Though I have stayed at dozens of people’s homes over the years – I’ll admit: I have never officially “couchsurfed”.
That said, it’s not for a complete lack of trying. I first attempted to use Couchsurfing back in 2010, after a few female friends I met in Santorini (a Greek island) mentioned they had been using it to travel all around Europe. Single females, or couples, yeah finding an accommodating host wasn’t difficult – but as a single male, it wasn’t exactly easy. I got a few of my traveler friends to “friend” me & leave reviews, and sent numerous personal requests to potential hosts in Madrid and Barcelona where I planned to stay for a few weeks after Santorini before venturing to Kenya and Ghana. None resulted in a host. Whatever the reason – I eventually gave up, booked a hostel, and forgot all about Couchsurfing for a couple years.
While living in Chiang Mai in 2012, I discovered Couchsurfing was much more than simply a way to travel cheaply; it was a real community. There were weekly meetups every Friday, and Will and I attended numerous of them (before we ever worked together). They were usually attended by at least 25 people and sometimes up to 75. It had, and still has, a passionate organizer - Shayne Rochfort. That’s why the community remains active, Shane cares deeply about making everyone feel welcome and helps facilitate conversations among its members. I’ve since gone to meetups in Madrid, Barcelona, and Santiago. Santiago seemed incredibly strong, Madrid and Barcelona less so.
Community is built upon friendships that only develop in person. When I hear the word “Couchsurfing”, I think of the friends I’ve made from the community. I hung out with several at Songkran (one of the coolest festivals I’ve ever attended), one of which (Anna) I traveled with for several weeks through Belgium and Spain that same year. That trip would have been completely different, or never happened, had I never met Anna. I think of some of the first nights out drinking with Will (one of the co-founders of Horizon). I think of lunch with Johan (Santiago organizer). I think of Jacob (whom I met in Barcelona in 2010, and saw in Seattle last year).
At its core, Couchsurfing is a community of people who believe in the power of cultural exchange. Generally, most Couchsurfers share a passion for travel, giving back, and believe money is better spent on experiences rather than material possessions. I didn’t understand that in 2010; I thought it was just a cheaper way to travel (looking back, that’s probably why my host requests were rebuffed/ignored). Five years since I first heard about it, and with a more complete understanding of the roots of the community, I now know the truth: Couchsurfing is one of the coolest movements to emerge in my lifetime.