Couchsurfing has changed the way many of us travel. This relatively new method of accommodation has provided travelers with the opportunity to deeply discover local cultures, meet new people, and challenge the limits of their comfort zone.

Of course, we understand that you might be wary of the idea of sleeping on a stranger’s couch. With that in mind, we’ve compiled this guide with everything you need to know about the Couchsurfing system. We’ll break down how it works, address any concerns you might have, and show you just how easy it can be!

Couchsurfing 101

So what exactly is Couchsurfing? Think of it as a version of Airbnb: There’s a website where hosts and potential travel guests from all over the world can meet, chat, and review one another. Both guests and hosts set up an account detailing who they are, as well as their interests and intentions, all of which is paired with a running history of where they’ve stayed or whom they’ve hosted in the past. The best part is, it’s free!

But where did it all start?

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The year was 1999, and a computer programmer from small-town New England needed a place to stay on an upcoming trip to Iceland. Before landing, Casey Fenton “borrowed” students’ emails from an Icelandic university database and sent out messages asking for a place to stay. Eluding legal trouble, Fenton was able to build off of his eye-opening experience and begin focusing on spreading the news of this type of travel.

After five years of hard work, Couchsurfing was born — a company pioneering the way for future space-sharing endeavors. Using the innovative platform, people can now travel the globe without worrying about the ever-growing price of accommodation. They can also benefit from learning the ins and outs of each new destination from a local host.

Since its inauguration 13 years ago, Couchsurfing has grown exponentially, bringing together millions of users worldwide. It’s an unprecedented group of interconnected travelers, with hosts in nearly every country on earth — plus a user-friendly mobile app to make things even easier while abroad.

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Many of the site’s users take advantage of the community for simple meetups or day trips, all contributing their collective insight into a new location.

Whether it’s for a beer, hike, or overnight stay, Couchsurfing helps connect like-minded travelers.

Where to Couchsurf

The real question is where can’t you couch surf? With 14,000,000 members and 200,000 active hosts, the list of couches (though often beds) is at an all-time high.

These days, accommodation is available in over 200,000 cities around the world, which means the possibilities are seemingly endless for travelers. From Buenos Aires to Vatican City, you’re sure to find a place to crash no matter where your adventures take you!

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How to Prepare

Have an Updated Profile

People are usually reluctant to invite someone into their home with a neglected profile. An up-to-date one will let hosts know who the real you is. Add some recent photos of yourself, a few interests (e,g. favorite foods, books, activities), and what you hope to learn from traveling with Couchsurfing. This way, hosts will have an idea of who they’re inviting into their home before you show up.

Try Hosting First

One of the best ways to find out how this whole thing works is by trying out both sides of the coin. Before heading out on your own trip, invite some fellow travelers into your home. Not only will this remove any apprehension you might have, but it should also earn you some good karma for future adventures.

Be Open-Minded

One of the best things about traveling is learning about other cultures. People in Brazil are known to have dinner later than those in America, for instance, and families in Vietnam may sleep on a different type of bed than you’re used to at home. Try not to be thrown off by these variances. Embrace the differences and do your best to enjoy them!

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Meet Your Host First

Prior to tossing your bags into a foreign bedroom, meet the owner of said bedroom first. Chances are, the host will be around when you arrive to welcome you into their home. But if they aren’t, it’s best to meet them beforehand, even if it’s just for a coffee. Couchsurfing is one example of the kindness and generosity of people, so you should rarely have to worry, but it’s always a good thing to be safe and get to know who you’re staying with.

Have a Back-Up Plan

Building off the point above, if something does, in fact, make you uncomfortable about a host, it’s always good to have a plan B. This may be a hotel, hostel, or maybe even another Couchsurfing host. No matter what your back-up plan is, Couchsurf responsibly.

Couchsurfing Etiquette

Write Detailed Emails

When reaching out to a potential host, make things more personal than simply asking for a free place to crash. Don’t force them to visit your profile to learn more about you. Let them know who you are, what your hobbies are, and list any interests you might share. Your first email is a chance to let people know of your intentions: you’re trying to meet new friends, experience new things, and make long-lasting memories, etc. Take advantage of that!

Treat Others How You Would Like To Be Treated

Hopefully this one is just common sense, but always respect your host’s space. Be clean and courteous, and follow any rules they may have for you (unless they make you uncomfortable, of course).

Leave Reviews

Leaving reviews helps everyone involved, especially when they’re honest. Sharing details of your experience will not only help the host improve their hospitality, but also helps future Couchsurfers as they search for their next homestay.

A Gift Never Hurts

Although monetary exchange isn’t required or expected, a small gift to show your appreciation can go a long way. Was your host a reader? Plant-lover? Collector of pottery? The list could go on, but, the more you get to know your host, the easier gift-shopping should be!

Couchsurfing is a reflection of the beauty of traveling. Strangers become friends, kindness is found in odd places, and sometimes, you end up sleeping in some pretty strange places. But that all comes with the territory. When abroad, embrace the unknown and soak up each experience. And remember: there’s always a host looking to show off where they’re from. Share your Couchsurfing stories with us in the comments below! 

Header image by Alexis Alvarez

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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications, most recently showcased through the co-founding of his former university's inaugural creative writing journal.