What is “couch surfing”?

Photo by Hayden Burton-Miller - CC-BY

Photo by Hayden Burton-Miller - CC-BY

Couch surfing is seeing the world from strangers’ sofas. It’s a low-cost way to travel, based on the idea of dossing down overnight on other people’s couches. As such, it has great appeal to budget travellers—current or recent students, people who have opted out from the rat race, people who are just easygoing and take life as it comes, and people who want to make their travel more interesting by spending time with the locals.

Couch surfing websites aim to match up travellers with people who can offer a place to sleep. The market leader is undoubtedly couchsurfing.com, founded in 2003 by Casey Fenton and according to Alexa the most visited hospitality exchange site on the internet.

Registration is free. You can be a host (offering the possibility of accommodation) or a guest (seeking and requesting accomodation). There’s not supposed to be any payment for the couch—it’s a social transaction rather than a financial one—although sharing of costs is permitted.

Naturally some people are concerned about the safety of such a scheme, and the website does a few things to reduce risk. There is an optional verification scheme, to confirm the identity and location of a host. People who have stayed as a guest leave their personal references, and it’s also possible to personally vouch for someone that you know, even if you haven’t availed yourself of their hospitality.

Couchsurfing.com claims over a million members in 57154 cities in 231 countries (2009 figures), but there are other options too, including globalfreeloaders.com (based in Australia) and hospitalityclub.org (one of the originals, reborn for the internet).

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