We’d been told about couchsurfing by some fellow backpackers who couldn’t speak highly enough about it, couchsurfing being their favourite way to travel. For those of you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a concept whereby people let travellers stay for free in their home. These people are the hosts, and the person visiting is the surfer. It’s an amazing way to meet local people and experience a place beyond the travel guide – and of course it’s a great way to save money.
The couchsurfing community is full of like-minded travellers and generally those who surf will also offer to host people when back in their home country. It’s a way for people with limited funds to travel and experience the world. In some areas where people have little money and cannot travel out of their home country, they can host someone from another country and still have the experience of meeting people from different cultures, practise their language skills and learn about other places. Many hosts take part, however, to meet lifelong friends and to offer support to travellers.
We were pretty excited about our first couchsurfing experience and were unsure what to expect. We set up our profiles on couchsurfing.com and started searching for people in Koh Samui. We saw a host with loads of brilliant reviews and the most beautiful, glamorous home. As first-time couch surfers we had no reviews, and as there were two of us we were slightly more awkward to host. We also acknowledged that this couple were likely to get loads of requests from surfers on a daily basis, so when we sent our request we didn’t hold out much hope.
We could not believe it when we received a response asking if we were available the following weekend, as they’d be able to host us, and if the weather held up ‘we could go out on the boat’. Our only reservation was that it seemed too good to be true…
Incredibly, the house, the flower gardens, the pool, the banana plantation were even more beautiful than the pictures suggested. The house was also so big that our hosts had arranged for a couple to couchsurf with us, so it was great to hang out with other more experienced couchsurfers and the larger group meant loads more anecdotes and hilarious debates were brought to the table (a table filled with wine and Thai cuisine). We stayed for three nights and had a good balance of independent excursions and chilling out as a group. We felt like celebs, especially when our host gave us surfers his car to go exploring for the day.
We can imagine (and confirm from speaking to other couchsurfers) that a surfing experience as incredible as this is very rare, so we made the most of every second. Even if the house hadn’t been the luxurious villa that it is, such warm hosts were what made the experience.
Whilst couchsurfing is a hugely successful practice with a large community built on trust, it’s still important to be cautious when you plan to stay in a stranger’s home. Its so unlikely that you will have a truly negative experience, but here are a few tips to help keep you safe:
• Only stay with hosts who have positive reviews
• If you’re female and intend to stay with a male host, ensure that they have positive reviews from a mix of men and women
• It’s always great if you can couchsurf in pairs, but of course that’s not always feasible
• Research the location of the property and know the location of the nearest town
• Have a back-up plan, research nearby hostels or hotels that you could go to if necessary
• Have some cash on you for a taxi
• Always tell someone who you’re staying with, where they live, and arrange with them to confirm that you’ve arrived safely and are okay
• If you feel scared, leave. It could be that you’re jumping to conclusions or a language/cultural barrier has caused some issues, but protect yourself. Always be polite and respectful to your host, but you are not under any obligation to stay somewhere that you feel uncomfortable
We are absolutely hooked on couchsurfing now and are using it as a way to make friends and meet up with people for coffee etc, not just to arrange accommodation.
We’re still massive newbies to this though – does anyone have a luxury experience to rival ours or are they as rare as we suspect? And if anyone has any more tips for staying safe that we could add to the list we’d appreciate any suggestions?
Charlotte & Sarah x