A dream of uncomplicated and inexpensive travel. How does it work and is it really safe?
It is the year 2004, a US-student planning a trip to Iceland finds himself without accommodation and naively sends and e-mail to a group of students in Iceland, asking for help. The response and the experience inspired him to launch a website and create a platform for those who believe in sharing, connecting and making the world a better place.
As many other romantic ideologies, this one has also changed tremendously since then. The Couch surfing community today counts around 14 million people in 200,000 cities all over the world. In 2011 it changed from a non-profit hippie network to a profit-orientated cooperation. This caused some tummy ache among fans and members, many of which moved to an alternative platform for hosting and being hosted like BeWelcome or Hospitality Club.
How does it work?
The idea of all of these websites is similar. You can set up a private profile and join a community of hosts and travelers. The level of involvement is completely up to you. In almost every bigger city meetings for the community are being organised where people can come together, get to know each other, share stories, find help and make friends. Of course, you can also use the network to offer your couch or find one or show travelers around your hometown. How you set up your profile is essential, needless to say. Let people know who you are, share what you are passionate about, why you signed up, chose a friendly picture of yourself for your profile. Tell hosts and guests what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. This is your chance for a good first impression and everybody knows – there is no second chance for a first impression. Getting to know each other is the key, so don´t be shy. You have questions? Ask!
But is it really safe?
This is a very serious concern that needs to be addressed. After all, terrible incidents regarding Couch Surfing have been reported in the past. Many parents will have sleepless nights just thinking about their children hosting or being hosted by a complete stranger. There is, however, a good system for safety in place. The websites themselves recommend to review profiles carefully, check for previous ratings and comments, use only the websites for communication, always have a backup plan, let people know with whom you are. Especially females should select hosts and guests carefully. If you feel like you need one, there is Safety Teams to assist you and if someone worries about a friend, family member or a guest disappearing the Safety Team will pass information on to local authorities if necessary. But most importantly – trust your guts! If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable, there is no obligation to stay with someone or host them.
So, If you´re careful and trust your instincts, this is a great way to save some money whilst meeting like minded people and experience a place like a local!