Couchsurfing review – is it still worth it?

Couchsurfing review – is it still worth it?

The first time I used Couchsurfing was in 2012 on my first solo trip backpacking through Europe. In 2012 Couchsurfing was a great web application and I connected with locals in London and Stockholm. These cities are notorious for having high accommodation prices, which is what initially made me interested in Couchsurfing, but after I surfed a couple of places, I realized Couchsurfing is much more than just a free place to stay.

How does Couchsurfing work?

If you have never heard of Couchsurfing before, let me break it down real quick! As a solo traveler, it is one of my favorite ways to meet people around the world. Couchsurfing connects locals with people visiting their respective city. 

A Host offers a free place, usually a couch, to stay.

A Surfer is a traveler who will sleep for free in someone’s house.

But why would a host offer their place for free? There has to be a catch!

There are several reasons why hosts offer their place to stay:

  • It is a way to meet new people from around the world.
  • The host wants to be a surfer when they travel, so they host to build more reviews so that they can get accepted when they send out Couchsurfing requests.
  • They love the Couchsurfing community and want to give back, by hosting other travelers.

How Has Couchsurfing Changed?

Couchsurfing has lost popularity over the years due to Airbnb, but it is still alive! Here are the significant changes I’ve noticed:

Fewer activities posted – The major shift I have noticed in Couchsurfing is that there are fewer activities posted. In 2012, I was in Sweden and saw a CS event to play Brännboll, a Swedish game similar to baseball. Brännboll was the perfect Couchsurfing event because it introduced me to something native to Sweden and allowed me to make new friends. Nowadays I never check the activities in a particular city, because there aren’t that many and the ones that are listed aren’t as interesting.

Men treat it like the new tinder – Some members treat Couchsurfing like a dating site, which is off-putting towards women. Please make sure to read reviews to avoid awkward encounters. Also, if you stay with an overly aggressive host, write a review so others can be informed.

Less couchsurfing requests –  As a free member, you can only send 10 messages to hosts per week. If you pay for a membership, then you can send an unlimited amount of surfing requests. This change is positive because it helps decrease mindless Couchsurfing requests. Since you only have a limited number of messages per week, there is a higher incentive to research the hosts and write a thoughtful note.

5 Reasons Why You Should Still Couchsurf

Although Couchsurfing has changed over the years, I still highly recommend it, especially for a solo long-term traveler. Here are the top 5 reasons to still Couchsurf:
1. Save money – Couchsurfing is free, which is great for your wallet! As a courtesy, offer to pay for a drink or meal for your Couchsurfing host. Or bring something small from your home country.
2. Travel like a local – This is the real benefit of Couchsurfing. Take advantage of the local knowledge your host has. The ideology is that CS facilitates cultural exchange. Having access to someone local is valuable since you have an insiders guide to different things to see, types of restaurants to try, and fun activities to do.
3. Instant friend – I Couchsurf in places where I don’t know anyone because I immediately have someone to hang out with. Couchsurfing is ideal for solo travelers, but it’s also possible to surf with one or two other people.
4. Improved review systems – Couchsurfing has enhanced their rating systems, so people aren’t afraid to leave bad reviews. In the past, hosts and surfers could write reviews whenever they wanted – if a surfer wrote a bad review than the host could retaliate and also leave a bad review, which led to everyone only writing good reviews. Now, after a stay, the host and surfer have 2 weeks to write a review. Once both have written a review, it becomes public. If only the host or surfer writes a review, it will still be public in 2 weeks, but the opposite party can’t change or do a new review after reading their evaluation.
5. Keep the community going – Yes, Couchsurfing is free, which is an excellent way to save money, but the actual benefit is the community. In the current age of Airbnb, the people who still host on Couchsurfing are more interested in making connections and sharing their culture than trying to make extra money. Let’s keep this “pay it forward” community together because connecting people is one of the most important things about traveling.

How to get people to accept your Couchsurfing Request

  • Introduce yourself – When you introduce yourself, think about what things make you interesting. Why would someone want to have you in their home? i.e., My name is Kesi, and I’m from NYC. I’ve been traveling around the world for 4 years.
  • Be personal – read the whole profile of the host and some reviews. Find something on the profile that interests you and mention it in your request. Some hosts get several requests per day, so it’s important to give the impression that there is a specific reason why you would want to stay with that person. Find some connection. i.e.,– I see that you have traveled to Mozambique. I’ve always wanted to go there and would love to hear your stories!
  • Offer Something – I love cooking, so I always offer to cook a meal when I’m a surfer. Think of something useful you can share, whether it is travel stories, a gift from your home country, or offering to buy a beer if you have a night out. i.e., By the way, I work as a chef on boats, and if you are interested would love to cook one night. Maybe you can teach me some cooking techniques from your country?
  • Be flexible – remember people are opening up their homes to you. You have to follow all of their rules. Sometimes there is no extra key, so you have to leave the house when the host is not home. Also, you might stay a couple of days with one host and then switch to another host. Let your host know that you are flexible. i.e., I would appreciate it if you could host me for a couple of days. Please let me know if these dates work with you, or if there is an alternative date that is better.

