CouchSurfing.org is What Social Media is All About

Jet Setter in Montreal

Jet Setter in Montreal

Greetings from my favourite Canadian city, Montreal. This is our second time in the cultural capital of Canada but our first experience couchsurfing.  CouchSurfing has been fantastic so far, not only as a free place to stay and an introduction to an unknown city, but as the quintessential social media site. It’s very essence is about connecting people in real life.

What is CouchSurfing?

For those of you who don’t know, CouchSurfing.org is a network where travellers can connect and find a place to stay  with a local person in cities around the world. There is no cost for the website or for the couch (bed, room or floor) but it is expected that you are going for the social exchange and not just a free place to sleep.

This is how my wife explained it to her mother, “We are going to stay at a stranger’s house. We found the person on the Internet.” (Very rough English translation. :-))

Prior to our visit, I must admit we had some apprehensions about staying with someone we have never met. Other than the profile everyone writes about themselves on the CouchSurfing.org site and reviews from other travellers, you really don’t know what to expect on arrival.

Will they actually be there? Is it safe? What etiquette is expected? What gifts should we bring? Many things were on our mind prior to our first meeting our host.

The World’s Greatest CouchSurfing Host

It turns out we managed to find the best CouchSurfing host in the world on our very first attempt. The generosity and trust of our host is amazing. He opens his home to couchsurfers constantly. There is a steady flow of new people living in his house. Each surfer gets the keys to the house and full access. Despite his never-ending kindness, for every one person he accepts, he has to turn two away.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to spend several amazing nights with him drinking late into the evening. We feel like we have gotten to know him more than some of our close friends.

CouchSurfing is What Other Social Media Sites Try to Be

I think many social media critics  associate online friends with superficial connections and banal conversation. That may be true in some cases but CouchSurfing is inherently different. The real value of the site comes from facilitating real life meet-ups. There is little chance that these kinds of connections could have been made before the Internet. Some good relationships can be developed online only but they will never reach the level of in person contact.

This to me is the real promise of social media. We are able to connect with like minded people on a global scale. That is huge!

It takes lots of work to build and maintain relationships but it can be so rewarding. I hope we have started the foundation of a life-long friendship with our host. I am certain we will meet again in different parts of the world.

Many people and businesses are using social media platforms as an inexpensive way to advertise. They try to friend or follow as many people as people with the intention of building a potential customer base. While that is part of life, I hope that it  is going to be a very small part of our social media experiences.

CouchSurfing is Not About the Money

With CouchSurfing there is absolutely no financial transaction, the host is generous without expectation of direct reciprocity. Certainly there are long term benefits of being repaid with future couches to surf, but most hosts seem to give a lot more then they will ever receive. The real reason for giving so much is the social interaction.

That to me is a very powerful idea. We are social animals after all, social connections have tremendous value. That value extends far beyond any financial exchange. We have been conditioned to be consumers over the last 150 years or so. It is important to remember that society wasn’t always like this and it doesn’t have to continue this way indefinitely.

Again, it is my hope that this is all part of the economic and social evolution of mankind. We are reaching for the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy. Life is no longer a struggle for food, shelter and clothing. We are looking for meaning and purpose in our lives. That meaning can’t be bought or consumed. Life is measured by the quality of our personal relationships and contribution to other people. CouchSurfing.org is the best example I have found of that so far. The only downside is that we have been having such a great time that I haven’t been able to get any work done. 🙂 After the fantastic conversations we have had with our host, I am going to put a lot more effort into meeting people around the world.

I would love to hear about other websites that facilitate human interaction like CouchSurfing for a project I am working on. If you have any good examples or experiences please let me know in the comments or by email.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

35 Responses to CouchSurfing.org is What Social Media is All About

  1. Cool post! I love the idea of couch surfing, but we haven’t tried it yet as it seems more complicated as a family. We will at some point though. I’ve been amazed how many people..total strangers that we have met online or in person that have also invited us to stay at their home.

    The world is a beautiful place and being a traveler helps you see that even more clearly I think & how much we all have in common!
    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Captivating Colliore- France on Bastille Day =-.

    • John says:

      Couchsurfing would definitely be more difficult with a family but it might be nice if you were staying with another family.

      The chance to be in a local home is worth some of the loss of privacy.

  2. Anis says:

    You have so many great points, I don’t know where to begin.

    First of all, I have a super great site that facilitates human interaction. It’s called Tripping (http://www.tripping.com).

    I like Tripping so much for the following reason:

    1 ) I met SUPER COOL PEOPLE on the site whom I consider friends and am planning to visit one day. My two most recent friends are a British expat living in TOKYO with an awesome website and a super friendly guy from the MALDIVES.

    2) Tripping is FREE

    3) It’s Safe! They have the TripSafe program, where we members of the Tripping community can actually email sos@tripping.com if we feel we are at risk. How cool is that?!

    I have so much more to say, but it’s 4:40 p.m. in California right now, and I’m catching a plane to Norway tomorrow afternoon and have yet to start putting stuff in the suitcase!

    Look me up on Tripping so we can “talk” more.

