Q: So, what exactly is Couchsurfing?
A: Let me begin my answer by quoting Couchsurfing's mission statement, as I believe it succinctly sums the project up:
Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time.
Sadly, many people mistake this awesome travel community for simply free accommodation, when really the goal is to create an international network of friends with the common interest being the love of exploration.
Yes, one of the many benefits of Couchsurfing is that it makes travel more affordable, but the most meaningful benefit is that connection you make with your host/s or with other Couchsurfers; the cultural exchange that takes place is priceless.
And the hope is that this cultural exchange will in some way make the world a better place through:
“rais[ing] the collective consciousness, spread[ing] tolerance, and facilitat[ing] cultural understanding (1).”
One of the biggest misconceptions about Couchsurfing is that it is only a hospitable exchange.
This could not be further from the truth.
There are approximately 1.4 million members worldwide (even in places such as Antarctica!).
Thus, you will find that most cities have a Couchsurfing group.
These groups have regular local events that you can participate in and are wonderful opportunities to share your travel stories and to make new friends and potential travel partners.
Plus, it is a great way to get your travel fix when you are not able to travel.
The site also features collectives that are held around the world every year.
These collectives sometimes have up to a thousand attendees.
An example of this is the next collective that is being held in Rio, Brasil in celebration of New Year's Eve.
There will be events days before and after the holiday too.
It is anticipated that this will be the largest collective to date.
I will make sure to report back, as I am attending!
Another way you can use the site is by contacting other members in the city you will be traveling in to see if they can either offer advice on what to do and see or, and this is the best part, if they might be interested in meeting for a coffee/drink, as well as possibly offering their guide services.
You will find that most Couchsurfers love helping you in any way they possibly can.
Make sure to search the online forums for even more invaluable advice.