The CouchSurfing Project (CS) is currently the world’s largest hospitality exchange network, founded by Casey Fenton in 1999. The network connects like-minded travellers for cultural exchange, friendship, and learning experience. Travellers can be hosted by the locals for free and sleep in whatever empty space available (floor, couch, or bed). The idea of CS came up when Fenton got a cheap flight ticket to Iceland. Rather than staying in a hotel, he spammed over 1,500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik to ask them whether or not he could crash on one of their couches. The effort was eventually successful as he received more than 50 accommodation offers! From this amazing experience, CS was ultimately born. Currently, CS has over 2 million members spreading in over 230 countries (from Indonesia to Antartica! No kidding!). It is the most visited hospitality service on the Internet and the most famous one (at least in Europe), for sure!
I have been a CouchSurfer or CSer (a term used to refer to the member of CS) for more than 2 years already. I heard about CS for the first time from my dear friend Mulia. In the beginning, I was a bit sceptical about staying in a stranger’s house. But after having positive experiences with CS for many times, I was so glad she introduced me to this community! Every time I travel, I rely on it so much: from surfing somebody else’s coaches to meeting up for a coffee. Up until now, I have couchsurfed 7 times in 6 cities: Rotterdam (Netherlands), Heidelberg, Cologne, and Ulm (Germany), Paris (France), and Salzburg (Austria). My most memorable CS experience was definitely the one in Heidelberg, where my 4 friends and I were hosted by a really nice and welcoming German CSer in her tiny yet cosy one-bedroom apartment. She guided us around her city like a professional tour guide with many interesting stories about Heidelberg, the castle, etc. She was the best tour guide you could ever ask for! She told us that she spent some time reading a history book about Heidelberg before we came. How cool and nice of her, don’t you think? 🙂
When I’m not travelling, I host a number of CouchSurfers who usually come to Eindhoven for a conference or transit. So far, I have hosted people from Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia, Sweden, and the United States. I thoroughly enjoy it and I’m eager to host for more CSers! 🙂 When I’m not available for hosting, I tried to meet up with a few CSers for a coffee or a tour of the city. I also attended a CS international dinner gathering once organised by CSers in Eindhoven. I had so much FUN meeting new people from different backgrounds and trying out some traditional foods from different countries! It was the experience I’d never forget!
For me, CS is an awesome travelling community! Put it this way: CS enables the world to literally come into my house!! Pretty cool, huh? It provides us with a cross-cultural experience in one complete package! It’s an amazing thing to be able to meet travellers from different countries who have a similar passion and have some cool experiences that I’d never imagine! It amazes me how we could instantly be so close to the people who we just met. CS really brings travellers from around the world together. It allows us to broaden our horizon, open our eyes, and even break the stereotype! Through CS, I’m able to share my views and perspectives on a number of things, including about my religion, Islam. CS becomes the place for me to straighten the image of Islam — knowing that Islamophobia is on the rise (especially in Europe!). One of the nicest things about CS is the fact that we can meet the locals and explore their city like they do! 🙂 Surely, the free stay and saving money thing are the added advantage!
I have met the nicest people in CS that I still sometimes wonder, how could they be THAT nice, helping me with everything I needed without ever expecting anything in return?! I met a Parisian CSer who accompanied me during my 3 days in Paris (I was travelling alone at that time). He was SO kind — even to the point of helping me to carry my super heavy luggage! I was really grateful for his help because I didn’t think I could manage to change metros for 3 times, go through endless stairs, and at the same time, carry the luggage!! He also showed me around the city and forced me to walk for HOURS non-stop (and I was complaining, could we take a metro, please?! Haha). Travelling around Paris without him wouldn’t be the same. It was such a memorable time! 🙂
These positive experiences that I had through CS made me want to contribute more to the community. Hosting CSers at my place is one of the things I do to “pay back” those positive experience that I got — even though I can only offer them a floor to sleep on. Depends on my schedule, I’d sometimes cook my CS guests Indonesian foods and show them around Eindhoven (which unfortunately has little to offer). My whole family was even involved in entertaining them when I had the chance to meet up with them in Jeddah! It was actually very fun — I could never imagine that my dad and mom would ever involve in this! Hahaha! We brought these CSers around Jeddah and treated them a nice Indonesian dinner ;). We all enjoyed it!
Despite all the positive experiences that I mentioned above, being careful and alert is still very important, after all, CS is an online network with many wicked people around. The good thing is that the profile of CS members is equipped with references or testimonials that are written by CSers who have previously met or being hosted by that person before. Besides the profile description, these testimonials are essential in order to know the person better. Whether you’ll be hosting or hosted by a CSer, you need to be extra cautious, especially if you are a woman and you travel alone! Some people are too desperate to find a place to stay that they’re not paying attention to the profile of the person they’re going to stay at! And this is actually very dangerous — who knows that it may lead you to something horrible: being raped and sexually assaulted. It’s scary, indeed!
Anyway, if I travel alone, I would only search for female CSers to stay at. I’d, of course, pay attention to her profile that she wrote and references that were given by other CSers. If I can’t find any female CSers that want to host me, I’d rather stay in a hostel and pay some money than staying with a male CSer. These are just some of safety precautions that I set when I travel alone. But when I travel with a group of friends, these rules are somehow relaxed a little bit :D.
If you are a true traveller and backpacker type, surely CS is something that you don’t want to miss out! Either you want to meet up for a coffee, a city tour, or crashing at somebody else’s place — you can do that with CS. But one thing to watch out: don’t expect anything luxurious. Some CSers only provide a floor to sleep at (so you need to bring your own sleeping bag). Some do have a sleeping bag that you can borrow, a sofa, or even a comfortable bed! It all depends on where you’re staying at. Remember that your main purpose is to travel, have fun, and make new friends. So don’t ever think of complaining — instead, show some gratitude to your host. Even better: give him/her some traditional souvenirs from your own country, volunteer yourself to cook dinner, or treat him/her a nice dinner in a restaurant. And don’t forget: entertain and be entertained! 😉
Have a happy CS-ing!