Couchsurfing experiences from around the world

Couchsurfing Review – Africa

My best Couchsurfing experiences were on the continent of Africa.

I surfed in Morocco, Uganda, and Tanzania. The hosts in the countries truly embody the CS spirit, and their sole mission is to show you the local life in their town.

One reason why African hosts are the best is that CS is their only source of travel. For example, a Moroccan passport is hard and expensive to travel with since visas are required to visit different countries. It is easier for someone from Morocco to “travel” by participating in Couchsurfing and hosting surfers from around the world. Couchsurfing allows hosts to learn and interact with different cultures without actually being in a different country.

Below is a photo of my host from outside of Casablanca, Morocco. I called him my brother from another mother – afros unite! He went out of his way to show me around his city. Even though he comes from a low-income family, he bought me street food (snails!) because he wanted me to try local cuisine. Spending a couple of days with him and his family was a different, and enjoyable way to travel in Morocco.

 

My most unique CS experience was with Tobiko and staying with his family in a Masaai Village in Tanzania. I asked my Tobiko, “How did you find out about Couchsurfing?” He replied,

“I Googled how to make friends, and Couchsurfing popped up.”

My most unique CS experience was with Tobiko and staying with his family in a Masaai Village in Tanzania. I asked my Tobiko, “How did you find out about Couchsurfing?” He replied,

Couchsurfing Review – Australia

I prefer to stay in hostels in Australia.

Australia is a very social place to backpack, especially the East cCoast. I tried Couchsurfing twice in Australia but realized that I would rather spend money and hang out in hostels. My CS hosts were always ready to party, but they weren’t always people I would necessarily want to hang out with. I would rather make friends on my own, and since Australia has extremely social hostels, I wasn’t in search of friends while on the continent. To read more about my experience backpacking in Australia, check out my interview by UPROXX Magazine.

Couchsurfing Review – Europe

Accommodation is expensive in Europe, and Couchsurfing helps offset the cost.

Europe is the first place I ever Couchsurfed. Visiting major cities in Europe can be overwhelming. I prefer living like a local versus sightseeing all day. Couchsurfing in Europe is perfect for getting a sense of what it would be like if you lived in that city. With a plethora of options in each town, it’s always nice to have someone local with recommendations.

Couchsurfing Review as a Solo female

A solo female traveler has a higher chance of being accepted as a surfer when compared to a single male traveler. The reason is that women are not as threatening. Is it safe to surf with strangers? Every decision you make in life has an inherent risk, yet Couchsurfing strives to remain a safe space. Before accepting a host request, always have a backup option in case you feel uncomfortable. The worst plan is to solely rely on your host because if they end up being creepy, you need to find a safe place to go.

I have never had anything scary happen to me while I have Couchsurfed, but there is one time in Croatia where I felt uncomfortable and chose to remove myself from the situation. The guy I stayed with had over 100 reviews, but there were signs that he wanted to be more than just friends. The first sign was that he took my girlfriend and me out to a nice meal and paid for everything. With CS, since the host is already giving a free place to stay, nothing else free is expected. The second sign was that he would always walk around in his small underwear. It’s his house, so he can choose to wear what he wants. The final straw was when one night, he suggested I sleep in his bed instead of my bed. My bad vibe was confirmed after he asked me to share a bed, so I politely told him I would be leaving and found an Airbnb. Listen to your gut and make sure always to post reviews if anyone is treating Couchsurfing like a dating site.

For other tips on solo travel, check out this guide for first-time solo travelers.

For other longterm travel advice, click here.

 

Couchsurfing Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to Couchsurfing. I have not personally tried these websites, but other travelers have recommended them. 

Free Alternatives

  • Bewelcome.org – This website is a smaller community filled with a lot of ex-Couchsurfers. Basically, everyone who got pissed off that the CS community changed and become low quality decided to join Bewelcome, which has the same values Couchsurfing originated with.
  • Hospitalityclub.orgworldwide home sharing site offering free accommodation
  • Servas.org -This is the pioneer website and was around before there was even internet. 

Paid Alternatives

  • Airbnb – a home sharing site where you can rent a single room, an entire apartment, or even a villa. One of the downsides of Couchsurfing is if you don’t bond with your host, you are awkwardly stuck with them. Sometimes it’s better to pay for accommodation, to have your own space. Airbnb is an excellent alternative because you can find hosts with a similar Couchsurfing mentality, who strive to provide a local experience, like my host in Split, Croatia. Airbnb is cheaper than staying in a hotel. Airbnb also allows you to book experiences, which are unique ways to see a city.

Do you like free money?

Click here to sign up for Airbnb and get $40 off your home booking. And you get $15 to use toward an experience worth $50 or more.

  • Veg Visits – a home sharing site that’s specifically for vegetarian and vegan accommodation. It’s excellent for the hosts, who don’t have to worry about guests cooking meat in their kitchen. And it’s also helpful for the travelers, as the hosts will be able to give them insider advice about the best places to eat out or shop for specialty items. Some hosts even offer the use of their kitchen to travelers who don’t need accommodation but are looking for a place to prepare their own meals. Users can even filter to see which hosts have blenders, food processors or other equipment.

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