Whenever I heard the term “couch surfing,” I associated it with someone who experienced hard times and resorted to temporarily sleeping on a relative or friend’s couch out of necessity. But in 2004, that term took on a different meaning with the foundation of CouchSurfing.com, an online global community of travelers that encourages globe-trotting enthusiasts to literally sleep on someone else’s couch.

Basically, CouchSurfing works like a travel bartering system as there are no fees associated with using the services. After signing up on the site, members can either make themselves available to host travelers, or if they are traveling they can place an ad specifying their traveling needs and await a response from a potential host.  According to the CouchSurfing website, “you can stay with locals in every country on earth. Travel like a local, stay in someone’s home and experience the world in a way money can’t buy.” The organization’s attempt to spread the travel love has obviously worked. To date, the site has seven million members and counting.

Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when considering whether or not to pack a bag and head off for a couch destination unknown is the issue of safety. After all, traveling halfway around the world (or any distance) to sleep on a stranger’s couch wouldn’t be the best experience to visit if the host was someone who isn’t exactly warm and friendly (read: a total maniac and/or potential axe murderer).  But CouchSurfers has a safety team that provides tips on maintaining safety and encourages members to leave references that contain feedback on their experience with other surfers. Ultimately, they impress upon members to exercise caution during interactions, and like similar social networking sites, members have the ability to limit who sees their profile.

Essentially, the CouchSurfing mission is less about helping travelers save money on a hotel room by giving them a place to crash and more about encouraging interaction and bonding between people from various backgrounds.

I’m all for bartering. I mean, let’s face it—living ain’t cheap and traveling is no exception.  Although the thought of sleeping on a stranger’s couch sounds kind of scary, it’s a bit intriguing at the same time. It’s certainly an inexpensive, adventurous way to travel, and even though I won’t completely rule it out (no solo trips, though—I’m not that bold), I’m not sure I’m ready to take the couch-surfing plunge just yet.

Clutchettes, would you ever consider couch surfing?

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  • Lunda

    I couchsurfed several years back when there were less than a million users, now there are over 3 million.

    My experience with couchsurfing was amazing! While travelling through Europe for several months solo, couchsurfing was my saving grace!

    Words cannot express how transformative it was for me to stay with locals in every city for several days (in some cases weeks). You get an inside look at regular life in Paris, London, Rome, Napoli, Nice, Istanbul, Venice, and more.

    I got to party on the beach in exclusive parties during the Canne film festival, picnic under the Eiffel tower and practice my French. You just never know who your host is or who they know!

    Of course you have to be very careful and vet all the people you’re going to be staying with and have a contingency plan. It really comes down to common sense and being very perceptive. Most importantly always listen to your gut!

    If anyones interested I can send a few tips on vetting your host.

  • During my first trip to P.R., I met a woman who suggested that I try couch surfing the next time I travel. I haven’t gotten to try it, but I did look into it; the community is massive. I might try it if I’m traveling with a group, and I’ve fully vetted the hosts!

  • Tae Beasley

    One of my good friends that lives in Belgium is a member of the website and he frequently host couchsufers. I was visiting him while he was hosting two guests and it was a fun experience. We all built a friendship that would not have happened otherwise. I have never participated in the program but it is something I have been checking into. Being a female and traveling alone does make me a little more hesitant about the program but I would definitely try it with a friend.