The dangers of couchsurfing
Surfing vs Hopping
Remember the adolescent art of couch hopping? It's when friends and friends of friends let you "crash" on their couch for a night or two while you work on finding a job and eventually a place of your own. Couch Hopping is the result of you being homeless and relying on the kindness of others to find a place to sleep at night.
Couch Surfing strongly contrasts hopping by being a planned event. Couch Surfers make reservations while traveling. In an effort to save money on hotels, couch surfers seek out strangers that will let them "crash" at their home for little or no money.
If this is the first you've heard of Couch Surfing, it may surprise you to discover it isn't new. The leading couch surfing organization has been in existence for years, and it followed an idea travel experts often advocate.
More than Money
Veteran surfers enjoy much more than hotel savings. When traveling to another country, surfers get an inside view of another culture. They experience for themselves what life is like as a "local." Some hosts will go an extra step and give their guests an insider's tour of the area.
Many surfers come away from the surfer experience feeling as though they have made new, close friends. Some keep in touch with their hosts and find themselves in a much larger circle of friends.
Is Couch Surfing Dangerous?
Yes. Remember, traveling at any level, driving a car, and walking down the road are also ways that you can find yourself up against crime.
Your parents told you not to talk to strangers, how would they feel about staying in their home? There is never a way to make 100% you are safe in any situation but there are safeguards in place to help you minimize your risk.
Use a reputable couch surfing organization (described below)
- Look for verified names and addresses
- Travel with a buddy
- Check the references of your host
Travel journalists will tell you to find your distant relatives in Europe and they will insist on hosting you. If you don't know how to find your relatives, you can register at any of the sites listed below. The site most often recommended is couchsurfing.com. This site requires a small donation to verify your name and address and you build a profile much like one you would see on facebook or myspace. You can interact with other couch surfers, ask questions, and even meet for coffee.
Be aware that you are not reserving a five star hotel. Most places are offering you a couch..and it doesn't need to be a comfortable couch! Pay careful attention to the accommodations and the references of those offering to let you crash. Consider yourself lucky if you get clean linens and a mattress!
Couch Surfing Etiquette
When you arrive at your destination and find your newest friends, remember that you are an ambassador of whatever country, state, or city you are visiting from. Clean up after yourself and be extra friendly and kind.
Be ready to share your story. Your host is offering you a place to stay and they want to know all about you. If you are the quiet type, this is not the type of travel for you.
Do not eat food or cook, unless it is offered to you. Some hosts are gracious and others simply cannot afford it.
Find a way to repay them. Aside from offering them a place to stay in your home, figure out a way to show your gratitude. Leave behind a bottle of wine, offer to walk their pet, or buy them a dinner on the town.
Frugal or Freaky?
Couch Surfing is not for the faint at heart, but it is also not exclusive to one age group. Surfers and hosts alike range from the young professional to retired couples. Selecting a place to crash can be frugal and fun for some and just plain freaky to others.
What do you think? Have you surfed yet? Do you think you might? Have you ever hosted a surfer?