It’s not about the free couch

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It’s not about the free couch

If you’re a member of, you may already know how awesome it is. For those of you who are not, I just want to stress all the amazing experiences I have had because I’m using it.


Traveling for me is an extension of real life—not some holiday I take for two weeks per year. I don’t want to be stressed out having to see certain sights or cram a lot into a small period of time. I want to visit ordinary places, meet ordinary people, see how individuals are living in certain places. I guess you could categorize it under slow travel.


I had the good fortune to have five different couchsurfing hosts in South Korea after my English camp finished. I was able to see different aspects of Korean society because I surfed with a Korean male, an American couple teaching English, an American male teacher, a Korean family, and a female American teacher.



I realize my experience was a little heavy on non-Koreans, but it’s still nice to get the perspective of someone from your own culture who has been living in the host country for so long. It’s a different, but still valuable insight into Korean society. But it wasn’t entirely on purpose; I ended up with the people that agreed to host me. And the fact is, a high percentage of the couchsurfers in Korea are expats teaching English.


But in the end, it doesn’t matter if my hosts are locals or not, it’s more important that they are friendly, interesting, and hospitable people—and they all were. And I thanks them for making my travels through Korea a richer experience.

Couchsurfing Korea by the numbers

Nights surfed: 13

Days traveling: 15

Couchsurfing hosts: 5

Cities visited: 5

Fellow couch surfers met while traveling: 8

lunar new year korea stephen children

Eun Taek’s nieces and I posing for a photo on top of the house in Jeju City, South Korea


Experiences I had because I was couchsurfing



  • Climbed Halla-san volcano with a couchsurfer from Hong Kong
  • Visited lava tubes that are closed to the public
  • Hiked the Oreum (secondary volcanic cones) of Jeju
  • Met a retired Haenyeo (female diver) in a coastal village
  • Celebrated the Lunar New Year with a Korean Family


  • Meet the community of foreign English teachers in Jeollanam-do province
  • Went for a guided tour of Yudal-san Park on the mountain overlooking the city
  • Visited the fish market


  • Witnessed the pace of life in a small town that I otherwise wouldn’t have stopped at
  • Participated in a “chicken Tuesday” night out with the local foreign English teachers

gimnyeong jeju haenyeo stephen


  • Visited Damyang—the Bamboo center of Korea
  • Went to a yoga lesson in Korean with my host’s mother
  • Went to a Christian church service with my host’s father
  • Ate a lot of weird shellfish that I wouldn’t have known how to order or eat independently


  • Saw the Humans—a Korean Rock band play awesome covers of Guns ‘n Roses
  • Wandered through the neighborhoods of traditional architecture


Are you on couchsurfing? Feel free to share any unique experiences you’ve had with couchsurfing project in the comments below.


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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Juno says:

    Extension of real life, that’s what I like to do with my travels too. See real life in different places, and experience. Fortunately I started my travel that way and happy to continue it so far.
    It’s nice to see that you experienced so many different sides of Korea. I need to learn more about couch surfing. 🙂 The picture of you and retired haenyeo warms my heart!

  2. Tran says:

    I loved South Korea. I didn’t couchsurf when I was there but made friends with Koreans who ended up hosting me. Without them, I would have been completely lost. Korea is a hard place to travel when you don’t know the language!

    Sounds like you had some wonderful experiences! Enjoyed reliving the ones I also had the opportunity to do….

  3. wanderlass says:

    The first time I heard about couchsurfing in 2007, I got nauseous with how brilliant the idea was. I have since hosted over 50 people and surfed over 10 couches in Europe, US, and Asia (including S.Korea). Good luck to you on more cs experience. It’s the best thing that happened to traveling since budget airlines. =)

  4. YES! I joined in 2004 and CouchSurfed my way around Europe in the next couple years. Sadly, now all my travels are on assignment, so staying at hotels is necessary as that’s a big part of most of my commercial stories and I do very little CouchSurfing now. But whenever I have spare time, I still try to meet up with local members for coffee or a drink!

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