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Many an intrepid traveler has by now heard of the global traveling phenomenon of having a sleepover in another country with a complete stranger or two. Couch surfing is a concept that has taken the backpacking traveler’s world by storm, and has a growing community of some 3 million members strong worldwide.

What is Couch Surfing?

The couch surfing concept involves members signing up on what is essentially a hospitality exchange site and by process of interview and elimination, finding free accommodation on a stranger’s couch or spare room while traveling. The concept in theory is an excellent one – allowing budget travelers to save some dosh, while being able to get a true life, up close and personal look at different cultures, families, and households, seeing how they really live and operate far from the madding crowd of high tourist traffic and tours. After all a plush hotel or comfortable B & B is hardly going to provide a traveler with an authentic experience of their host country as it would in the comfort of a local’s home.

The Pros

Obviously couch surfing is not a concept that is going to tickle every single traveler pink. It isn’t something for everyone, but there are a number of excellent advantages of signing up for a program like this, and obviously the biggest one is the chance to save money, but there are so many more to take into account.

Meeting new and interesting people

This is one of the most fascinating aspects about couch surfing.  You get to meet so many more interesting people from all over the world that you would never have had the chance to meet before. You never know that these could be friendships that will blossom and grow into so much more, lasting a lifetime.

Couch surfing hosts in theory, are sociable, interesting people who will broaden your horizons and your social circle by introducing you to so many more people – like their friends and family. And it will give you an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the people, the culture, the traditions, local places of interest to visit and listen to tales about the history, romance, local folk lore and legends surrounding the area you are visiting.

Local Hangouts

Your host family will be able to take you to all the awesome local hangouts, the best restaurants, the most vibey pubs, show you around and give you an opportunity to experience life as a local by visiting places that won’t have made it to your tourist guide book. Part of traveling is not only ticking off all of the historic sites out of said guide book, but it is to experience different cultures, try new foods and see different ways of life and observe how the other side of the world go about their day to day lives.

The Cons

Obviously as with everything else in life, there are a number of cons. As mentioned before, couch surfing is a concept that is not necessarily for everyone. You will have to have an open mind as you are a guest in a stranger’s home and not everything will be to your liking and their way of life may be completely different to yours – so you will need to really decide before hand if you will be able to deal with the culture shock, or if it will be something you will embrace. If you like to do your own thing, have your own space, spend time on your own and not share bathrooms with strangers, best you book at a local hotel instead.

The rules of the host

Being a guest can be tricky in anyone’s home, especially if they are strangers. Under their roof you are going to have to abide by their rules and regulations. You may be lucky to get the best accommodation, awesome hosts who hand you a key and tell you to make yourself at home and come and go as you please, or you might get those who want you to only use certain rooms of the house and to be in by a certain time at night. That is unfortunately the luck of the draw.

Curfews

So in terms of freedom, your couch surfing experience could greatly restrict you in many ways. You may be required to pitch in and help around the house, doing the dishes, chopping wood, washing floors and the like. Although that might not be your idea of a leisurely vacation, good manners dictate that you should always offer to help anyway.

And it could be a fun way to get to know the people you are staying with, and it will break the ice much quicker when you get your hands dirty and do the washing up. And it is actually the least you can do to say thank you for the free of charge accommodation and your host will appreciate the gesture immediately no matter who they are.

When it gets weird

This is a tricky one, and chances are you are going to know it’s getting weird immediately – your gut feeling will be screaming at you, so it is essential that you listen to your inner voice. If you feel uncomfortable, uneasy or downright scared, just get out. Don’t go and stay with someone on your own, instead travel in pairs and if you are feeling nervous, say your goodbyes or just slip out if you feel it is the right thing to do.

Don’t get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of just because you feel polite – there are plenty of weirdoes out there all over the world, even in the safest countries. Get out and go somewhere else and don’t forget to report back to the couch surfing folks so that they can follow up or stop somebody else from having the same bad experience.

Always let your family and friends know where you are staying, give them the contact numbers, addresses, email addresses and other information about the place you are staying at, so that in the case of an emergency they can help you get out (image via Jiuck)

Author’s bio:

My name is Sonia Jackson. I write for the Australian web-site http://www.essay-bag.com that provides well-written and quality essays and research papers for college and university students.

Have you experienced the joys of couch surfing? Tell us in the comments section below.

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