Sounds simple, Couchsurfing.
You go online, register an account and fill in a profile and provide some more information. From then on, it becomes possible to sleep without spending on hostels or hotels in the homes of literally millions of hosts all countries in the world, North Korea included.
In 2013, there were more than one million registered users, with an average of 28 years. Even Julian Assange from Wikileaks was part of the community, but now it's the Ecuadorian Embassy – as far as we know, not registered on the site – that has been hosting him for a long time.
From Spontaneous Movement to Hyper-Organized Online Community
Initially, I led this community, not for profit and with good intentions, a group of idealistic volunteers, but the unexpected fame of the project came to corrupt the original ideals of sharing and socializing. Even so, countless people continue to strive to make travelers happier.
In exchange for the accommodation we need, it is assumed that at least one or another of these millions of registered users will also be able to stay in our house a few times a year.
From then on, the relationship established depends on the good will and open-mindedness of both the guest and the traveller, but as not always everything goes as expected, here is an overview of the best and worst of Couchsurfing, with some personal examples.
House Saints Don't Always Make Miracles
Couchsurfing Fake Offers:
part of the alleged guests attract travelers to their profiles and even to their properties with the sole purpose of imposing chargeable stays on them, with values similar to those of hostels and inns.
Sometimes this is stated on the profile, but others allow a free first night and announce that there is an amount to pay – for one reason or another – the next morning. This was a question we came across dozens of times on two round-the-world trips and round-trips to the Pacific.
Fortunately, with careful reading of profiles and messages exchanged, as well as attention to telephone conversations, we were able to manage it with relative ease.
Sometimes, even against the founding principles of the Couchsurfing community, we couldn't get affordable accommodation in another place and time and, to be honest, we ended up staying in rooms/houses “advertised” on the Couchsurfing website.
The Lonely and/or Guest with Predefined Interests in Couchsurfing:
is one of the really common situations in the community Couchsurfing. Countless hosts feel lonely or because of psychological, family and social problems or because they live as expatriates, out of step with the places and cultures they have changed to and expect guests to spice up their existence.
This reality becomes really unpleasant when they have already idealized that they will have the company of guests 24 hours a day and hinder their freedom or their plans. We went through several situations of this kind, with completely different experiences and results.
It went well: nothe surroundings of Perth, Western Australia, Tim had recently been divorced. He only lived with a son who completely ignored him.
He welcomed us and a couple of Germans. He slept on the sofa, offered us the car to explore the Great Ocean Road and took us to see a australian football game among many other incredible sympathies. Despite his somewhat colloquial treatment, we had a lot of fun conversations.
Did Bad: in Utsunomya, in the Japan, halfway to Nikko and her temple complex, we were taken in by a Japanese teenager obsessed with learning English who, in addition, despite not informing him, lived in a tiny T0.
As we arrived at his house late at night and we were far from any alternative, the three of us ended up sleeping on the floor, side by side with our legs under a table.
But that wasn't even what bothered us the most. The worst thing was that, the next day, he tried to stick to us in such an overt and oppressive way that we had to invent an excuse to leave him in the middle of the afternoon.
Homes Sweet Homes or Not As Sweet As This
We also stayed in pristine, sophisticated homes and avoided or left, as soon as possible, homes for us uninhabitable. It's not that we've always managed to fulfill it, but it's important to always have an alternative plan from other Couchsurfers or, if that's not possible, from another type of accommodation, for when things don't go as expected.
It went well: noone of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Tokyo, the American host, a consultant in a multinational company, received us saying that we had broken the record for the delay in arriving at the entrance to the building. à door of his house, such was the technological complexity of the building in which he lived.
As you can imagine, in this case, we feel physically comfortable in his modern, almost futuristic home, even if he turned out to be too corporate and “numerical” by our standards – the typical American eager to become the next "wolf of Wall Street".
When we arrived at his house, he wasn't there. But there were six or seven other young women, almost all of them women, also couchsurfers, scattered all over the house. One of them welcomed us and told us to settle in wherever we wanted.
All around, everything was a messy, dirty and repulsive chaos and we are far from spoiled. We appreciate it, but we transmit it in the most sensitive way possible to that friend that we weren't going to stay after all. It still occurs to us today that either the host was, himself but only he, irresistible, or those girls were really penniless.
SexSurfing and the Pitfalls
It goes without saying that, even if some countries are practically unworried, no matter where you go, the issue of safety should be on the mind of any CouchSurfers.
One of the most recent criticisms of the community is that it houses too many guests and also travelers whose interests are purely sexual. Although almost all relationships end up being consensual, the news of forced sexual relations became more and more frequent, some with extreme violence.
It is Couchsurfing's own directives to advise women traveling alone or even in small female groups to avoid seeking and accepting male guests.
Finally, in some countries with recognized criminality problems, even Couchsurfing has come to be used as a tool for robberies and kidnappings. Malicious procedures are simple to calculate, the malicious host creates a fake profile and attracts victims where it is most convenient for him, not necessarily his home.
To avoid these two problems above, carefully read the profiles and all references of the people you contact and respond to. Don't trust guests without full profiles.
By the way, trust only guests with many positive references from other couchsurfers from different parts of the world. Also investigate as much of the person's remaining online presence as you can. Here, the Facebook obviously has a prominent role.
The Couchsurfing site also launched, some time ago, a paid credit card verification system that allows you to securely associate a name and e-mail to an account with a payment of around €20. .
This verification has become Couchsurfing's main source of income, but it is much criticized because, in practice, it is largely ignored since what it commits to do does not provide any guarantees of real safety.
For more information and safety advice on Couchsurfing itself, go to the Couchsurfing website Safety Tips.