If you are a seasoned traveller, you should have heard of it already, or maybe you are already the CS ambassador of some city. Or if you are just starting to get smitten by wanderlust, you must be considering it already. As a hospitality exchange platform, couchsurfing is here to stay.
Yes, there are a lot of negative stuff about it that you will hear everyday. The story of the Hong Kong girl who was raped in Leeds by a CS host, is sad but true. The story of an American girl who was killed in Nepal by a couchsurfer is sad but true. And all that speculation about how CS (as we fondly call it) has fallen in grace ever since it was privatized, is true too. And yes, their CEO had to resign over differences with a lot of bickering folks.
But to me, these are just minor ink blots on a global platform that has been tried and tested to be helpful for a large number of travellers. There are amazing stories on the internet about couchsurfers coming together for various good causes and about people staying lifelong travel buddies after meeting on CS. Whatever the cons that you have heard of, IMHO, the pros outweigh them any day. And below are some of the reasons that I think everyone should try couchsurfing once.
1) Staying with a local person person while travelling
Ditch that fear, and take a giant leap of faith, by staying with that local person you see in CS. Yep, make sure you read his/her profile, and his references first, so that you don’t end up with a creep or a weirdo. Don’t you love telling your grandkids in the future that you visited Java and stayed with a Javanese person?
2) Meeting other like-minded travellers
Often, the couchsurfers that you meet, are not those who you host or those who surf with you. They are the ones that you meet while on the road, while visiting that temple in Bagan, while climbing that mountain in Grenada, or while riding that camel in Egypt. What might connect you guys could be a couchsurfing bracelet, a t-shirt, or a logo on your travel bag. Or simply a conversation, either in person, or through the local place page discussion forum on CS. But however you meet, it doesn’t matter anymore, because you just found yourself a travel buddy.
3) Getting travel tips that even lonely planet can’t give you
Accomodation was cheap in Bali, so I had all the mind to stay in one of those hostels along Kuta beach, and revel in the surf/party culture there. Instead, I choose to find myself a couchsurfing host, who advised me that Kuta beach is a trap, Ubud is a trap, and Uluwatu is a trap. Try telling that to a lonely planet editor, and they might honour-kill you. The thing is, most travel advices are not personalized. What maybe perfect to you, may not mean much to me. So, I took my host’s advice, rented a bike, and rode out to see the northeastern parts of the Island for some remote temples. And to this day, that remains one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.
4) Saving money.
Let’s all be honest about it. Despite the cultural integration bit, one thing I really like about CS is the money that you save by not taking an accommodation in the city that you visit. I visited Petra in Jordan, and the accommodation costs there can be devastating, even in cheap hostels. But I saved myself from a bleeding wallet, by staying with a local host there, who also happened to be a Bedouin. One of the most eye-opening experiences ever. And it was for free.
5) Hosting some really cool travellers
Couchsurfing is not a freeloading site. While you may couchsurf at random places of travel, you are fully expected to provide the same gratuitous help to other travellers who visit your own country. And this can be a very rewarding experience if you consider the amount of global citizens that you get to meet. I started hosting before I started surfing, and I have been lucky to get a very eclectic mix of couchsurfers. There was a 20-year old Belgian boy who hitchhiked from Belgium to Singapore, and walked into my room with an ass-torn pant. Or there was this 60-year old Aussie lady, who was travelling the world on her own boat. Or this Czech girl who was an open nudist, and I had to keep requesting her to cover herself up on top of the infinity pool in conservative Singapore. I don’t know a lot of other platforms which cater to introduce you to such a wide array of cultures.
6) Meeting people in your local city
If you thought CS was all about meeting people while you travel, think again. Every CS city has their own set of meetings to get to know each other, and the travellers who are in their city at that point of time. And for a lazy Thursday night, what else to do but head to the weekly CS gathering, down a few drinks, and tell tall-tales about your travels. Or just have a laugh, or a silent wink. And cheer the night away.
7) Creative groups
Couchsurfers are naturally very open/warm people, and this mindset gels in with their creative side also. I have not seen so many creative people in my whole life, as I have seen the last one year with CS. You meet artists, photographers, singers, dancers, what-nots, and you find that you can be part of a creative group. In the example of CS Singapore, there is a full-fledged music band formed by local CSers here, there are salsa-groups, and there are language-exchange groups, and there are even parkour groups. There is always something that is cut out for you.
8) Get travel buddies
Before joining couchsurfing, I used to travel maybe 3 times a year. But since becoming a CS member, I have been travelling once every month. The reason is not that I won a lottery, because my trips have always been cheap. Its more of finding like-minded travellers who inspire you to visit new places that you have not been to. And when you know that you are not travelling alone, its always twice the fun.
So, there are my 8 reasons for why I love Couchsurfing, and believe that everyone should try it out. What are your reasons for not trying it out?
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