A lot of people look at me sideways when I tell them I use Couchsurfing. I usually get a shake of the head “you’re crazy.” Or a gasp, “You let strangers stay in your house?” Or, my favorite, the quizzical, “Isn’t that dangerous?” To which my normal reply is “Getting in your car and driving to work is dangerous, does that stop you?” I’ve met some amazing people and forged life long connections through the Couchsurfing network. For those who have no idea what I’m referring to, Couchsurfing is an online network that connects travelers with local residents. You can stay or host or just meet up for events. Read about my quick tips for getting started with Couchsurfing here.
Let me share a chapter from my Couchsurfing experience.
Six summers ago I moved to Malaysia. I took an internship overseas for the summer, packed my bags, and hauled myself across the globe to live in Kuala Lumpur (KL) for 4 months. When I took the job I asked about visa requirements. They told me not to worry about it, that the Malaysian government was slow and by the time the papers were in order I’d be on a plane back to the states. So yes, technically you could say that I, Fox, was an illegal immigrant.
I got in the queue at customs dragging a little bit more luggage than the average backpacker. Panting, I placed my passport on the counter. The lady manning the customs booth gave me a suspecting look, “Where you stay?” she asked. Honestly I had left that part of the form blank, because at that point I really had no idea where I was ending up. All I knew was that my local roommate wasn’t home, so in the meantime I would be bunking with a coworker. “I don’t know the exact name of the place, I’m staying with a friend.” She looked me up and down and her eyes said ok BS. She stamped my passport and I was on my merry way.
I’m kind of a nerd for passport stamps so I gave it a look. 30 days?! I thought. What?! I’m supposed to get 90! Little did I know that passport stamp would lead to one awesome friendship.
Oh-So-Fun Visa Run!
Work went by and as my visa expiration date rolled closer I started asking what I should do. “Just leave the country, lah. Take a bus to Singapore for the weekend and come back in.” a coworker told me. So I set out to getting to Singapore. I had heard of Couchsurfing through a friend. In true grad school fashion, I was last minute with my planning, but a fellow named Rami accepted my request.
I was hesitant to stay with a guy I didn’t know. Despite my reservations I hopped on the bus, put on my headphones and set out for Singapore. I met Rami at an electronics store in a mall and we instantly hit it off. It was like meeting a long lost brother. It was an excellent weekend with tons of fond memories. We agreed to meet up with some new found friends in Bali later in the summer and he said he’d come visit in KL.
The summer came to an end and I went back to the US and left my expat life behind, but Rami and I kept in touch. We ended up meeting seeing each other when I decided to backpack through South East Asia after grad school. That’s when I met Meena, Rami’s new better half. And like Rami, there was an instant friendship. Although I didn’t end up being able to make their wedding, we remained good friends.
As it turns out, Rami’s childhood best friend went to CU Boulder and lived in Denver. He has since came out to the US to visit, and during his second visit this past week he brought Meena with him.
We spent this last week exploring Colorado and I got to return the amazing hospitality I was greeted with on their side of the world.
Whether it be an honest mistake or skepticism at my obvious lie, I can thank that grumpy customs agent for a lifelong friendship gained by staying on a stranger’s couch on the other side of the globe.
Looking to get started? It’s simple.
First make a profile. Be sure to fill out as much as possible. Put some thought into it, be human, and most importantly have a picture that shows your face.
Say whether you are looking to host, hang out, or surf. Remember, hosts are more likely to host you if you have hosted someone – it shows you care about the community and give back. This is a community oriented network for those interested in cultural exchange – not a place for free loaders. Yes, I’ve hosted and also met lifelong friends by doing so.
Get a review or verify your identity. If you are looking to stay with someone it’s important to look at how many, who, and what types of reviews they get; if their identity has been verified; and if they have been vouched for. The same goes for hosts evaluating if they will have you as a guest. Have someone review you that’s an actual friend or attend an event and connect with someone. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t want to stay with someone who seems sketchy so why would someone want to host someone who seems sketchy?
Join the local group in the region you are traveling to. You can see events and happenings in the area and join in the fun – even if you aren’t staying with someone. It’s a great way to connect with other travelers and locals alike. You can go see a cultural site, hitch a ride, or go out to dinner.
Adventure away! You never know who you’ll meet!