CouchSurfing: cheapest way to travel or biggest risk?

Winter break is coming, and international students are preparing to travel. They make plans and try to work out a travel schedule in advance. It is no secret that making these arrangements can be troublesome because a lot of time and effort are required to determine where to stay while traveling. The CouchSurfing network may help. The CouchSurfing network is a non-profit organization intended to promote the idea of cross-cultural exchange. It makes traveling more accessible for those who want to explore the world and share their experiences. Travelers stay in the houses of hosts they find through the CouchSurfing network.

Elvin Mammadov, an Azeri exchange student, and his Ukrainian counterpart Oleg Volosovich want to go to the West Coast this winter break. They are planning to visit Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Their trip will require a lot of money. The students have already booked non-refundable plane tickets and now have to decide where to stay: in hostels or in host houses.

“Currently, we can’t book hostels,” Mammadov said. “We will be able to do it only in the end of December. By that time, prices might have risen. We were told that the CouchSurfing network might be very helpful. Besides, it’s a good way to present your culture to new people and find a lot of new friend.”

But is it reasonable to stay in someone’s house or to host people you’ve never met? CouchSurfing is believed to be much more reliable than other social networks and has certain safety policies. For example, every member of the network is required to leave personal information in his or her profile. Every profile has references as proof of a person’s credibility. These references are feedback from CouchSurfing members who describe their experience by leaving messages on each other’s profiles.

A member can’t delete or change any references left for them because this tool gives you “insight into a member’s actions within the community.”

“You have the chance to read all about other members’ experiences with that person, whether positive or negative,” the CouchSurfing administrations said. “You have a full profile’s worth of information about their interests and perspectives. You can see who their friends are and how they know them. And you have the ability to correspond with them as much as you want before you meet them.”

Tech’s student Kassi Thomas had experience couchsurfing.

“I was in Spain, France and The Czech Republic last summer,” Thomas said. “My best friend and I were traveling through Europe on a limited budget, so we joined CouchSurfing and began researching available hosts before we left The States. We experienced many things that we would have missed out on if we had simply booked rooms in hotels. How many people can say that they shared a picnic with people they had just met while attending an outdoor screening of a David Lynch film at a park in Paris?”

However, CouchSurfing has its disadvantages. It requires community members to spend a lot of time finding and researching a host person. Finding the host’s residence in an unfamiliar city can also be troublesome. Your couch host may be far away, and foreign directions may be difficult to follow. Obviously, it would be easier to find a hotel in the city center, but this would be much more expensive.

“The biggest difficulty we faced with CouchSurfing was actually finding the locations of the hosts’ homes,” Thomas said. “We were supposed to stay with a girl in Amsterdam, but when we arrived late in the evening, her apartment turned out to be far from the city center and not easily accessed by public transport, so we just found a hostel instead.”

Thomas said CouchSurfing could be rather reliable if you did your research and picked a reliable, trustworthy host.

“In Prague, our host was an older lady with a very nice flat,” Thomas said. “She even left us her keys and told us that she was leaving for the weekend and that we had free reign to her apartment! It takes a huge amount of trust on both the part of the surfer and of the host. As young, female travelers, my friend and I chose to only surf with other females or homosexuals, for safety.”

While traveling, Thomas met five reliable friends in Europe through CouchSurfing.

“I still talk to them on Facebook,” she said, “so trustworthy people, who are simply and genuinely interested in traveling and hosting, do exist. They are who make CouchSurfing worth it.