The Way to Go When you Go

By Klementina Ristovska

Many out there already know about CouchSurfing. The point is: there should be no one who doesn’t know about it. The CS project is the one, altogether most amazing travel experience booster in existence. 

For those who, when I say CouchSurfing, imagine a tanned surfer catching the wave on a yellow sofa – CS is a community of travel junkies that operates on a simple, reciprocity logic: members open their doors to host fellow travelers, and would rather crash a local’s couch than stay in a hostel when abroad.

In essence, sleeping in a stranger’s apartment? Wrong. Although formally they are completely unfamiliar people, no fellow couchsurfer is ever a stranger. With some hosts it has taken about a minute to feel as if we were friends since ever. There is a giant likelihood that the people you meet through CS are these extremely interesting, inspiring, free-spirited individuals. Or perhaps, CS simply highlights that quirky, intriguing side in people.

Safety is the first concern of CS-skeptics, and the most unfounded one. Almost always, I have been given a duplicate key from the apartment or left alone in the house free to prepare myself breakfast. The site’s reference system is meant to ensure safety, as one accumulates more positive references. Yet, I was as warmly hosted when I had zero references on my newly-opened profile as I am now; I myself have often hosted newbies too. It’s all in the attitude.

But, why would someone even take the risk when hostels nowadays are cheap anyways? And this is the crux of the issue: CS is not about free accommodation. CS is an experience. It’s an opportunity to savor the place through the eyes of a local and experience things not marked in your tourist guidebook. From informal learning and taking up new perspectives on life, to random late-night D&Ms; to long-lasting friendships that remain. One positive stay and you’ll know that not paying a dime for that three-day sleepover and a yummy dinner was the least significant detail.

Hosting is the other side of the story. The single downside of hosting as a girl is to maneuver away from those seeing CS as a dating site. Easy way to circumvent these picture-browsers:  keep an obscure, non-revealing image of yourself as the single profile photo and it’s certain that potential surfers (and hosts) picked you solely on profile content.

Couchsurfing’s 1999 inception came out of a fun event: 22-year-old co-founder Casey Fenton from Alaska was travelling to Iceland on a budget. In a pursuit of a true local experience, but lacking an acquaintance there, Fenton hacked the e-mail network and spammed the entire student body of Iceland University. He received tons of positive replies – students were eager to host him and show him “their Reykjavik”. The idea was born.

Certainly, CS is mostly suited for hitchhikers, backpackers, train-hoppers and pursuers of similar adventurous budget-travel forms. 18 to 29 is the most active age range. Couchsurfing with your family? Surprisingly, there are whole families active on this site!

Hospitality has no limits. CS is now a global phenomenon – from those initially pushed into it by the necessity of free accommodation, eventually hooked forever; to those selling all their belongings to couchsurf the world.

In 2008 there were 120 Couchsurfers in Kazakhstan. Today, there are more than 4000. Today, there are also 43 people hosting in Greenland, and 23 couches available in Antarctica. Practically every country in the world is part of the 5.5 million-strong network.  And it’s growing as we speak – for a reason.

 

  • Fun fact: Utrecht was one of the top most active cities based on members-to-inhabitants ratio. We even have our UCU CS Group which sadly numbers three current UCU students, besides several alumnae. Hop aboard brave souls!
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