How many nights did you spend on a couch after a party? And how many times did you beg for a couch to spend a night with your distant friend? Let’s face it: the couch is a major mean in our life, why not in our travels? Would you really prefer to pay a hotel room instead of getting free accommodation on the couch? If the answer is yes, this can only mean you have never been a couchsurfer!
Couchsurfing, as “surfing from one couch to another”, is has been Casey Fenton’s brilliant idea in 2004 and is now a network of 4 million people in 230 different countries who offer and receive hospitality for free.
It just takes to join sign up on the website, edit your profile (don’t forget to add a picture: nobody wants to deal with a faceless person!) and choose if you want to:
a) host one or more visitors on your couch (or a bed, an armchair, a swing, an hammock…);
b) look for a couch to surf yourself (and be hosted by someone else);
c) have tea, lunch or just a walk with a visitor coming from another town or country;
d) participate in periodical meetings with other couchsurfers.
You can choose any option, all of them or just one, meaning you could even ask for hospitality without having to host anyone. It may be the case if you don’t have spare room or an extra bed for your guests – but, believe me, couchsurfers do not mind sleeping in a micro-flat, in a sleeping bag in the kitchen or in a tent in the garden.
After inserting your destination you will find a list of all hosts’s profile in the same area. You will have to take a good look at them and choose the one that better suits your lifestyle and personality. Try to find out if you have similar interests or if you shared the same experiences, maybe travel experiences which could be a good starting point for a conversation. On their profiles you will find the exact location of the “couch”: quite an important point, especially if you don’t have a car – unless you are as crazy as me and prefer an isolated farm where you could milk the cows and walk ten kilometres to arrive in town. Other important information are the availability for couples (on a twin-couch?), if there are any animals (can I take my polecat along?), if smoking is allowed…
The one hosting you will do it for the sake of knowing new people and making new friends (like dear Mellila, in Finnland, who other than hosting me prepared an incredible fish based dinner) and the only thing they ask is a chance for chatting, having a drink or sharing a trip… in other words, the most special gift you could offer: a bit of your time.
Nonetheless, it is a common habit to have a little present for your host, maybe something typical from your country, a postcard, some jamon serrano or a painted stone from your garden. And you may also consider to lend some help at home (especially if you are staying for several days) or to cook a traditional meal as used in your home country.
Warning: couchsurfing is strongly addictive. Once tried, it is hard to give up. If combined with other addictions, like travel addiction, the result may be irresistible. Avoiding to travel is hard, avoiding to travel for free is impossible.