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September 14, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Couch surfing

I expected a bit of ‘homeshock’ arriving back in NZ after travelling but no one told me to expect the extreme range of reactions (from confusion to disbelief to horror) I got when I said I’d been Couchsurfing around North America.


As in sleeping on random people’s couches?

Are you crazy!?

Let me clarify. Couchsurfing is a legitimate, and quite wonderful, world wide organisation that enables people to meet, travel and experience each other’s cultures. It’s an online network (of over 1 million members) which began as a way for travellers to stay in a host’s home, free of charge, instead of in a hotel or hostel. Signing up doesn’t mean you need to offer your couch right away. As long as you anticipate sharing your couch sometime in your lifetime then you’re welcome. Think global karma and a completely new way of seeing the world.

Still think it sounds stupid/mental/dangerous? Funnily enough, so did my parents who freaked when they discovered that I (young female traveller) had been Couchsurfing. Somehow my “it’s all good guys, don’t worry” txt didn’t do the trick so here is a revised attempt at explaining.

Why would you Couchsurf?

Imagine someone who’s never visited Wellington before and the kind of time they’d have here if they stayed in a hotel or hostel. Sure, Wellington is a great city and they’d see the main sights. But think about if they got met you and your friends, who showed them around or at least pointed out the best things to do so they had more of an insider experience. Better than the tourist option? Definitely.

My three Couchsurfing experiences were incredible. In Chicago, I stayed with Josh and Ryan who gave me advice for getting around the city, took me out to a tiny family run restaurant for some famous deep dish style pizza, laughed at my accent, and even cooked me breakfast in the morning. They lived in a central spot, were interesting to talk to and offered to have me for the rest of the week. I surfed last minute in Ottawa with a lovely French girl called Nora, who after dinner at her apartment (she was a chef!), took me on a hilarious night time tour of the city, complete with random town anecdotes, architectural history, some trolley racing along the river and instructions for the next day about where to get the best coffee. When I arrived in Hollywood, David picked me up from the bus station and took me out for “the best burger in LA” before heading back to his parents’ lovely home in Santa Monica. In the morning, his Mum cooked us breakfast and fussed about me giving me sun block, then he dropped me off in downtown Santa Monica to explore for the day while he went to work. That night we hung out with his college friends and were getting along so well that I changed plans and went to Vegas a day early with them. I had a wonderful experience in Santa Monica, got to have a classic American road trip with cool people, and ended up at the Venetian Hotel in Vegas having one of the most surprisingly fun nights of my life. I’m still in touch with all of my hosts and have extracted promises for them all to come and visit New Zealand. My time in each of those cities was definitely made by the people.

How does it work?

After signing up and creating a profile on the site, search for available couches in the city you want to visit. You can directly message people that you’d like to stay with, saying as much as possible about yourself and when you’re visiting. You’ll probably get a number of responses and from there you can figure out who you’d like to stay with and make contact plans for when you arrive.

Is it full of crazy axe murderers?

Couchsurfing is very safe (granted you are not a complete idiot and you spend some time researching prior to arrival) because it’s a self-moderated community (think Trademe and the feedback function). There are three safety resources: References, Verification and Vouching. Every time you surf or host, a reference will be written about you and posted on your page. Being verified means your address has been confirmed and the vouching system works as a system of trustworthiness rankings, from people who have met you in person and are willing to vouch for you.

The beauty of Couchsurfing is that you meet people who truly love where they live and want you to have the best possible time you can in their city! For them, it’s a chance to meet someone they wouldn’t otherwise and people seem to love Kiwis and are genuinely interested in learning about life down under.

Now that I’m back in Wellington, I’m under no obligation to host people if I don’t want to. But as far as I’ve experienced, travellers are pretty cool people and I’m looking forward to meeting surfers to show them why I think Wellington is such an awesome place. Of course Couchsurfing means you can travel a lot cheaper which is great, but if that’s the only reason you’re into the idea then forget it. If you like meeting new people and want to see what life is really like in a different city rather than just being a tourist, think about Couchsurfing next time you’re travelling.

You won’t regret it.


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  1. cyril says:

    Great article cuz! Told you so 8 )

  2. Sam says:

    Why do you keep letting Jumma surf our couch?

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