Sleep Free & Connect with Locals by CouchSurfing

CouchSurfing is a great way to save money while traveling but more importantly, it offers a unique opportunity to connect with locals. If you are not familiar with the concept of couch surfing, it’s basically sleeping at someone’s house who you don’t necessarily know for free while traveling (as a surfer) and providing hospitality to fellow travelers as a host. To many it might sound like a crazy idea, possibly a dangerous idea, but countless people around the world couch surf on trips and host fellow couch surfers in their homes. In fact, there’s a website dedicated to matching travelers and hosts called CouchSurfing.org. The site boasts 5 million CouchSurfers in more than 96,000 cities around the world, so while it may not be for everyone, it certainly is for many.

This is my second interview in my series with travelers who have had numerous experiences in one facet of cheap travel…in this case it’s CouchSurfing. Rob Totoonchie, 25, has been an avid traveler since he was 18, traveling to 10 countries and throughout the U.S., and he’s CouchSurfed along the way.

How many times have you CouchSurfed as a traveler & where, and how many times have you been a host?

CouchSurfing.org is a wonderful community and it can be an amazing way to get the ‘local’ feel of another place, in or out of the country. I have surfed in California, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Utah, Colorado, Guatemala and Spain. The total is much more than 50 times. Some were through the website but the majority have been through friends of friends organizing via phone or regular email. I’ve hosted CouchSurfers more than 50 times and most of these were through the website.

Rob with his Host Couchsurfing in Guatemala
Rob with his Host CouchSurfing Guatemala

What are the pros and cons of CouchSurfing and hosting?

I host CouchSurfers because, in general, it is an enriching experience where I am given the opportunity to develop and nurture new relationships with like minded travelers. The other reason I host is to give back to the community that has been so good to me. I would say that 95% of the time the experience leaves me bigger, better and stronger than before. Learning to be open to whatever person/persons come through your door is a special thing in itself. After that, it’s generally nothing but gifts. Three nights ago I hosted a wonderful couple from Davis, California. I was feeling a little worn down from work and maybe even starting on a cold but I decided to offer what I could. I opened the front door and knew immediately that I would be loving these two people like old friends. I was not disappointed.

However, there are always variables that cannot be accounted for before hosting or surfing. There are folks out there who are just looking for a ‘free ride’ and don’t care about the community and experience that CouchSurfing.org was based upon. I had a surfer a few months ago who was pretty much looking for a place to sleep and had almost zero interest in making a personal connection. It’s hard to feel like making the time and giving energy to make someone feel comfortable and end up with nothing but lost time and less food on my shelves. It’s very rare, but there are times when I breathe a sigh of relief to see a visitor leave.

Also, there will always be a level of risk in trusting people you have never met but at the same time there are ways to go about it in a smart manor. The best part about the CouchSurfing.org website is that members develop credibility in a few ways. Each member’s profile has each CouchSurfing interaction documented and rated by the other surfers. This is a great way to see if your host is reliable. The other way is just lots of communication beforehand if a host has their personal info (home phone, email, address) on their profile or they are willing to give it to you. Remember hosts need to trust YOU just as much as you need to trust them.

CouchSurfers: Alex (Scotland), Melanie (Canada), Rob, Colin (Canada), Jake (US), Diermond (Ireland)
CouchSurfers: Alex (Scotland), Melanie (Canada), Rob, Colin (Canada), Jake (US), Diermond (Ireland)

Any final tips for someone who has never CouchSurfed but thinks they might like to try it?

You have to be open and willing to give. You might get taken advantage of but if you are aware of who it is that’s asking for a couch and how they interact with you, you can intuitively make the whole experience more positive. Every time I get a request, I try to connect somehow with the person/people looking for a host. Often times you can filter out a lot of the “takers” by simply asking questions to know more about them. Nine times out of 10 they don’t respond and you can stop it there and say no to the person.

I also like to get an idea of what a surfer’s expectations are and I always let them know what my schedule is before they come. Often I will be willing and able to play tour guide and cook meals for surfers but there are also times that I will be needing to take care of myself first, and find it’s very considerate and appreciated to be clear about what you can and can’t offer.

Surf when you need to save money or when you want to get more “local” feel, but try to give back when you can, too as a host. That’s what makes the community work and makes it strong. My best advice is get on the website, create a profile and feel it out, then go with your intuition and give it a try.

Rob Hosting Surfer Samantha (Australia) in Lake Tahoe, California
Rob Hosting Surfer Samantha (Australia) in Lake Tahoe, California

Rob–Thank you for sharing your experience and advice on CheapTrickstoTravel!

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