Sunday, April 4, 2010

CouchSurfing: Using Social Media to Travel

Have you ever wanted to travel but didn't have the money? Well, with faith and a computer, you can travel anywhere in the world for the price of the plane ticket and some money for food. Just visit, and you can travel the social media way.

Once again, my fearless brother showed me a way that social media can help you save money if you aren't afraid to be killed in your bed by strangers. He introduced me to couch surfing. For those of you who have never heard of it, couch surfing is, according to their official website, "an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world." The couch surfers' website allows people from all over the world to meet and talk with the idea being that you can find someone who will host you in their country by allowing you to stay in a guest bedroom or sleep on their couch while you visit (free of charge). Apparently, people have met lifelong friends through this network - people they met by hooking up online, opening up their home, and even showing them around their country or giving them advice on the best places to visit.

I think the concept is wonderful...and naive. However, it's been in operation since 2002 and, as far as I could tell, have had no reportings of travelers murdered, maimed, or raped in their beds by strangers to whom they've opened their doors. ABC News did a report on CouchSurfing in 2006 and the owner, Casey Fenton, said there had only been one report of a "minor theft" incident since he started this project. People who participate do not have to have background checks run on them; there are several levels of security in place with recommendations and vouchers from people who know you. Of course, these people could all be lying. The only legal verification they "offer" is an identity check to verify the person is who he or she says she is and lives where she says she lives; this identity check is not required. If you agree to have this identity check, though, you get more privileges and more exposure to the surfers.

This astonishes me! I don't know if I'm dark and cynical, or a big baby whose afraid of everyone, but I would be extremely nervous going overseas and staying in a stranger's home. Maybe I still don't have the hang of the world of social media and haven't learned how to make friends online. I think it's hard enough to trust people when you're face to face with them; now you want me to trust what they write? Wow - I've said it before and I'll say it again, that takes a level of faith in the goodness of people that I don't have.

But lots of people do. According to its statistics page, this website has had approximately 14,000 new members sign up EACH WEEK this year with a total of 1,783,181 couch surfers. The majority of the couch surfers are in the 18 to 24 age group with an almost equal number of males and females. The top couch surfing city is Paris, France, but the top couch surfing country is the United States. If you read testimonials, many of the people say that couch surfing has changed their lives.

There are several videos on YouTube regarding couch surfing that explain couch surfing. This link will lead you to a BBC report on couch surfing that may give you a better understanding. After watching some of these videos and reading the comments, I have to admit, if I could conquer my fear of sleeping in a stranger's house, I would love to be a couch surfer! The possibilities of seeing new places, meeting interesting people, and learning new things without spending a fortune is exciting. Perhaps my brother and I can try surfing together.


  1. Dina, what a great post! I am familiar with sites that allow families with homes in different countries to swap houses for a week or two for vacations. As a matter of fact, my wife and I have plans for Italy in two years and France in three years using HomeExchange. But your post is the first I have heard of couch surfing. I do agree that it would be wise to exercise prudence, because a site like this might attract a nut job or two, but with a little caution, this would be a wonderful way to travel on the cheap. I wish there had been a similar service when I was younger!

  2. I think couch surfing is a brilliant idea, and a great use of social media.

    Although a great deal of trust in your host or boarder is required, that's how a lot of other social media sites operate. Dig, Yelp, Citysearch, and every other type of review requires trusting fellow users. The users of are backed with references and a web of comments, and hosts have the right to decline a boarding request. Of course rules still apply as with any other community--online or in person. People can break the rules, but a code of ethics is maintained by the greater whole.

    I have a friend who backpacked his way through Europe using A lot of preparation is required because you must first establish your profile, gain references, check out your host options, and be accepted to board. But it's free!

    And the idea is sustainable. By pulling from a cyber network, real networks of people are created. CouchSurfing uses a similar concept to, where people all over the world swap houses, but with CouchSurfing, you can monitor boarders and travel on your own time.

    In regards to safety, I am interested to see the demographics of how many males use compared to females.

  3. I read about this in Ode Magazine a couple of years ago. Sounds fantastic! (For everyone except my 19-year-old daughter, of course.)

    Social media at its best; J. Blossom would approve.

  4. Wow-this is a cool site! I'm a Sagittarius and we do love to travel. Unfortunately, I don't have the resources-so I guess CouchSurfing sounds good to me!

  5. I'm in Venezuela staying at a stranger's home right now. I met them through my husband, not, but the mechanics of the thing are similar. While I'm sure that a manic or two might pop up, I would never discount such a wonderful service because of that very minor risk. (Hey, if it's my time, it's my time.) I think the urge to travel, so see new things, and to meet new people is perfectly natural. And never, ever in my international travels have I been robbed, beaten or otherwise molested. I already have several "couches" here in Venezuela - a socialist country that supposedly hates the U.S. btw - but next time I come, maybe I'll try to find a new one. Viva aventura!