The benefits of Couchsurfing

It still astounds me how many travelers I’ve come across who haven’t heard anything about couchsurfing. I don’t claim to be an avid couchsurfer who goes to all of the regular meetings, or even uses it as my main form of accommodation, but I value the community as something to try at least once if you’re a traveler to gain a more local experience and save on accommodation.

I don’t recommend couchsurfing if you’re only interested in it for the free accommodation, because that’s not really the purpose of the community (although definitely a nice perk). Also, when you’re only couchsurfing because you want free accommodation and you have no money, you’re more likely to throw common sense out the window and possibly end up staying with a host you’re not so comfortable with just to save a buck.

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couchsurfing in Brisbane

As with any online social media, you have to be careful with the information you put out there and your choices on who you host or who you decide to be your host. Being “verified” isn’t necessarily the basis of my decision, although an added plus. To get verification you just have to send in money with your return address and it simply verifies that your location is valid. What I look for more is how many references and friends they have, and how well thought out their profile is. As a female, I pass by male hosts whose gender preference for a guest is only female, or who states they’re looking for an open-minded, single and fun female to stay with them. You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to assume what some hosts choose to use couchsurfing for.

I’ve couchsurfed in Melbourne, Sydney (twice), Brisbane, and soon in Hervey Bay. Although I prefer to couchsurf with a friend for my own peace of mind as a female traveler, I’ve couchsurfed twice on my own now. I even met up with some of the guys I couchsurfed with when I first moved to Sydney at a big New Year’s Eve music festival in Byron Bay.

Here are my positives and negatives about the community, I’ll let you decide for yourself if you would ever try it out.

Positives

  • Meeting locals (most of the time) in the places you’re traveling to, and gaining a more genuine perspective on the local culture
  • Making friends and connections worldwide. It’s a reciprocal community, I would without a doubt host any of the couchsurfers I’ve stayed with if they came to California.
  • A good way to find the hidden local spots around town and good recommendations for what to do with your time in any given place.
  • Free accommodation
  • Having a temporary home away from home
  • As of yet I’ve only had good experiences and especially when I’m moving to a new city, it’s a great way to meet people who are living in the same city as you as opposed to living in a hostel where people come and go every day.
  • Even if you don’t want to stay with a stranger and use it for accommodation, there are a lot of couchsurfing events and group trips going on in most cities around the world. It’s an easy and quick way to meet people and get ideas for what to do in the city you’re in.
  • The site a fairly user friendly and set up to easily send and receive couchsurfing requests.

Negatives

  • There are always creepers out there, use your common sense, and if you don’t feel comfortable at any point, leave. I heard about a young girl traveling by herself who decided to stay with a middle aged nudist who lived by himself and was telling her all about his new hot tub. If you’re interested in a new experiment and testing your limits, go for it, otherwise I would recommend steering clear of situations like that.
  • Don’t expect the accommodation to be the most comfortable. As of yet I’ve had some pretty comfy stays from extra mattresses on the floor, to sleeping in a swag like a true Aussie, to having my own room, it varies greatly. However, you should get an idea of what type of sleeping surface you’ll have from the host’s profile, but keep in mind that it’s called “couchsurfing” for a reason, and a lot of times it’s a shared space such as a living room on a couch that will be your temporary sleeping space.
  • The host’s residence isn’t always the most convenient. Besides a couple cases, a lot of the hosts I’ve stayed with aren’t in the city center and I’ve had to figure out public transit to get into town, but it just depends on what you’re looking for. It does allow you to see other neighborhoods or suburbs you may not have visited as a tourist otherwise.
  • Couchsurfers can be flaky. It has happened a couple time now where a host has cancelled on me at the last minute, so always have a backup plan or hostel in mind. If anything, most cities have hosts with an emergency couch available if you’re in need.

My most recent couchsurfing experience was for 4 nights in Brisbane. My hosts were in their late 20’s, one an Aussie guy, and the other housemate, a Danish woman. I had a great few days with them and the healthy lifestyle they practiced in their home. Both ate mainly vegetarian, sometimes vegan, and the male host, a chef, made me an amazing vegetarian curry my first night in their home. The next night I went to a mantra meditation class with the woman and bonded over Australian craft beer with the guy the next night. I ended up watching Red Dog, an Australian classic because my host said I reminded him of the lead actress. I was even going to go watch the sunrise with him at the famous lookout in Brisbane on my last day, but unfortunately it was pouring down buckets when we drove into town. In any case, it was a positive experience that was more unique than a hostel probably could’ve given me, and included some memories that have so far been the highlight of my East Coast travels.

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Brisbane

However, as with most things in my life, I like to keep a balance. I’ve meshed couchsurfing with hostels to get a good variety of accommodation in the places I’m traveling to up the East Coast of Australia, and I think so far it’s given me a well rounded idea of a part of Australia that I hadn’t seen previously. For me, I definitely plan to keep using couchsurfing in my future travels to expand my international connections, make new friends, and enjoy a unique form of traveling that only increases my knowledge about the places I find myself.

Would you or have you ever tried Couchsurfing? What was your experience?

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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