Couch Surfing – so much more than being a Cheap Charlie!
Thousands of travellers coming to Thailand each year couldn’t care less about the ever increasing cost of accommodation at the country’s leading tourist resorts.
No, they are not sleeping out or camping….they are members of a worldwide movement that continues to go from strength to strength.
The name of the concept is rather apt. Basically couch surfers are people doing what travellers throughout the world have always done. They get recommendations from people about free places to stay.
But whereas in the past it was by word of mouth or staying with someone you actually met on your travels, now it is driven by the internet.
Tens of millions of people are now thought to wander the world, either on holidays or looking for work using couch surfing. One of the leading sites is couchsurfing.com.
Here it is simple and free to become a member. Then you can search for members who open up their homes in virtually every city and town on earth. People can contact hosts with specific requests or put out a group request to anyone in the city who might be suitable to help them.
Naturally many people reciprocate by offering their own homes for travellers to stay in for free, but there is actually no requirement that you have to be a host.
Many hosts find that it is a great way to meet people and make friends. The same is also true for those seeking accommodation who apart from getting a free couch for the night (or several nights) you might get to meet people both local and resident who you would not normally come across especially in hotels.
And it may not be just a couch either. Many people offer beautiful rooms in their houses all over the world. A quick search found that there are about 1,000 people in Chiang Mai and over 800 in Phuket offering free rooms.
There is still some way to go to catch up with places like London where more than 100,000 may give you a free room for the night if they like the sound of you in your request. Cologne has 24,000, Prague 27,000 and New Orleans nearly 6,000 on one site alone.
In addition to the accommodation there are many events that travellers can join with 64 different things offered in Bangkok this week alone, ranging from parties, to cycling tours, to meet ups at restaurants to cooking courses. In Chiang Mai there were 18 events this last week.
And it is not just young people who are couch surfers, people of all ages are taking advantage of the service and offering their homes to others.
Naturally safety is an issue which is why sites use a verification and reference system to help ensure that what you see online is what you get.
I was introduced to couch surfing by my daughter who was at university and was taking part in a sponsored charity event to see how far participants could get from Warwick in the UK in a three day period…..without money. Much better than sleeping out was to use couch surfing.
I have used the service in three countries so far staying with wonderful people on trips to Bangalore, India, where I stayed with a young vet, Prague, Czech Republic with a lawyer and Perth,Australia with a retiree who was as kind as anyone’s mother!
In all these cases I met interesting local people who could help me out with their local knowledge and were great conversationalists at the end of a busy day. For couch surfing is at its best when both parties gain something from the deal. Hopefully they got something out of meeting me too and of course my home is always open to them when they come to Bangkok.
Why not try it the next time you travel…..you will meet nice people, have better experiences and perhaps forge friendships that will last a lifetime.
And it won’t cost you anything…..so much better than a boring anonymous hotel.