Manila tours with Couchsurfers every Saturday. I bring them to Rizal Park, National Museum, Intramuros, Manila Bay, and other nearby sites. I let them try local delicacies and street food like Taho, Kwek-kwek, Balut, or anything we see while doing the tour. I also did some reading and practicing before I got enough courage to offer my tour guiding services LOL. The tour only takes about 5 hours. I tour 2-3 Couchsurfers at a time because I can’t do a big group yet.
Conducting tours allow me to know my place even more and I also get to learn more about other cultures as I talk to these Couchsurfers. As an example, Anton (in photo) is a Math teacher from Indonesia. Through him, I learned about the educational system of Indonesia, their transport structure, that they have several time zones, some local language, and many others.
It sure was awkward to meet a complete stranger and then establish a connection right away. However, this tour guiding thing did wonders to my social skills: I am now friendlier, more confident, and more assertive. And I am loving every part of it.
I realized that by sharing my time and knowledge of my locality to travelers, I am also expanding my view of the world. Not to mention that I gain new friends and I also get to practice my English. Incredible, right?
Is Couchsurfing safe?
Nope, not completely.
Nothing in this world is completely safe, actually.
I once received a meet up request from a guy telling me to meet him in his condominium unit for a drink. I bluntly told him that “Hey, this is not Tinder. You’re in the wrong app”.
As you search online, I bet you can find Couchsurfing horror stories.
All I’m saying is people have different motives in joining different platforms. And while you cannot completely control whom you will come across with, you can always minimize the risks. Scrutinize the person, ask questions if needed, and stand up for your right at all times.