A few years ago I flew to Los Angeles to see Natalie, the coolest chick I’ve ever met. During my visit, Natalie filled me in on the “secret” world of Couchsurfing – traveling the world by sleeping on other people’s couches for free. Couchsurfing appeals to people that want to see other cities and countries but don’t have the money to stay in hotels every night. This community works because it is founded on trust. The people that offer up their couches (or guest room in my case), are often travelers themselves and they want to help out like-minded people.
Two weeks ago we hosted our first Couchsurfers. You are probably saying to yourself, “You mean to tell me, you let strangers sleep in your house?” Yes. Yes we did – and we lived to blog about it.
After Natalie told me about Couchsurfing, it took me awhile before I began actively using the on-line community. I decided to do this because I am a big advocate of frequent travel and I want to help make it possible for others. I was relieved to see that there are several built-in safety features on Couchsurfing.org:
- identity verification — Members donate to the Couchsurfing organization using a credit card in their name.
- address verification — The Couchsurfing site mails you a postcard with a code which must be entered on the site.
- profile — A good Couchsurfing profile is more thorough than a job application. It includes photos, occupation, education, personality, interests, philosophy, what skills you have or want to learn, and languages you speak.
- vouching — Established members confirm you are who you say you are and your good character.
- references – Guests and hosts leave a positive, neutral, or negative reference.
- friends – Couchsurfing members you know in real life can “friend” you on the site.
The first Couchsurfers to sign up to stay with us were two 21-year-old guys from the U.K. Our excitement for the novel experience was tinged with a bit of nervousness. What if they’re criminals? What if we don’t like them? What if they don’t like us?
Our worries were natural, but totally unnecessary. Archie and Alister charmed us with their accents and entertained us with travel stories from their 7-week trip along the east coast of the United States. In return, we stuffed them full of pizza and cookies and served as ambassadors for our city. The guys spent their days on the beach and at night we shared tips we’ve learned along the road. Archie and Ali’s 2-day visit flew by and we were sad to see them leave.
Because of our excellent first experience, we immediately agreed to host another traveler – Carolyn, a professional photographer from New York. Her current project on global climate change prompted her trip to the nearby Everglades. She spent 9 months Couchsurfing the world and stunned us with her story of catching malaria in Kenya and not finding out until several stops later in Amsterdam. Two bottles of wine and countless stories later we knew we had a new friend.
We loved meeting these three nomads and their tales have inspired us to go out and have our own Couchsurfing experience abroad. What’s your opinion on Couchsurfing? Would you consider having a stranger sleep on your couch?
All images courtesy of couchsurfing.org