Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Couch Surfing is the best thing ever

Last night was another monthly potluck for the Couch Sufers (CSers) of San Jose.  It was a great party.  The desserts were delicious, the beer was flowing, the music was popping and there was plenty of tom foolery to go around.  It got me to thinking about Couch Surfing (CSing) and how much I appreciate the community.  CSing is one of the big reasons I'm happy here.  It is my friend base, and friends are extremely important to me.

I think one of the problems I had during my first couple months here is I had no friends.  Sure, I had Oscar's friends and family, who are all extremely nice to me. Who I love to hang out with.  But they aren't my friends.  So I joined a couple CS groups and started heading to the meetings*.

The great part about CSers is they love to meet new people.  The very first meeting I headed to, I was embraced like an old friend and immediately included into conversations.  There weren't any cliques, dirty looks, or "new girl" treatment.  Everyone was hanging out with everyone.  CSers are exciting people, they've been to places I've never heard of, done things I thought were impossible, speak languages I didn't know existed.  I learn something every time I'm with CSers.

These people are so important to me, and I'm so glad I was able to meet all of them.  Plus, they're TONS of fun!!!


So now that I've given my little sentimental spiel about CSing, I'll post some of the more technical aspects of the organization.

In case you don't even know what Couch Surfing is, it's a community of people who open their homes to travelers, travelers who want to see a native's perspective, or just folk who like to hang out.  Basically how it works is you set up a profile for free, it's always better to have a complete profile, then you can search for a couch in the area you are traveling to.  You read the profile and see if you think you would like to stay with that person.  Then, you send a request for the couch with the date you plan on being there and BAM!  You're officially a surfer.

Isn't it dangerous?  What if these people are murders?  These are the two questions (or statements) that I hear the most often when I explain CSing to someone.  The answer: probably not.  Just like life, CSing is as dangerous as you make it.  For example, walking around at night is usually no biggie, but walking around at night with all your money, expensive jewelry and your passport while drunk is a bad idea anywhere you go.  There are safety systems set in place and it is up to the user to practice them.

Each profile on CSing has a section for references.  After someone hosts, travels with, meets with, or surfs with any user they are encouraged to leave a reference on their stay.  This reference cannot be removed, so it is quite easy to tell that someone with 100+ positive references is probably a pretty good guy and someone with only three references, two of them negative, is probably someone to avoid.  Plus, all correspondence between users is saved, users can have their address verified, and there is a vouch system (which basically means someone met you, and you're a good person).

But yes, there are people who only use CSing to get laid, to network, to get a free place to stay, or some other alternative.  So you have to use your own discretion when allowing people into your house, or going into someone else's.  Fortunately, for the most part, CSing is full of wonderful, helpful, selfless people who just want to give a fellow traveler a hand.

And it's not just for surfers or hosts!  A lot of people tell me "But I don't have anywhere to host someone" or "I don't feel comfortable with letting people into my house yet".  No problem!  I, personally, fall into the first category right now.  Instead, you can meet up with travelers to show them around your hometown.  Take them to the hot spots only locals know about.  Introduce them to a new type of dance that the guidebook doesn't mention.  Help them experience your city to its fullest potential!  Or just come and hang out with your local chapter in one of its meetings.  It never takes long for a skeptic to become an enthusiast.

I really hope I've helped someone out there see how great couch surfing can be.  Happy travels!!!

*A Couch Surfing meeting is anything where CSers meet up.  It's not like a board meeting, it's usually at a bar.

My very first hosts in Madrid!  The start of something wonderful.


Alex said...

very nice post! Lovely description of some of the safety mechanisms built into the site as well.

I would only add that the vouching bit is even a bit beyond what you mentioned, which is that in order to "vouch" for somebody, you must yourself have been "vouched" for by at least 3 different couchsurfers... and this system is taken very seriously. So, it's not just some random person vouching for you... it's somebody who's already been demonstrated by other "proven trustworthy" people.

Jimena said...

great post!! we joined CS in Portland because we figured it would be a great group of people to look for for friends: usually laid back, adventurous, respectful and open-minded, personable, not too traditional.
we've had a great time meeting people, surfing, and's a great idea!!