Plaid, brown, green, stained and pink. Red with stripes, black, leather, bloody and ripped. There are no two couches on this little blue planet even remotely similar. The stories behind these squishy pieces of lounge furniture set them even further apart: Friends, enemies, strangers, love, sex, TV, food, drugs, tragedies and holidays—anything goes on that weathered three-seater in your living room. Without even trying, your couch has become a veritable microcosm of travels, stories and good times.
Nearly eight years ago, Couchsurfing.com (now Couchsurfing.org) was started as a way for people from all over the world to harness the unique power of the couch: free accommodations paired with lifelong friendships, international connections, wild parties and more. Couchsurfing’s mission is simple: “Create Inspiring Experiences.” To accomplish this, they provide simple tools that allow travelers to find basic accommodations in other members’ homes all across the world. With just over two million members covering 238 unique countries in nearly 80,000 cities, it’s almost a given that there will be at least one couch available where you’re going.
For those who don’t travel, being a host is an integral part of the CS community. While I’ve only surfed two couches since I joined Couchsurfing in early 2008, there have been 17 different groups of people sleeping on my couches. From Argentina to Russia and Canada to the UK, I’ve made close connections to people all around the world just by lending them my couch for a night or two.
Hosting strangers or traveling in new or unknown places certainly raises the question of safety. Couchsurfing has several mechanisms in place that protect its members, with the most important and powerful feature being the community itself. Not unlike Facebook or eBay, reviews and comments are left by fellow surfers attesting to their validity and trustworthiness. People have profiles with pictures and info about the surfers and their couches. There is also a three-level verification system in place, which verifies the member’s e-mail address, physical mailing address and identity. In all of the adventures I’ve had and all of the people I’ve met, never have I heard of or experienced any negative people in the Couchsurfing community.