    – Anis Salvesen
    P.S. Wasn’t there a recent study on human interaction being the single greatest factor in determining human happiness? I think it was Coca-Cola. I’ll send the link later. 😉

  3. brandon says:

    Great concept but the Couchsurfing website is a nightmare to slog through. Cool blog post, though!

    • John says:

      I agree that the site is a little cumbersome to use but I also understand what a huge undertaking it would be to redesign it in a more user-friendly way. The new saved responses help a lot.

  4. Erin says:

    Glad you had such a great first experience. We have hosted couchsurfers twice and surfed ourselves twice and each time has been brilliant. All the people we have met are warm, welcoming and interesting, and we felt instantly like old friends. Even if you are unsure about couchsurfing using the couchsurfing group forums is a great way to meet people – many cities have very active groups with lots going on. It’s a great way to meet locals and tap into their knowledge. Through couchsurfing we just found a great apartment to rent and a house to sit.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Erin,

      We had dinner with a couchsurfing group in Amsterdam a couple of days ago. It was great to meet up with people from all over the world. I think many people might not understand that couchsurfing is much more than just a free place to sleep. I certainly had no idea at how big CS was until recently.

  5. Nate says:

    I can’t wait to start CouchSurfing! The whole concept of it is so attractive. It’s really great to read that you have had such a great experience with it so far. Thanks for this update!

    • John says:

      Greetings Nate,

      We are three for three now. Three great experiences with three hosts in three different countries. It has been much better than I ever expected.

  6. Earl says:

    I just signed up a couple of months ago but have yet to surf or host anyone. However, considering that the emphasis of most of my travels is interacting with as many people as possible, I have no doubt that couchsurfing is going to play a major role on my next adventures. And since I have a place in Mexico for now, I’d love to host anyone passing through the area.

    And it’s amazing how many people seem to have such wonderful experiences with couchsurfing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard anything negative at all so far!

    Enjoy the rest of your stay in Montreal!
    .-= Earl´s last blog ..Living Abroad For Less Than 1000 Per Month =-.

    • John says:

      Greetings Earl,

      I would love to surf your place in Mexico. 🙂 We are in Europe now. If you happen to be coming this way, please look me up.

  7. I’m glad you had a good time! I am intrigued by the idea, and all the reviews of couchsurfing have been wildly positive. I don’t know how my back would deal with a few days on a couch, though! Also, I am curious what the answers to 2 of your questions are: “What etiquette is expected? What gifts should we bring?” 🙂
    .-= Jennifer Barry´s last blog ..Small Ways to Make a Big Difference =-.

    • John says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      “Couch” doesn’t have to really be a couch. We have slept on a sofa bed, air mattress and real beds in our three stays. We haven’t surfed any ‘couches’ yet.

      What etiquette is expected?
      I think it is important to understand the reasons people host in the first place. They want to talk to travelers. Spend time with your hosts and realize that it is not only about the free place to sleep.

      What gifts?
      CS is not about any expectation of gifts or payment but we have given small souvenirs, bought wine and cooked meals for hosts. That is what we would do for friends so we treat our hosts with the same respect.

  8. Audrey says:

    We had our first CouchSurfing experience earlier this year in Uruguay. We hadn’t done it before because usually you need to give someone advanced notice and we’re usually making decisions about our itinerary at the very last moment. But that first experience in Uruguay was so fantastic. Within one night of spending time with our hosts, we were close friends. We were out with them at dinner and talking late into the night. The wife ran her own catering business and spoiled us with some of the most delicious homemade gelato we’ve ever had. We had several other couchsurfing experiences in Argentina and they were all really rewarding. However, you’re right that it’s hard to get any work done when couchsurfing – there’s just so much to be gained from all the engagement with your hosts.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Couch Surfing with KGB Agents =-.

  9. Hillary S. says:

    This is a great article tho I agree w/ Anise who commented above – I think other sites like tripping are going to take over couchsurfing before long. For example, there are huge safety issues within cs and they do shockingly little to protect their members.

    There are also very serious issues with their organization, such as the fact they claim to be nonprofit:
    http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3995791
    http://allthatiswrong.wordpress.com/tag/couchsurfing-sucks/

    Anyway, the concept of hospitality networking is a brilliant and beautiful thing. Safety is always an issue, but try sites like tripping that focus more on safety and be sure to read profiles carefully before meeting someone in real life. Also make sure you have a backup plan in case your host’s plans change at the last minute (trust me it happens).

    And have fun – you’re going to LOVE traveling like this, starting the minute you meet your first host!!

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Hillary,

      I have started hearing about some of the problems with CS but we haven’t had any problems in our three tries at all.

      I spent a lot of time searching for the right hosts so that might have helped in finding such great people so far, but safety is definitely a big concern. If I were a single female travel I would be much more reluctant to surf. Do your homework and follow some commonsense.

  10. Kirsty says:

    I just had a fantastic experience Couchsurfing in Tanzania and really can’t say enough about it. I really want to host people while I’m here in Kigali… I just hope my housemates are ok with the idea. Staying with a local person really adds to a travel experience. I’m hooked!
    .-= Kirsty´s last blog ..The Seven Link Challenge =-.

