Couchsurfing (CS) was founded over 10 years ago with the idea of bringing people together. By letting guests stay on your couch for free you had the chance to meet like-minded travelers and make friends all over the world. That is exactly why I enjoy(ed) it.
The past decade low budget traveling has become very popular and so has CS. Being a member for almost seven years I experienced the community increase very fast.
Along with this increase there are obviously many people who hear the word “free” and subscribe right away. CS doesn’t cost you money (unless you want to be verified) but there are some important hidden “costs” involved that people should realize.
It took me seven years to build my CS network. People from all over the world that allowed me into their house, let me use their stuff and most of all let me get to know them.
It has given me experiences that are so much more valuable than any other kind of travel. Arranged traveling or staying in a hotel is just boring when you have experienced the true meaning of CS. The spontaneity, the randomness, the motivation and the inspiration of other people influencing your own path in life, how much better can it get?
Don’t get me wrong, I like my privacy and CS can give you that space most of the time. Hosts cannot be and don’t want to be around you all the time. Sometimes you sleep on a couch in the living room, sometimes in a private room, it all depends on the situation.
During these seven years there were only a few times that I wasn’t completely comfortable in my host his place. Then you have 2 options: stay and cope with it or politely say that you will sleep elsewhere. I’ve done both…
Sending requests take effort, sometimes a lot of effort. After all, you are asking someone to stay and sleep in their house even when they have never met you. It takes skill and patience to write a good request and that is where many people fail. It’s pretty easy to separate the good requests from the bad and by doubt, you always have the references to see how genuine a person is. When a person has no references and it’s a good request it’s probably someone sincere who just started. When it’s a bad request it’s probably a freeloader that just wants to stay in your place for free. I have to use the word “probably” because you never know for real. The same as on Facebook when you never know if it’s a normal person or a pedophile on the other side. I guess that’s what’s called “virtual trust”.
Writing the request is the first hidden “cost” people have to face (it can be very time consuming).
Besides that there are important things like good communication between guest and host, behaving normally in someone else’s place (normal for one person is not normal for the other) and most of all being who you really are. After all, your host will only know things about you from your profile.
Freeloaders are not really interested in complying with all these unwritten rules and some host don’t even mind, but I do.
I believe CS is a community where people give and take with the goal of sharing their experiences and having a nice time. As long as you register with that in mind you cannot go wrong. Most people really appreciate it if you do something for them.
I’ve stayed with people where there was almost no connection, unfortunately you never know that in advance. It was nice of them letting me stay and we will probably never see each other again, end of story. On the other hand, I’ve also stayed with people that I still have contact with, even today. Those connections are really valuable to me and it motivates me to go out there and see them again someday…
I have read articles of older members leaving the community because CS is getting too much like a corporation. I don’t fully agree.
Since some years CS monetizes their business and before they didn’t, that is correct. Quite understandable from a technical point of view, after all they need to pay for their servers, app development, website development and cloud space. This not free and never was. When CS was still small it was probably manageable by running the website very low cost, now they have over 15 million members, I think you get the point…
Fortunately, paying is still optional so you can use the site and app completely free with the following limitations:
- 10 limited CS requests per week
That’s it! And you can even get around it by creating a public trip.
The limitation can be annoying when you need to send many requests but it helps to reduce spam requests for hosts. Imagine if 15 million people can send unlimited requests…
After seven years, I’m still 100% pro CS because it has literally given me the best travel moments in my life. When I go traveling it’s my number one accommodation. If I fail to find a CS host I try AirBnB or Booking, whatever is cheaper. It has happened plenty of times that I rented an AirBnB and ended up talking with the host the whole evening, I guess it’s my social handicap as a result of using CS for so long…