Couchsurfing 101

2 07 2010

We’ve mentioned couchsurfing a few times in our posts, but thought it worthy of a separate post.

What couchsurfing always is:

-A free place to stay. Sometimes a couch, sometimes floor space. At other times a private bedroom or a villa.

What couchsurfing frequently is:

-A local guide
-Cultural exchange (in both directions)
-Instant friendships
-Positive-minded people from around the world

What couchsurfing isn’t:

-Necessarily reciprocal
-For freeloaders (although they exist)
-Dangerous (with some common sense)

Couchsurfing is predominantly arranged through the couchsurfing.org website. We hosted a lot while in NY and have had many positive experiences. One of our then-unconscious motivations for hosting was meeting travelers from around the world while we were stuck in our corporate jobs.

Our guests have included a French student who later returned to couchsurf with his father – the head of neurology at a prestigious medical college. We also hosted a German couple who had been dating long distance and had planned a reunion trip in New York. Separately, we received a request from an American college student planning a surprise proposal weekend for his girlfriend in New York City.  (The girlfriend’s boss wouldn’t give her the Friday off, so the weekend was postponed.)

Jay has a single female friend who couchsurfed across the U.S. by herself without incident and with great experiences.  I couchsurfed on my own in May ’09 with an incredible couple, Ethan and Moni, in Colorado Springs.  At Ethan and Moni’s apartment I had my own bedroom and bathroom. They took me on a tour of Garden of the Gods and even – as professional photographers – did a photo shoot for me!  (I still use one of their pictures as my professional ‘stock photo’.)  This past Spring, Jay couchsurfed for the first time in Cocoa Beach, Florida when he went down to the Kennedy Space Center for an invite-only NASA shuttle launch.  Quite unexpectedly, Jay was met by his host, given the keys to a private villa on the beach, and his host left to return to Orlando.  Not all experiences are as glamorous as these, but many are!

So how does it work?  You create a profile on the couchsurfing website.  The service is totally free, and there are several ways to verify your identity if you so choose.  Many people have greater comfort staying with and hosting individuals with verified identities.  You can search for hosts by location, review their profiles and see if you have any friends or acquaintances in common, like you might on Linkedin or Facebook.  Most importantly, you should look at the feedback section to see how many people they have hosted and if they have received positive feedback.  It’s common courtesy for guests to bring a small gift and be helpful around the house (e.g. maybe do the dishes), but there are no set rules.

Now you have all you need to be a pro couchsurfer.  And as long as you use a bit of common sense like you should with anything else in life, we’d recommend it strongly.  Surf on!  :-)

posted by amybetho and jayhorowitz

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4 responses

3 07 2010
Retired Syd

I love this! My friend’s brother has been couch surfing for years and has only good things to say. We have been successfully house-swapping (the same thing only different) and have had a great time with it. I understand people’s hesitations on both fronts, but I think the fears are out of whack compared to the reality . . .

3 07 2010
jayhorowitz

We stayed with a house-swapping family in Costa Rica. They love their experiences, and one interesting thing they mentioned was their total lack of concern with finding a home of similar value to theirs. They were solely interested in finding a place that was either interesting or near interesting things, which struck me as a sensible approach. I’m curious to hear how you select your house swaps, either here or on your blog.

4 07 2010
Retired Syd

The swapping process is a bit time consuming. For any location you have to browse a lot of homes on line. (And spend a lot of time emailing people that may or may not get back to you.) While I’m not looking for an equivalent home to mine, I do look at the photos an eliminate many based on that. Like your Costa Rican friends, location is the most important thing to me. I would say cleanliness is pretty important to me too and you can tell a lot about that just from the photos and how people describe their homes.

We’ve probably done about a dozen swaps so far, the homes ranging from a small studio in a fun neighborhood in NYC, with the bed in the closet, to a huge, beautiful 1790’s farmhouse in Vermont with pool and amazing views. I have NEVER been disappointed!

4 07 2010
jayhorowitz

1790s?! I wish you could have seen the expression on my face!

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