  11. Mars Dorian says:

    Couch surfing is freaking awe-some !

    I used it a lot of times during my Japan stay – I found my way into a girls flat, and the experience
    was not to be missed 😉

    Seriously, thanks to the holy internet, we are able to connect our communities and countries in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago.
    .-= Mars Dorian´s last blog ..7 Magical Methods to Influence Almost Everyone =-.

    • John says:

      I definitely agree Mars,

      I can understand why couch surfing is popular in Japan. Japanese love to communicate with foreigners. Homestays are extremely popular in Japan and for Japanese traveling abroad. It only makes sense that couch surfing is big there.

  12. I like the idea of couch-surfing, but my husband isn’t too geeked up about it. It’s an idea whose time had to come. After all, when an average hotel room is $100 and I can’t even fix a sandwich there or keep a carton of yogurt and a piece of fruit cold – something’s gotta give.

    I’m going to check it out and see if I can talk him into it.
    .-= Denise Michaels´s last blog ..A Cultural- Spiritual and Political Adventure =-.

    • John says:

      I understand your husband’s apprehension. Staying at a stranger’s house is a difficult idea to grasp in the beginning. Maybe a better way to explain it is to compare it to staying at a friend’s house. It is great to sleep a few nights in a friend’s house because you see them so much more than if you just visited them for a few hours one night.

      Couchsurfing is similar because you can choose like-minded hosts who will soon become friends with the amount of time you will spend together. There is some uncomfortableness because you can’t really make yourself at home, but you can build decent friendships in a short time.

      With that said, it is nice to get a hotel and have some private time as well. Permanent couchsurfing would drive anyone crazy. We all need our space. My wife and I have had great experiences surfing for the last couple of weeks but we are loving our privacy in a hotel now.

  13. I hate to say this, but although I love to try couch surfing, it aint really fit for a girl. Either that or I need to spend more on hotels
    .-= Asia Market Girl´s last blog ..China mines still deadly- as bosses ordered below =-.

    • Andi says:

      Couldn’t disagree with you more! I’ve CS’ed all over the world, sometimes with men and sometimes with women, and I’ve never had a problem.
      .-= Andi´s last blog ..India- Day 9 Part 1 =-.

    • Connie says:

      Hi there! I know your apprehension, but just because you’re a girl, doesn’t mean that CS is not for you. I’m a girl and I’ve been an active member of Couchsurfing since 2005. I’ve stayed with hosts (both men and women) from all over the world and I’ve hosted men and women in my own home. I’ve never had a problem!

      As anyone considering couchsurfing, you just need to take precautions. The best thing about CS is that they help you with that! YOU get to choose the person you may want to couchsurf with. If someone’s profile doesn’t sit right with you, DON’T CONTACT THEM. Past couchsurfers can leave references for people that they have hosted and surfed with so you can read how other people’s experiences with someone were before you contact them as well. There’s a verification and vouching system in place for users to give you a better sense of a person’s trustworthiness.

      My best advice to people who are thinking about couchsurfing is to follow your gut. If you read someone’s profile and introductory email and they sound like someone you’d like to meet, then go for it! If you get some sixth sense that something’s amiss, pass on it.

      I agree with Andi. Couchsurfing is one of the greatest things invented!

  14. Andi says:

    Couchsurfing = one of the greatest things EVER invented!!!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..India- Day 9 Part 1 =-.

  15. Connie says:

    Thanks for such a positive report on Couchsurfing! I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing since 2005, hosting and surfing with hundreds of people! My experiences, whether home or abroad, have all been made so much better because of the company, the local knowledge, the excitement of seeing a new place and/or showing someone around my version of New York City.

    There is a lot of press for Couchsurfing, and not all are very positive. Some articles just highlight the fact that it’s a way of staying for free. Couchsurfing is SO MUCH more than that, and you have captured its essence perfectly!

    Happy travels and I hope that our couchsuring world may collide one day!

  16. natalie says:

    I love CS and have been hosting and surfing for over three years. I always get my friends to sign up and I try to help as many people as possible with tips to get a couch and host. I love the community and experience. You can tell who is in it for the free couch and who is in it for the experience. Your profile speaks volumes and so do recommendations and if a person has been vouched for. I can tell who has read my profile and who has not and I only host people who I can tell are in it for the social interaction and cultural exchange. Great post!

  17. Azarethroy says:

    I’ve been a member of CouchSurfing since 2005 and it’s been awesome. Btw, you DO have families on CouchSurfing and they enjoy hosting families. So there’s something for everyone 🙂

  18. […] CouchSurfing.org is What Social Media is all About […]

  19. Jenny Mayer says:

    I have to admit – I have been using CS for years but three months ago I had a really poor experience with two of my hosts on two separate occasions. I am not closing my CS profile by any means, but I am a much more active user on tripping.com now. It is way easier to use as a website and their TripSafe program is pretty amazing. I used tripping a handful of times but have started to use it regularly now that they launched their networks feature – – its pretty wild.

    • John says:

      I looked at Tripping in the past but didn’t see many listings there. Maybe I will have to take a look at it again. CS also has great meet ups in most major cities around the world, so it is not only about the accommodations.

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