A lot of people reached out to me throughout my 9-month road trip. I heard from college and high school classmates I’d not seen in years. I stayed with readers of my book and this blog. But I also used a website called Couchsurfing to find hosts all over North America. I actually relied on Couchsurfing a lot.
I didn’t have to use Couchsurfing on my road trip. I could’ve passed over entire states and clocked several 15-hour drives in between people I knew.
But I didn’t want to skip too many cities. I didn’t want to miss something. Couchsurfing started as a selfish desire to see as many places as I could, but it turned into an exciting adventure all in itself. A human adventure.
If you’ve never heard of Couchsurfing, it’s a free community that connects travelers (“surfers”) with willing hosts.
You can pay for a background check if you wish, though the primary currency of Couchsurfing runs through references that surfers and hosts leave each other. References are public and permanent, and they tell the story of a Couchsurfer’s credibility.
It’s a little bizarre at first, sleeping on a stranger’s couch or welcoming a bearded wanderer to your kitchen table. But whether you’re constantly on the move like me or never see yourself leaving your cozy backyard, I think Couchsurfing is worth investigating. Here are five big reasons why you should try Couchsurfing.
Caution: you might learn Couchsurfing is more for you than you realize.
1. Couchsurfing gives you total control.
Is Couchsurfing really safe? That’s probably the biggest question on most people’s minds; it was the biggest thing on mine. After 30 safe Couchsurfing stops across North America, I can ease your anxieties.
An adventurous spirit with a little good judgment go a long way.
If you’re a host and you don’t want to accept the chick with the purple hair and pierced tongue and sleeve tattoos who requests you next weekend, you don’t have to accept.
If you’re a surfer and you don’t want to stay with the 80-year-old man who proudly touts his home as clothing-optional, you don’t have to send him a single message.
You can accept or reject anyone you’d like for whatever reason. You can also dialogue with your hosts/surfers as much as you’d like before meeting. You can talk on the phone, and you can chat at Starbucks. Most of the time, though, someone just shows up at the doorstep, rings the doorbell, and both sides let the magic unfurl from there.
There are certainly separate trust concerns for males versus females. But there is a hospitable commonality among the Couchsurfing community. If you read people’s profiles and find others with similar interests and glowing references, your likelihood of getting ax-murdered is slim to none.
2. Couchsurfing lets you practice love in simple yet profound ways.
If you’re a surfer, you learn to receive love in the form of home-cooked meals and freshly laid sheets. If you’re a host, you get the honor of showing off your home and your city to visitors from afar.
Take it from me: a meal and a bed go such a long way.
I’ve always struggled to accept love, so Couchsurfing humbled me in huge ways. From America to Canada, these Couchsurfers went out of their way to love me — strangers, mind you. It’s one thing when your grandma slips you a $20 bill in the hallway, but it’s another when someone you’ve known for five minutes asks you which kind of pasta you’d prefer for dinner and if you’re a coffee person for the morning.
Love like that is no small matter. Love like that is huge.
3. Couchsurfing gives you the inside look.
What makes more sense: Googling stuff to do in Houston or asking someone who actually lives there? Googling is time-consuming and can be hit-or-miss.
Connecting with someone who’s already intimately familiar with their city is the best way to experience a new place.
My Couchsurfing hosts gave me incredible insights from coast to coast, and many of them embarked with me on the hikes and coffee shop tours they recommended. I always loved it when my hosts could join my wanderings, because then the places became less about the doing and more about the being.
4. Couchsurfing restores your faith in humanity.
The news is fraught with riots, assaults, and killings, and it’s easy to assume humanity as this menacing virus at every turn. We forget good people exist beyond our closed circle of loved ones.
But good people do exist; boy, do they. It’s a special brand of person that opens their home to strangers and houses them, feeds them, talks with them.
It is a beautiful thing when someone who used to be a stranger becomes strange no longer.
Couchsurfing lets you see the rest of the world less as other and more as brother, and that is a mammoth distinction.
5. Couchsurfing connects people.
Couchsurfing creates friendships you’d have never otherwise made. It’s like you went to camp with these people for a few days as you exchange contact info and stay in touch for years to come.
If you’re a Christian like me, there’s an added supernatural flare to Couchsurfing: you just never know whose path God is preparing yours to cross. It’s magical when it happens in ways only He could orchestrate.
The thing you’ll soon realize about everyone on Couchsurfing is that we’re all cut from the same inexplicable cloth. We love travel, we love adventure, and above all else we love people.
To be clear, Couchsurfing isn’t a free hotel alternative; it’s a priceless people-meeting experience. If you use Couchsurfing solely for the free-ness, you’re kinda missing the point — and your lackluster references might reveal as such.
If you love people, and I’m guessing you probably do, you should give Couchsurfing a try. If you’re uneasy, start small.
If you’re traveling for a conference or taking a long road trip just because: create a free profile and research some profiles. I guarantee you will find someone fascinating. It might be impossible not to message them.
If you’re someone with a couch or a spare bedroom: create a profile, turn it on, and see what happens. See who finds you and messages you. You might get some ridiculous requests you can’t say NO to fast enough.
And you might just hear from someone who tugs on your heart strings for some obvious or yet unknown reason. You’ll accept them, you’ll meet them, and they’ll change your life.
You’ll probably change some lives, too.
I hope you give Couchsurfing a try. I’m so grateful I did. I’ll never sleep in a hotel again.
Have you ever used Couchsurfing as a host or surfer? How’s your Couchsurfing experience gone?