Couchsurfing.org is a hospitality website/community that enables travelers from all over the world to find hosts from the countries they'd be visiting that would let them to crash their couches for a couple of days, for free. What's the catch? Absolutely nothing! The concept of the site is to experience culture exchange with both the guest and host. The site also hosts different events wherein you could meet up other members in the area.
I first knew about this concept when I traveled solo to Singapore. I have met with some Europeans who have introduced me on how the site works. I was very curious that time and wanted to try it as soon as I get back to Manila but never really got the opportunity until after 8 months wherein I went to Bacolod for Masskara festival that I stayed with a host and met tons of different surfers from all over the world.
|Me in a CS meetup in Bacolod|
|Our first meal in Chuncheon with our host|
When we went to Jeju though, we have stayed with this host who owns a guesthouse. I could say that our stay in the room was very nice but the guy did not even really interact with us the whole time we stayed with him, even though we tried to reach out to him. We were even closer to his assistants who can’t even speak English! He did not even introduce us to his family which made me feel very unwelcomed. On our last night in Jeju, he made us leave as soon as we got back (by sending a text message). I couldn’t really complain though because after all we were able to stay for one night and all his staff has helped us and were very nice to us so it lessened the anger that was about to burst. Long story short, we just stayed at the jjimjilbang for the rest of the night. After our stay, I can’t believe this guy even gave me a negative feedback! The nerve! I explained myself and he later changed it to neutral. I can’t believe he had the guts to do that even though we showed him good demeanor and respect. That’s what I get when I stay with someone with no detailed profile and references.
|My friend with our host's pet, Nokchi|
|Andy touring us at Igidae, Busan|
I would love to share more stories but I’d just sum them up to some tips that I have learned during my trip to Korea for newbies in the community like me:)
Couchsurfing for Noobs :)
1. Build a good profile
Start with registering at Couchsurfing.org, uploading a good picture (the more, the better) and putting up personal details about you, this way, your future hosts will get to know who they’ll be lending their couch to. Of course, no host would accept a surfer that has a blank profile! Mine has still lots to improve though :P It would also help to have good references from friends who have been with the community so that you’ll look more reliable.
|A preview of how my own profile looks like|
2. Host searching
When looking for hosts, read what’s in their profile too. Hosts with tons of references do not necessarily mean you will get along with them. Better examine their interests, self-description and pictures first. In my case, I read through their references too, to know how they act around people and how they treat their guests (this is a must so you could avoid my Jeju horror story above!)
3. Send a good request
After reading your “future” host’s profile, you should be able to know something about them already. Make your messages personal, friendly and respectful (no one wants to read a one-liner and a copy paste request!) Let them know who you are, why you are traveling and why you’d like to stay with them. Also give them your complete arrival/departure dates so you could avoid the situation wherein you'd wait for your host for 7 hours doing nothing like what happened to us in Gyeongju.
|Forever alone... or not? Me waiting at Seogyeongju station|
4. Homie, represent!
When you travel, you characterize your hometown, thus showing good manners will definitely leave good impressions to your hosts, not just about you, but to your country/city as well. Your hosts would also appreciate when you give small tokens from your country. In my case, I gave them food and some memorabilia from Northern Luzon.
5. Tidy up!
Make sure to leave your room/couch the way you first saw it. Remember, you’re not staying at a hotel but at someone’s house who was kind enough to let you stay for a few days, least you could do is clean the place.
6. Stay in touch with your host
Hosts would appreciate a well-written reference to let them know how well you liked your stay. Also, you could return the favor once your previous hosts visit your country. I was not able to host back Yujin but I was able to show her around Manila for two days.
There are some people who have doubts that CouchSurfing would be risky, but upon doing some research and precautions, I was convinced. Turns out, it’s one of the most enjoyable ways of traveling I’ll never get tired of! The bonding with the locals and realizations I have had during these stays were memorable and I couldn’t imagine having the same fun if I have stayed at a hotel. It certainly has given me a different look at traveling and hospitality. I am excited to try this again on my next trip - which is soon ;)
How did you think of CouchSurfing? Hope to share more good experiences about it on my next travels!
Note: I did not post any close up picture of my hosts to protect their privacy.