Over the past six months since we sold everything we owned & set off for a life of full-time travel, we’ve repeatedly told people about how much we love Couchsurfing, but from time to time we get nothing but puzzled faces & the same old question: What Is Couchsurfing?

What Is Couchsurfing? A Beginners Guide (1)

it begins with a couch…

What Is Couchsurfing?

It’s pretty much in the title. You surf (or travel) from spare couch to spare couch whilst you’re backpacking or on vacation in a number or towns & cities around the world.

“Is That It?”

Nope. Not exactly…

Couchsurfing is about more than just crashing on a spare couch or bed in a guest room. The main idea & contributing factor to the collectives success is the cultural & hospitable exchange between two (or more) people.

What Is Couchsurfing? A Beginners Guide (2)

the time we shared DaiDai’s couch with Twenty Years Hence

“Cultural Exchange? I Thought This Was About Couches?”

You’re right, it is. Couchsurfing is about couches, but it can be and is so much more.

For instance, say you’re staying in a hostel.

You spend your day walking around your chosen destination on your own, or your partner, or a new friend from the hostel, whatever. You mooch about trying to find somewhere to eat; sometimes you’ll strike local-food gold, but most of the time you’ll be staring at the plastic-covered menu translated into five different languages trying to find anything to stop that rumble in your stomach.

Finally, you pick something barely satisfying, drag yourself back to your hostel & manage to grab some sleep before “the party” comes back to your dorm at three in the morning.

"What Is Couchsurfing? A Beginners Guide (3)

Franca embracing the elements whilst hiking in Sandankyo with our host Hiro

Now, say you’re staying with a Couchsurfing host.

You wake up to find a smoothie in the fridge, it’s for you from your host. On the table are a scattering of maps & timetables to get you to those places you mentioned last night when you traded stories of travels past. Easily, you find yourself around town & discover a few secrets of your own.

It’s the evening. Your host sends you a text message telling you to meet at the central church at 18:00 so you can take a walk of the town together & grab a bite to eat. You take a walk through town cutting between tourist attraction & hidden alleyway. Your host takes you to a local restaurant where the only menu is written in Malay on a chalkboard next to the open street kitchen. After, you take another nighttime walk to snap some pictures together of the town at night before grabbing a single drink each before the walk home to the comfy three-seater couch that tonight you’ll be calling home.

*all events in the above section have happened to us collectively in our first six months of couchsurfing

What Is Couchsurfing? A Beginners Guide (4)

the time Franca learned how to make Spicy Papaya Salad with our couchhost Ice & ‘Wonder Mom’

“Cultural Exchange, I Heard It Was Free?”

This is a misrepresentation.

Couchsurfing in recent years has begun to be used by a select few in a selfish way to claim free accommodation without even considering the thoughts of the host. We’ve personally stayed with hosts who’ve had people stay with there for a number of days who neglect to say please or thank you for anything & who sometimes just lock themselves in their room without saying a word.

Couchsurfing is NOT about free accommodation. In fact, if that’s what you’re after, please stay away.

What Is Couchsurfing? A Beginners Guide (5)

the time we ate at the Sikh Temple with our couchfriend Lee

“Okay, So There’s No Cost Involved?”

Sorry, no, not entirely.

Imagine the cost of staying at a hostel in Europe. For example, to stay one night in Berlin is approx. £10/€11/$15 per person in a dorm. Add in a few more nights and your budget for 12 months non-stop round the world travel is slipping faster & faster out of your pockets.

Now imagine the cost involved with Couchsurfing. For example, you may have to pay for transport on the bus, metro or train to your hosts house. In experience, this is normally next to nothing. Now take into account the possibility of eating out (for those with the budget offering to pay is one option). Alternatively, you can offer to buy some groceries to replace those you’ve used or maybe to even offer to make one of your trademark meals.

Overall, no matter what you pay for or however you total it up, the cost of surfing is minimal to the amount you’d could possibly spend on a hostel dorm bed & feeding yourself.

Plus, that’s not forgetting the priceless experience of great hospitality.

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the time we celebrated Franca’s birthday with this amazing family in Penang

“Got It. Local People, Local Places, Low Cost. Is That It?”

No. The website is full of a number of opportunities for people to meet whether they’re travelling or still at home waiting for their journey to begin.

Each place has it’s own Conversations board so you can organise to meet up with people for a drink or just a chat before you’ve even arrived. Alternatively, if you live there you can use it to organise monthly meetings for book clubs, game nights or again, for just a drink.

There are Activity pages where you can join in the local community in their already set up shenanigans.

NOTE – in town during a weekly Couchsurfing meeting? Take yourself along and meet tonnes of other travel-minded strangers

Also, there are groups dedicated to Cheap Travel, countries and cities like Vietnam and Paris & also other interests like House Swaps and everything you need to know about the underground clubs in Berlin

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the time we sat next to the fence at a festival in Singapore with couchhost Bek listening for free & having a ‘world foods picnic’

“Anything Else?”

Plenty

We’ve not even begun to explain just how satisfying the cultural side to Couchsurfing is.

During our first six months of travel we surfed for over ninety five days with over twenty different hosts. Why? Because we were unlucky to not find anybody with the free time for the other seventy days. But like everything, sometimes it’s not meant to be.

Through Couchsurfing we’ve found out from speaking first hand with our hosts about eating at the Sikh Temple in Malacca, learnt just how intense the schooling can be in Japan & South Korea, found out about the terrific Beppu Biennial Art Festival, heard about the potential of Raw Food in Singapore, how to sleep cheaply & locally in South Korea & many many more other incredible things.

What Is Couchsurfing? A Beginners Guide (8)

the time we ate Durian (which Franca is beginning to love) with our host Pam

“Where Do I Sign Up?”

All you need to do is point your browser over to Couchsurfing.org and click the orange button at the top that says ‘Sign Up’ – but wait!

There is a right way & wrong way to get started with Couchsurfing & many people always make the same mistake, and that is – leaving their profile blank.

More often than not people will sign up, fill out a few basic details & leave it at that wondering why no one wants to surf at their place or be allowed to surf with someone else.

Add a picture, write about yourself, you ambitions, your interests, your lifestyle – everything. I mean, who doesn’t like bigging themselves up?

Couchsurfing

“What Now?”

Basically, you’re in, but this is just the beginning. You’re in and the world is at your fingertips just waiting for that personal message asking for the chance to visit & find out about someone elses life in someone elses town or country, so surf!

Would you like to read more on our methods for Couchsurfing?