Sam Ryan worked for Lowimpact.org in the UK for a year, and is now on his way overland, with his partner Dani, back home to Australia to set up Low-impact Australia over there. He’s going to send us a few blog articles en route. This second one is about couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing is changing the way people travel. For people that have never encountered it, the idea may seem quite strange. In a nutshell, this is how it works.
‘Surfers’: search profiles online (in a way not dissimilar to internet dating) either in a place they want to visit, or in order to find a place to visit, and send a ‘couchrequest’ to a person they have never met.
‘Hosts’: receive a request (or in some cases offer a couch) to a person they haven’t met and make a decision whether to accept depending on their availability, the quality of the request and how interested they are by that person’s profile.
The information both parties have available to them in a profile is usually a few photos, descriptions that people have written about themselves in a variety of ways, and the references others have left them. These references are the keystone of couchsurfing, as they are written by people that have met these individuals either as hosts, surfers, or friends.
I really can’t speak highly enough about couchsurfing as an experience in itself, and an amazing way to travel – my partner and I have been members for over two years now and have surfed at over 30 places in 12 countries. We are currently traveling back to Australia from England and attempting to couchsurf as much as possible.
The benefits are staggering. We are constantly being exposed to new ideas, perspectives and ways of doing things. It does require some effort in terms of finding someone suitable and sending them a thoughtful request, but there are the obvious advantages of getting a local perspective, the best information, getting to ask obscure questions about history and culture, language and recipes, and on average eating better and more local food. Saving money is one aspect that attracts many, and while it can greatly reduce costs as no cash should change hands for accommodation, it is polite to share food costs, cook a meal for your host, and leave a gift. Like all things, couchsurfing is open to abuse, but the vast majority are courteous and respectful people, and negative experiences rare. Many of those we encounter think it is one of the best things to come from the internet age.
As for hosting, it is a way to travel without leaving home. New people from other places bring new ideas. They allow you to see your home through a travellers eyes, and can make those times when you are not able to travel more interesting. It is also an indirectly reciprocal relationship – if you can offer your place when at home, someone will be offering theirs when you are away. It makes no sense for people to spend most of their travel funds on a place to sleep, when everyone needs the same thing while travelling. By participating you can travel for longer, plus enjoy all those benefits that soulless hotels or traveller-packed hostels cannot. Isn’t part of travelling meeting local people? It can be very difficult to do when using conventional accommodation.
For more information, and to start couchsurfing, follow this link.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's