How to Couchsurf: Interview With a Pro

CouchsurfingI was first introduced to my friend Kimberly, who also goes by Kim, and the idea of Couchsurfing in Orlando, Florida where I was living. We were both in our mid 20’s at the time. In my younger, Florida partying days, we would go out to bars and clubs together and just dance and dance. She would often get cut off by the bartender, and the funny thing is, she doesn’t drink alcohol. She just enjoys and loves life, is full of energy, and doesn’t care what others think. Kim is a blast to hang out with. I’ve never met someone with her energy before.

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Key West with our host and another CSer that had allowed us to leave our car at his place while on a cruise and decided last minute to join us on our trip to Key West upon our return

(All pictures are from Kim’s personal collection)

One day another friend and I ran into Kim. That’s when my other friend told me that Kim “does that crazy Couchsurfing thing”. I had not heard of Couchsurfing and wanted to know more. My friend told me that Kim travels the world and sleeps on the couches of people she doesn’t know. I was surprised. I’ll admit my first thoughts were that it doesn’t sound safe. Even though during our party days in Florida we crashed on many peoples couches at afterhours parties when we were too drunk to drive home. But by that time I had also lived abroad and lived in several different states in the USA and I’d fallen in love with traveling. I was impressed with how adventurous Kim was and my interest was sparked. I’ve yet to Couchsurf, but I’m open to the experience and it a good opportunity presents itself, I’m not against giving it a try!

Kim is not a blogger but she is a highly experienced traveler. Kim began Couchsurfing 9 years ago in 2006. She has since lost count of how many times she has Couchsurfed. She has traveled to over 70 countries. Kim also hosted a few fellow Couchsurfers in her home. So being curious and a travel blogger I thought Kim would be the perfect person to interview about Couchsurfing from an insider’s perspective.

I also researched Couchsurfing on line, visited the website, and created our profile. Will Dale and Elizabeth crash at someone else’s house? We are open to the idea. We also think it would be fun to host a few guests in Brazil!

Here is what I learned from my research about Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing.com boasts over 10 million people in the Couchsurfing network in over 200,000 cities. They report that there are hosts in every country in the world! They also report that Couchsurfing is free and to report anyone to them that charges money. The encourage people to not only be guests but to also give back to the community and try hosting.

Free sounds great right? To get started all you need to do is go to the website and set up a profile. When I set up our profile I found that while it is free, you can also pay $20 USD per year to become a “verified traveler or host”. It says if you do this you will find twice the amount of hosts and get hosted twice as fast. So it looks like this is one of the ways Couchsurfing.com earns money. I decided not to pay the annual fee now. I am now seeing little quotes from other Couchsurfers on the website that pop up and say things like, “I only accept verified travelers”, or “I only stay with verified hosts.” I’m still not paying the annual fee at this time. But I did sign us up to try it out.

Couchsurfing.com also gives some reasonable safety tips on their website. There have been some reports in the media about Couchsurfers being sexually assaulted over the years. So the website recommends the following safety tips:

Trust your instincts.

Be informed about the culture where you are traveling.

Communicate through Couchsurfing. This means do not give out your personal phone number or address until you feel comfortable with a new person.

Review profiles carefully. I noticed after signing up that there are a lot of profiles that have not been completed.

Know your limits and enjoy responsibly. Here they suggest that you don’t get wasted at stranger’s house. Duh! But I’m sure there are a lot of people that do or they wouldn’t suggest this.

Have a backup plan.

Leave feedback.

Report abuse or negative experiences to Couchsurfing.

So now, with the majority of the logistics of Couchsurfing answered, here is my interview with Kim.

Me:  I remember hearing that you were CouchSurfing many years ago before it became such a well-known way to travel on a budget. When did you first learn about CouchSurfing and why did you decide to give it a try?

 

Kim:  In 2006 I was visiting a friend in Minnesota and while visiting her parents, saw a Budget Traveler magazine…as I was reading a story about two girls’ backpacking trip to Europe, they mentioned Couchsurfing. I was so excited because I was planning a similar trip with my cousin and couldn’t wait to find out more about it. I had to (wait) though because the internet wasn’t readily available because her parents only had dial up and the page wouldn’t load at those speeds.

 

Me:  Why travel? What is it that you love about traveling?

