Couch Surfing Goes Mainstream

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Couch (Daniel Kolinski/flickr)

It's long been said that when you travel, the best way to get to know a new place is to meet the people who live there. And, while it's not always possible, perhaps the best way to know the locals is to live among them, maybe spend a night or two on their couch. That's the idea, at least, behind, where you stay in someone's home free of charge. It's not the first website to tout the idea, but it is perhaps the most successful site that caters to the burgeoning couch surfing subculture. Patricia Marx wrote about couch surfing for The New Yorker. Valerie is a couch surfer from Chicago.


Patricia Marx

Produced by:

Joseph Capriglione and Arwa Gunja

Comments [11]

Derek from New York

This article on CouchSurfing is like a book review by someone who hates to read books and despises such geeks and eggheads who don't. In one word: stupid.

Apr. 11 2012 09:57 AM
George Leonard from NY City

I had never gone couch surfing or heard of CouchSurfing but after reading your article and seeing the Investing Ed review of it the other day ( I am going to be sure to check it out now.

Apr. 10 2012 07:50 PM
Wylie from New York, NY

As a couchsurfer for many years, I found the New Yorker article extremely cliched, focusing on the most outrageous aspects of the site and its users, rather than the far more commonplace encounters most CSers have, which obviously would have make for a far less dramatic tale, but a truer one. In my case, I am a middle-aged woman, single, with a solid professional career. I joined the site and began hosting CSers out of curiosity - and because I thought it would make my own two weeks a year travel more affordable. What I've gotten out of it though is far more than cheap accommodations overseas, although I've gotten that, too. Instead, I've made real friendships, had incredible adventures, and even started a blog where I document my experiences hosting (I host far more than 'surf) and cooking with people, while also sharing their fascinating life stories ( It's been one of the most life-affirming experiences I've ever had, and people who stay exclusively in hotels while travelling are missing out by never even considering the couchsurfing option. In September, I begin a six month tour of Asia by bicycle to work on my first cookbook, all inspired by the blog and made possible by this affordable - yet meaningful - travel option. Wylie G, Couchsurfing Cook

Apr. 10 2012 03:35 PM
Mike Shaw from Beijing

Oh, what could have been! It sounded like you did very little research on what CS is about and instead just skimmed the website's FAQ and had Ms. Marx on who was just talking up her piece (with barely any enthusiasm). When she opened with, "Well, I was assigned the piece..." warning bells wet off in my head and it was all downhill from there.

Like most people who are only superficially interested in CS (usually people are drawn in by the offer of a free place to stay) you didn't talk about the community development aspect of it, save for brief mentions. You didn't talk about the weekly meetups, the spontaneous gatherings and trips or the emerging phenomenon of "Couchcrashes" (festivals put on by local communities).

Unfortunately, your glaring omissions made the whole 10 minutes feel hollow and like you were shilling for the New Yorker. The creation of a simultaneously virtual and physical, trans-national mobile community is THE singular achievement of CS. Next time, dig a little deeper and you might find a truly interesting conversation is there to be had. You need only make a little effort.

Apr. 10 2012 01:20 PM
Matt from Edmond, Oklahoma

While I was in the Peace Corps in Namibia (Africa) I was in a town that everyone had to travel through to get to victoria falls and eastern africa. I opened my house up for couch surfers and I met so many amazing people. We had a world map on the wall and had people put a star sticker on their home town. By the end of my time in Africa we had a map with stars on places such as China, France, Germany, the UK, the United Staes, Canada, Thailand, Australia, Israel and Vietnam. But perhaps the most remarkable guests I hosted was a french couple who had started biking from their town in France. They then went to Spain, down to Morocco and around the western coast of Africa. They flew from Benin to Namibia and started biking to the east coast of africa with the goal of traveling up through Israel and around the Mediterranean and home. One night that they were staying with me they shared an impromptu accordion concert with me playing guitar (badly) along with them.

I can't recommend it highly enough. I met so many cool people and had so many cool and memorable experiences. All you have to do is trust and you will be rewarded.

Apr. 10 2012 11:38 AM
David Shreve from Miami, FL

Anyone notice that the host repeatedly kept giving out the wrong url? doesn't redirect anywhere.

Apr. 10 2012 11:30 AM
susan from boston

There is a much older international "surfing" organization than couch surfing. It is Servas International ( and it was started in 1949 with the purpose of building world peace one relationship at a time.
Although it is slightly more structured than Couch surfing (to be a host, I had to be interviewed by a current member and to access the list of possible hosts around the world, the traveler must also be interviewed) the actual way it works is similar. Guests contact the host directly and the host can choose whether or not to extend an invitation. There are no requirements to entertain or to feed guests but I often offer to include them in my plans because it is fun.
It seems to attract a wider age range than couch surfing, and I know of families who have stayed in Servas homes while visiting other countries.

Apr. 10 2012 10:19 AM
Phoebe from bushwick

Its, not

Apr. 10 2012 09:53 AM

The two women featured on your show were way too underexperienced with the CouchSurfing project to be featured.

As a veteran CS'er (& life long WNYC listener) it felt like a slap in the face to have Ms. Marx who admittedly isn't a very social creature & spent a week surfing with only one night per host/city and Valerie who albeit hosting has only surfed ONCE speak on behalf of a community that is so diverse.

Why wasn't a male CouchSurfer featured? That comes with a completely different take on the project.

Taken from my boyfriend's profile: "I love the idea of couchsurfing, but I hate the stigma attached to solo male surfers. Most of us are very nice guys who are looking to travel the world over and meet new people but don't have anyone to do it with. We are looking to meet others and share their cultures with ours. How does a solo male surfer prove he is a nice guy?" (He hosts weekly, now has 20+ positive references and throws monthly open invitation dinner parties at his home in Chile.)

I know I just went on a tirade but I LOVE "The Takeaway" & was just really disappointed with this piece. = /

Emily from NY

Apr. 10 2012 08:39 AM
DNeale from salt lake city

in the mid-80s my college buddies and i devised something we called the Visiting Genius Program. the idea was a network of like-minded bohos who would be willing to host someone "blowing through town" based on a referral trusted referral. we encouraged some sort of creative collaboration -- a song, a story, a joke -- that could be shared later. although it was short-lived, my friends and i hosted a handful of people from all over the place and we had some great interactions. i guess we were ahead of our time, and if only the Web had been around then...

Apr. 10 2012 08:10 AM
Caro from Maine was a highlight on a recent cross-country trip. When I was traveling by myself, I found other women who were offering a couch and had an instant feeling of community. Knowing how to cook and offering to cook definitely makes it more fun and it helps it feel like an exchange of hospitality. Hosting guests on my couch has also been a positive experience. It helps you get to know your city. Having guests with different interests than me gave me a chance to try to things in town, as well.

Apr. 10 2012 07:06 AM

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