Every year, anti theft travel bags in tote,hundreds of thousands of youth spread across Europe and beyond for the backpacking trip of a lifetime. Unfortunately, many will waste much of it getting funneled into tourist trampled dead zones; places that are so catered to the traveler that they may as well be Costco or Wal-Mart. To get the most out of your travel, find ways to branch out, to explore and get lost in another world. One of the best ways to find your inner explorer? Couchsurfing.
What is it?
At home, couchsurfing has connotations of unemployment, of failure, of homelessness. Abroad, couchsurfing is the moniker of the free spirit, the value minded backpacker and the adventurer. Couchsurfing is the act of receiving constant free accommodation by staying on the couches or floors of kind individuals. At home, couchsurfing happens at the houses of friends and relatives. Abroad, couchsurfing happens under the roofs of strangers. Your safety and your enjoyment will depend on who those strangers are.
How does it work?
Most backpackers couchsurf by using a website called Couchsurfing.com. The website is a massive directory of travel minded individuals who want to offer fellow travelers a place to stay. Each person creates a profile, much like Facebook, and travelers connect with each other through private messages and online recommendations. While you can couchsurf without the website, it does offer the distinct advantage of convenience.
Is it safe?
Couchsurfing is as safe as you make it. If you wander into a new town alone and a strange person invites you to their home, be suspicious. However, if you have been directed by another traveler’s recommendation or can exploit any long lost relatives, it is very safe. When using websites like Couchsurfing.com, you should stick to members whose profiles are littered with the recommendations of travelers who have had positive experiences there.
While the most obvious benefit of couchsurfing is a free place to stay, the greatest reward is the behind the scenes look at the place you are visiting. The experiences and immersion you get from staying with a knowledgeable local are infinitely superior to any guided tour or tourist attraction you could ever find. Furthermore, most people that are willing to open their home to travelers know other people of the same mindset. Make one good friend in London and you may have places to stay in Turkey, Italy and Sweden.
Tips & Tricks
Consider this a grab bag, a dos and donts short list for making the most out of your couchsurfing experience. Do always be polite. Do clean up after yourself, especially in the bathroom. Don’t stay more nights than you were offered, eat food that isn’t yours or make sexual advances on your host. Do ask if they have recommendations on where to go and where to stay. Don’t harass them for other free accommodations. Do trust their opinions on good places to go.