 

Kim:  Traveling is personal for all those that do. Of course it is amazing to see all the wonderful places, but for me it’s the people. That’s why I love Couchsurfing! Being from Alabama, I met people who thought all the same, and it blows my mind to meet people raised completely different from me, yet see those things we have in common also.

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Visiting a CSer in Iceland that I met while CSing at the same place in Quito, Ecuador

Me:  Being an often solo female traveler, what do you say or how do you handle naysayers that do not approve of CouchSurfing or worry about your safety?

 

Kim:  People always are quick to say you shouldn’t do this, it isn’t safe. I generally say where is safe these days? I’m definitely no safer here in the United States any more with all the shootings. There is a reference system on Couchsurfing, so if you are afraid, only stay with those with lots of references.

 

Me:  What safety precautions do you take before staying with someone new, or what precautions do you recommend someone new to Couchsurfing take?

 

Kim:  Read the references. You can also tell by profiles many times what they are after. If it is a guy and his preferred gender is female, you may want to watch out. Plus I only stay with people who have taken the time to fill out their profile completely.

 

Me:  What are some of the benefits to Couchsurfing vs. staying in a Hostel or Hotel?

 

Kim:  You are allowed to be a traveler, not a tourist. You jump right into the culture and many times they tell you what you should see, many times take you there, instead of just checking off a tourist list.

 

Me:  What are your most memorable Couchsurfing experiences both good and bad?

 

Kim:  Wow, I don’t think I could choose my favorite, there have been just too many!  I’ve made so many lasting friendships. The worst experience I had, which wasn’t terrible was due to miscommunication. The guy (host) said we wouldn’t see him that night b/c he would be out all night. We got to his place and another Couchsurfer that was living there at the moment said we should walk to Sydney Opera House because it was only about fifteen minutes away. While we were there, he called and couldn’t get into his apartment because we had his keys and he was upset.  So we left and stayed at a hostel. I wrote to apologize and he said he was over it and we should come back, but we were enjoying our hostel, so we stayed.

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Couchsurfing in Manila…and 2 Germans….heading to an island in Philippines with our host and her friends

Me:  All travelers seem to have their favorite places that they would return to visit anytime. What are your top 2 places you would not hesitate to visit again?

 

Kim:  The island of Kauai in Hawaii and New Zealand.

 

Me:  So many people seem to think that you have to have a lot of money to travel. You have proven that this is not the case. What are some things that you do to save for travel and what are your budget travel tips?

 

Kim:   I’ve never cared for material things, so saving has always been what I do when I get money. When I go to buy something now I think how many countries in Central America I could get to by chicken bus if I forego the purchase.  As far as budget tips….Couchsurfing helps tremendously. I generally have points saved up for free flights. I use public transportation…not only to save money but to see how the locals live. I’m not a foodie, so I eat cheaply when abroad. There are some dishes you must try, but I’m pretty happy with just some rice or peanut butter. I really believe that doing things cheaply generally gets you out of your comfort zone and that’s the point of traveling, to grow as a person. You aren’t going to change if you never get out of that box.

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Host I met while on a cruise in Cozumel…she met us and offered us her car but we had her drop us off at a resort instead and she joined us after work….a year later while on another cruise in Cozumel, I was able to visit her in the hospital a day after her son was born

 

Me:  Have you ever hosted a fellow Couchsurfer in your home, and what was that experience like for you on the other end?

 

Kim:  A few times. It’s awesome to give back! Not many people are coming to Alabama unfortunately. My first time to host, I saw a guy was in Tuscaloosa, so I reached out to him and told him to let me know if I can help in any way. So he ended up staying and it was great!

 

Me:  What advice would you give a fellow traveler that wants to try out Couchsurfing for the first time?

 

Kim:  Do it now!! At least try it, if it’s not your thing, don’t do it again. Chances are, you will love it!

 

Me:  How do you get started with Couchsurfing?

 

Kim:  Go to couchsurfing.org and set up a profile. It’s easy.

 

Me:  What are some of the dos and don’ts when you are a Couchsurfing guest?

 

Kim:  Be respectful. Just think of how you would want to be treated as a host. Be clean and considerate. Read profiles and know who you are staying with……don’t just do it for a free place ….learn from your experience.

 

So now you have some great advice from an experienced female Couchsurfer. Have you tried Couchsurfing? Are you ready to give Couchsurfing a try? What are your thoughts about this type of travel? Please comment below, we would love to hear any of your thoughts or questions!