couchsurfing 101

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I understand that this couchsurfing thing remains, to most of you, a mysterious (and downright insane) venture. So, as promised, allow me explain/defend the CS (see jargon key below) system.


CS = couch surfing (the term itself is multivalent — it can mean the site, the idea, the action, the philosophy, etc.)
Surfing = to sleep at a host
Hosting = to host a surfer

Brief history

Some guy, before his trip to Iceland, realized he had nowhere to stay, and balked at paying for a hotel room. So in a flash of genius, he spammed 1500 university students; many responded, he had a great time, and couch surfing was born. (Read the slightly-more-edifying faq here.)


All users make a profile. (Here’s mine.) There are profile-esque things like fav. books and ‘types of people I enjoy,’ along with more CS-specific items like location and description of couch. Important: You don’t have to host in order to surf (but it definitely helps; see below). If you do have an available couch (or bed or floor or sleeping surface — it doesn’t literally have to be a couch) then you mark the couch’s ‘availability.’ The options are definitely, yes, maybe, no (these are pretty much an indication of your enthusiasm for surfers), traveling, and only coffee, which means you can’t offer a couch, but are open to the idea of meeting surfers and showing them around.

So, let’s say I want to go to Fiji. I’ll search for all the available couches, and message the hosts that look inviting and have the appropriate availability. (If they’re traveling or clearly don’t want surfers, then no dice.) You can also filter your search by the number of occupants your host can accommodate. There’s some etiquette involved, like no spamming with generic messages, and no persistent asking. Responses will depend on location and season and how far in advance you’re asking. There’s no obligation to host ever, and selection can be as arbitrary as the host likes. So, in this example, Fiji man agrees to host me. We agree on the precise days, and Mr. Fiji tells me how to find his house. Presto. Normal stays are 1-3 days, so I might have to do some logistical juggling to figure out accommodations for the entirety of my trip.

Safety Concerns

Okay, to many, CS seems like sending embossed invitations to rapists and murderers. But the system is remarkably effective and safe. (There are over a million members, with tens of thousands successful surfs every week.) First, there’s a verification system, where you can lock in your name and verify your address via credit card payment. This provides much more assurance than might be apparent: If I know that Ms. Ploni is really from France, then I’m much less concerned about her trekking all the way to New York just so she can steal my pet elephant or laptop. (The last log-in location is also automatically displayed.) I’m way more reluctant to take people from, say, Newark, than Denmark.

And then there’s the references. After every surf/host, everyone writes a quick review of their experience. Your profile, as well, is critical: the empty ones don’t get responses. They’re awfully suspicious. But the ones that are full and vibrant, with pictures and details, are way more comforting. There’s also a vouching system, in which only previously vouched-for people can vouch for others. It’s like a giant circle of trust.


Obviously, the surfer gets a free sleeping space. But usually, the host is like an insider to a foreign country: favorite local spots, parties, tips, etc. And from my experience, everyone I’ve hosted has been a blast to hang out with. CS also provides fun little communities wherever you travel — there’s always get-togethers and the like, all around the world. As for romance, it’s much less than you’re thinking (/hoping), but it does happen. There are a number of couples I’ve come across that have met through their CS travails. Cute, eh?

I hope that clears things up. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s not nearly as insane as it initially seems. Feel free to check out their site. (The statistics page is mondo interesting.) Heck, do a mock search for a couch. I challenge you to find a place without CS-ers.

Written by menachemkaiser

26 August at 13:53

Posted in rants

One Response

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  1. A little rationality lifts the quality of the debate here. Thanks for corbintuting!


    21 August at 23:19

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