My CouchSurfing Review

couchsurfing review, couch

Definitely not my couch

I laughed at first when I heard of couchsurfing about a year ago. The concept in itself just seemed wrong to me. As if backpackers weren’t already cheap enough, now they want to freeload by sleeping on someone’s couch? The next thing you know they’ll be a website called “Feed a Backpacker” where locals take backpackers out for lunch.

My questions at first were about the legitimacy of the system. Why would anyone let people sleep on their couch? Why would I want to sleep on a stranger’s couch? Also, what is going to protect me or the host from getting robbed. I could also see young beautiful women using this as a way to lure young fit backpackers like myself into their homes and their hearts. Luckily, all of my fears were completely dashed when I arrived at my home stay in French Guiana.  This is my couchsurfing review.

I had been looking for a way around the extremely high prices of accommodation in French Guiana (the cheapest place I could find was 55 Euros a night). I had become so nervous that I was about to bust my tight budget that I even contemplated renting a car and just sleeping in it at night to beat the costs. After some long thought I finally decided that maybe I should give couch surfing a shot, despite my doubts that there would be any available in a country as obscure as French Guiana. I was wrong.

When Celine welcomed me into her home I was immediately thrown by the sense that I was walking into more than just a house, but a community of friends. A nice bed was laid out for me in the hallway, an upgrade from the couch filled with popped springs that I had been expecting. After settling in, Celine showed me around the area and told me a little bit about the natural environment, the people, and the culture. However, what I got most from talking to Celine, a long time traveler herself, was some insight to the French Guiana that exists below the surface. She talked about the cultural clash between the French and both the Indigenous and African descendants. She talked about the economic and the infrastructure problems of the country. Celine, however, talked about the good as well. French Guiana is a laid back country, like much of the Caribbean, and there is a great sense of community amongst the people who live here.

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CouchSurfing

Each night the group of four people who lived in the house where I laid my head invited all of their friends to sit down for a meal, some wine or beer, and some interesting conversations. As I sat their mumbling away in what has become my eroding language, french, and I couldn’t help but sense the feeling of tight knit friendship. The first night I arrived I actually wondered if it was all being put on for me, but after 4 nights I knew that this was just how things worked in the house; and I felt honoured to be a part of it all.

There are still issues with couchsurfing in my opinion, just not the ones that I had imagined in the first place. For one, couchsurfing reduces our ability to give back to the local economies of the countries we are enjoying. It puts two major components of travel, giving back to the community and immersing yourself in the community, in competition with each other rather than in harmony. Secondly, it offers a sense of comfort and protection, which might not sound like a bad thing; but for me a big part of travel is putting yourself out of your comfort zone and forcing yourself to do things on your own.

Overall, my couchsurfing experience was amazing, and I would highly recommend that people give it a shot at least once, especially if you end up at a house as great as Celine’s. I’m sure that there will be a point again in my travels that I need a place to crash, and I will look into couch surfing again. And in the end, there is one thing that I know for certain, and that is if I ever find a place to call my own I will definitely offer my couch, knowledge and community to those who wander through my part of the world.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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30 Comments

  1. Brendan, I’m so picking on you for having just joined couchsurfing but welcome! I’ve had more than 4 great years so far on there and it’s a wonderful travel experience, though completely different from any other type of travel. There are ups and downs but I can’t see my life without CS anymore.

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    • @Ana I hate always feel like I’m bumming on people though. I always feel I should be leaving a couple dollars on my pillow when I leave. lol

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  2. Glad you had a positive experience! I just joined and hope to try it out during my upcoming trip to Ecuador/Panama. Hope I meet some great people and connect on that cultural level that makes travel so worthwhile!

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    • @Lisa Yeah, it makes a big difference. I think my new thing is to do it once every country I go to, but not to make a habit of using it always.

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  3. Although couch surfing may take away a little bit from the local economy it also gives back too. People who cannot afford to stay in certain countries come and couch surf and then go out and spend at least some money. Most people who can afford to stay at a hotel will. Good report on your experience.

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    • @Ted, yup I agree with you completely, that’s a very good point!

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  4. For a while I’ve been interested in Couch Surfing yet skeptical, I’m glad to see you took the plunge and had a good experience, I’m always open to reading reviews on it. More often than not, I see positive experiences. So, maybe I’ll give it a shot someday.

