Couchsurfing is Not Dead (At least I hope)

Alcohol Tourism in Diu
July 19, 2013
Why I went to Gujarat
July 25, 2013

Couchsurfing is Not Dead (At least I hope)

I’ve been reading an awful lot online lately about how couchsurfing isn’t what it used to be. As it’s gone mainstream, an unsavory bunch has joined to use the network for purposes other than it was originally intended (looking for dating and hookups rather than connecting travelers and hosts, sharing cultures, and international friendship).

playing ches with Manish's son

Playing a game of chess with my couchsurfing host’s son.

 

The network has now got over six million members. I suppose whenever a community gets that large, you’re going to have some bad apples. I’ve gotten Facebook updates from friends I met on couchsurfing who report of “close calls” and having to leave hosts in the middle of the night. That is definitely not cool.

 

I’m fortunate to report that I’ve never had a negative experience, even after using couchsurfing off and on for the past five years. Although, lately, I’ve been starting to worry. But not about the safety issue.

 

I have been finding it very difficult to secure hosts recently. In Japan I was unsuccessful. (I was, however, very successful in receiving Japanese hospitality without couchsurfing.) My first couple attempts at requesting couches in India were also a failure.

 

Was I doing something wrong? Had couchsurfing really changed? Are male hosts only willing to host attractive-looking females? Are female hosts afraid to accept solo male travelers?

couchsurfing

Manish and I.

 

That’s when Manish responded to my couch request. “You are welcome…” His message simply said. A couple days later I showed up at his doorstep.

Manish lives with his family in Gujarat. Relatively new to couchsurfing, he was willing to extend hospitality to me. And for that, I was grateful.

 

My train to Junagadh from Ahmedabad arrived at the inconvenient hour of 4am, so I waited at the station with my head resting on my backpack until sunrise. Then I caught an auto rickshaw to Girnar Hill. Girnar is holy to Hindus and Jains and hundreds start the accent to its numerous temples every day at dawn. Getting over a three day bout of diarrhea, I was in no shape to tackle the mountain’s 10,000 steps. But I observed the pilgrims, many of them elderly, setting out from the base.

girnar

Pilgrims climbing Girnar Hill.

By the time I reached my couchsurfing host a couple hours later, I was exhausted. Manish showed me to his spare room where I could rest and would sleep the following two nights.

 

The small city of Junagadh has a surprising number of sights considering how far off the tourist trail it is. Most of all, I enjoyed the reaction from locals who don’t often meet foreigners. Many are excited and most interested in simply chatting or asking where I’m from rather than trying to sell me something or ripping me off.

 

gujarati thali

A homemade Gujarati thali cooked by Manish’s wife and mother.

Before and after sightseeing, I had a nice meal with Manish’s family. His wife and mother prepared an outstanding Gujarati thali. A few days earlier, on my way to Ahmedabad, I asked a man in my train compartment about the quintessential regional food to try. With a smile he said “Gujarati thali”.

 

When Manish’s 9-year-old son returned home from school, after he finished a school-related project with his grandfather, we played cricket. In the small front yard, we took turns between bowler and batter, and even though I had no idea what I was doing, it was fun.

 

After dark, we played chess. I had to play my best in order not to get my butt kicked by this kid. Trust me, he is seriously smart. After he beat me with the 4-move checkmate scheme during the first two games, I really had to up my game.

 

I talked travel with Manish and the challenges of finding all-vegetarian food for an Indian family while traveling outside of the country. I tried to suggest a few destinations with alternatives to meat-heavy diets.

uparkot fort

Touring the Uparkot Fort in Junagadh.

 

 

He told me of his previous couch surfurs—the Italian couple who made pizzas for everyone after they climbed Girnar and the English couple who had been traveling around India for months only using couchsurfing. Impressive.

 

Manish and his family were welcoming and accommodating and made me feel at home. After five months on the road, that felt good. It didn’t have to be my home, just any home with a comfortable place to sleep, considerate people, and delicious food.

 

And for that I was grateful.

 

I still don’t believe that couchsurfing is what it used to be, but I do believe that there are still people out there who are willing to show hospitality to strangers. They’re harder to find. But they’re there.

 

Huge thank you to Manish and his family!

 

For more on couchsurfing, read:

 

It’s Not about the Free Couch

Couchsurfing over 50

Couchsurfing Tips for Women

 

Are you using couchsurfing.org? How long have you been a member? Has it changed since its conception? Have you had any negative experiences? Positive ones?

Spread the love
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 GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

9 Comments

  1. Stephen Bugno says:

    Yeah, you are right Dustin, it’s still worth the effort, even if the opportunities are fewer.

  2. Dustin says:

    My experiences couchsurfing have also changed over the years. Much like yourself, I’ve found that as the community has grown, it’s been harder to make really good connections.

    But the odd amazing one still makes it all worth it 🙂

  3. Adam Pervez says:

    I’ve been surfing for the past four years, but intensely the past two years on The Happy Nomad Tour. I have probably stayed with 60-70 hosts in the past two years. I still haven’t had a bad experience yet and some of the people I’ve surfed with have become amazing, hopefully life-long friends. For me couchsurfing gives me the local touch in what otherwise would be a very sanitized hostel to hostel traveling experience. Meeting the locals, seeing how they live, it adds depth to the experience.

  4. People have lamented the “death” of CouchSurfing for many years. Yes, it’s very different to the 30,000+ member site I joined in 2005. It used to feel like a community of open, interesting and wonderful people – you need to have a kind & open-heart to invite strangers into your house. I felt it was my duty as a member to be both a guest & and a host.

    Now it feels like Facebook for travelers, which still has lots of wonderful members. Some will still invite strangers into their house but many just use it like meetup.com. That is the huge shift – not the size but the fundamental purpose of the website.

  5. What a wonderful story of a warm and welcoming family. This makes me smile! I still have faith in couchsurfing, although I am hesitant to host solo male travelers. I really have to check out their profile before I accept, and they have to give me a very good request.

  6. Stephen Bugno says:

    I don’t blame you, Colleen. Better to be more cautious.

  7. Stephen Bugno says:

    Yeah, actually Giselle, sometimes I’ve ended up spending more money while couchsurfing because of going out or partying with my hosts!

  8. Giselle says:

    I agree with you Stephen. I love couchsurfing and I’m proud to be part of a community of “friends who haven’t met yet” – I even introduced my Mum to the site and she hosts – but I did a major trip last year and I found there were more people on there focusing on cheap accommodation and surfing only than the genuine folk who do it for the exchange. Today on Twitter CS posted “Young or old, you can couchsurf and sleep cheaply worldwide”. Seems they are missing the original point. I guess it just makes it all the more special when you find those awesome people who are willing to open up their lives.

  9. rebecca says:

    what a great story! so positive and it sounds like you had a great experience. The bad eggs ruining couch surfing will hopefully be kicked straight off. The community is so fantastic that I hate the idea of it being ruined

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.