What is CouchSurfing?
For the people that are unfamiliar with Couchsurfing, we will go into explaining the essence of it. Couchsurfing is a online network for the purpose of exchanging/providing accommodations or to meet people in a new city.
A host offers accommodation or the chance to meet up for drinks or a tour around the city, if possible. Surfers, a.k.a guest, request accommodations at his or her destination. The exchange is consensual between the host and surfer. How many people, how long you stay and other conditions are worked out before you come.
The whole exchange is supposed to be free. However, we always like to show our appreciation by bringing a little something for our hosts or at least try to do things around the house like cooking and washing dishes.
As we read different sources on the net, we find that most people are advertising Couchsurfing simply as a free accommodation. Yes, Couchsurfing helps with the budget but it is so much more than that. Couchsurfing is a true cultural exchange opportunity!
We signed up on the Couchsurfing website in January of 2008. At first we thought that no one comes to Winnipeg...but we were so excited when we started getting our first surfers that summer (I guess Winnipeg at -40° C is not very appealing to travellers). We hosted so many amazing people from around the world. One of our surfers was on his round-the-world trip and was our final inspiration to start our adventure.
Since we started our travels, we found that some countries are easier to surf than others. For example, Peru was very difficult to couchsurf, particularly in Cusco. Seems that people in Cusco are using the website for their our personal/business gain. Every person we requested a place to stay replied with an offer to stay at their hostel or so sign up for the tour that they are the guide for. This was very frustrating because this goes against what Couchsurfing stands for.
Apart from our bad luck in Peru (so far), we did find excellent hosts even with last minute requests. The people that have hosted us greeted us with their open arms. We had some people inviting us to parties, sharing their friends with us, cooking for us, giving us full day tours and so many other little but precious things.
As a couple, it has been quite easy to Couchsurf. Firstly, single women are more willing to host a couple (perhaps for safety reasons?). As hosts, we had many single females requesting to stay with us because of the fact that we are a couple. Next, as a couple, we can manage to sleep in close quarters (i.e. single bed) so we can get away with requesting couches for single people.
1) Get involved with couchsurfing BEFORE you leave on your trip. This means host people or at least go to some events and meet people who are involved. Couchsurfing is rapidly growing and is being abused by some individuals. They see it simply as a free place to stay and like to surf but have no intention of hosting. For this reason, many people say that they will not host a person if they have never hosted.
2) Request couches in advance, particularly in the popular cities. We learned the hard...some couches are already booked for the entire summer!
3) Try to surf with the newest members to Couchsurfing. They don't get as many requests and are usually very eager to get involved.
4) Become friends with your host. Go out together or at least get their take on their city...after all, this is what Couchsurfing is all about!
5) This comes as an obvious, but be courteous and respectful. Try to help around the house. Cook for your host, buy groceries or things you use up and wash dishes.
Hope this helps! Write to us if you have any more questions.