A good night’s sleep on a stranger’s couch…
“Couch surfing is great, especially for solo travellers… I wouldn’t have done Africa any other way. It was brilliant.”
Though the idea of sleeping alone on the couch of a complete stranger, in a country you have never been to before and in a culture you know nothing about may sound to some more scary than enticing, a growing number of travellers are embracing this form of travel as a means to having a more genuine visitor experience.
Couchsurfing.com, the social media site through which travellers can find, meet and stay with other travellers or ‘hosts’ for free, currently has 6 million members in 100,000 cities around the globe. The organisation, established by a group of friends in 2004, aims to foster cultural interaction by facilitating the meeting of “friends you haven’t met yet.”
“We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection,” the website notes. “Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”
Twenty-seven year old Tyson Cronin, who couchsurfed his way around southern and eastern Africa in 2013 as well as staying with a couchsurfing host in Israel on a previous occasion, says that it was a great way to meet locals and make friends.
“It is amazing how hospitable people are,” he notes. “The hosts I stayed with were really keen to show me their city, to get to know me and to include me in their lives.”
Thinking back to all the different people he stayed with, Tyson says that couch surfing opened his eyes to the differences in people’s living standards and helped him to break down cultural stereotypes.
“A university student I stayed with in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) actually lived in an informal township (slum), yet he was extremely generous and even took me on a (12 hour!) trip to his home village to attend his brother’s high school graduation ceremony,” he explains.
“Before that, in Israel, I stayed with a couple in Tel Aviv with whom I spent a whole evening discussing the Israel/Palestine conflict. It just gives you a completely different perspective on the global issues and topics we hear about in the media.”
So is couch surfing for everyone?
“Of course, there are things you have to think about,” says Tyson, though he says the Couchsurfing network is well set-up in terms of security.
“Travellers can always post reviews about the people they stayed with online, and these comments can’t be deleted,” he says. “You can always meet potential hosts in a public place first as this helps to give you a better first impression in a neutral and public space. If you are street smart, have a sense of adventure and are not too fussy when it comes to travel luxuries, couch surfing is a great option.”
So would he recommend couch surfing to other travellers?
“Definitely! Couch surfing is great, especially for solo travellers, and it helps you to get a more genuine experience in the places you visit. I wouldn’t have done Africa any other way. It was brilliant.”
For more information about couchsurfing or to read about other people’s experience, visit the official website: www.couchsurfing.org
Images courtesy © Tyson Cronin
Words: Lina Cronin
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