It keeps amazing me sometimes how the internet brought so many people closer together. Since my travel activity is highly restricted to my financial abilities, I still try to get in touch with like minded people, explorers, adventurers, and polyglots.
I discovered Couchsurfing about 6 months ago. Couchsurfing is not as much focussed on cutting costs, but it is more a way of life. It is built on the principle idea that there is a basic trust among people, and that participants offer their couch, guest bed, mattress, or any possibility for guests to stay one or more nights. On the other side, participants may search the Couchsurfing database to find lodging opportunities at their destination. In addition to actually finding a place to sleep, the most important benefit of couchsurfing is to get to know the locals as you would otherwise not have. Hosts (those offering their couch) often also offer to show guests around town, they might introduce you to some of their friends, or invite you to come along at a party.
How to register
Couchsurfing is free for everyone, and all it needs is a registration at the website. Once registered, you can make a profile, upload some pictures of yourself, and tell something about yourself. Your main goal is to achieve a basic level of trust, so that if you are approaching people to host you, that from looking at your profile they will get a pretty good idea of who you are, what your passions are. As you are building your profile, you can also indicate whether or not you would be able to host people. Not everyone might have this possibility due to various reasons, so you may also indicate that you are unable to host people, but you’ll be happy to show visitors around town or meet up for a coffee.
Participate in local events
Couchsurfing has a large message board system, allowing you to exchange information and ideas around a variety of topics. Many couchsurfers meet up locally at a regular basis, and this would be your first step into meeting up with other couchsurfers live in order to get a good idea of what it’s all about. Also, if you are traveling you might want to see if there are some events at your travel destination and simply join; Couchsurfing does not know any boundaries.
There is always the elementary question: who can I trust, and who can I not. Remember, Couchsurfing is accessible to everyone, and there might be some people who are abusing the website for their own interests. In order to build a trust system, Couchsurfing has build a strong reference system (here you can read what others are writing about another person), a ‘vouching for’ system, and the possibility to have your identity and your address verified. Using these three parameters, you can easily identify who is more trustworthy, and who is not. In order to start building your references, it is recommended to become active in the community as soon as you can; join local events, or participate in the forums.
Couchsurfing is a great platform to save additional money on lodging, but moreover it is a way of life. Members are typically students, individualists, or very open-minded people who want to have a different kind of travel experience.