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    • @Liz, it’s definitely worth a shot at least. I was skeptical going in as well and was pleasantly surprised. That being said, I might have just gotten lucky with the house I stayed at. It’s something, though, that everyone should try at least once.

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  5. I like the idea of couch surfing as it gives people a chance to connect with locals and get a better understand of a place that they couldn’t get on their own in a hotel or hostel. While people in those places are often friendly and helpful, they may be guided by other motives where as someone who lives there and shares their home with you is bound to be more honest about how they feel about certain places. It’s a great way to dialogue as well as stay for free. I am sure that every place is perfect but for those looking to save money and connect with locals, it’s worth a shot.

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    • @Jeremy… agreed. The thing I’ve noticed though is that there are a lot of expats who have couches available. Are you really getting an authentic experience while staying with them? You probably get good insights, but I think a trick is to try to make sure you couchsurf with locals… something I should have mentioned in the review probably.

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  6. Couchsurfing is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. The community is amazing. It’s so much more than a free place to crash!

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  7. Wow, sounds new to me too! I’m not sure whether I could get used to it…LOL, when I don’t think I am good at backpacking:p

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  8. My first couchsurfing experience was in China, a place where talking in english is like conversing in alien languange to them and I’m glad it was a good one. While on the road, sometimes u feel the urge to connect with the local and all these Couchsurfers are the bridge to it. At least u know who they are from the reference other people left than staying in hostel with some other strangers. We can still contribute to local economy by eating out at local eating place 🙂

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  9. I’ve been part of the Couch Surfing community for a few years now. As a few other people have mentioned its not just about a free place to stay its about meeting people and getting a local view. It is also great for its city groups – which are not mentioned often enough – I think the groups are the best feature of the website. This is a great way to meet both locals and other travellers. Whenever I travel to a new city I join the CS city group and look for things to do and send out a message to see if anyone else wants to meet up while I’m there. I was in Singapore a few years ago for New Years Eve and found an invite to a NYE party on the Singapore Group page – I had a great time and met people from all over the world including Singapore – I still keep up with some of them to share great travel stories. Also here in Melbourne we do regular happy hours and meet-ups which both locals and travellers attend which are usually a good time.

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    • @Lee, you’re right I probably should have included the opportunities for meetups in the article. Thanks for the comment!

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  10. I offered out my spare room in Australia so many times to travellers! Never thought of uploading it to the CouchSurfing website, it was usually just people contacting me through the blog or on TravBuddy… but I agree it can come in handy sometimes to beat VERY expensive hostels.

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  11. I’ve been thinking of trying couch-surfing for the past 2 yrs and I always end up reverting back to hostels! But I’m doing a Canadian cross-country trip this fall, and it just might be the perfect way to learn about how other Canadians live and see my country! 😀 Plus Canadians are supposed to be a friendly bunch, right? Haha

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    • Yeah, Audrey… I’m sure that there’s tonnes of couches to hit up back home. Let me know if you need to, my parents might house you!

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  12. Couchsurfing seems a little scary to me. I find even B&Bs can get too intimate sometimes. Have to try everything at least once, though.

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  13. We have only had the opportunity to host once…not that many people come through our little city of Regina, I guess, but I have nothing but awesome things to say about it. I think it is an excellent way to meet locals (or yes, perhaps expats), with a lot of benefits that hostel stays just don’t offer. We do plan on CS-ing while we are on our upcoming RTW journey. I can’t imagine how it will not add immensely to our experience. Great post!

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  14. There are many other ways you can give back and support local communities while traveling outside of paying for accommodations. I have had four very awesome and inspiring years on Couchsurfing now and couldn’t imagine traveling without it. You’ll find with more experience that each of your hosts with CS will provide you very different experiences and offer you a unique travel experience — when a local invites you into their home. Try it again and see if your opinion stays the same. 🙂

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  15. Nice review Brendan,

    I echo your concern regarding not giving anything back for your accommodations. A nice alternative to CouchSurfing that I have found and used is AirBnB which is essentially CS but it does involve paying your host some small sum of money, and also guarantees the traveler at least a comfortable bed. We used this service in NYC and ended up staying in the flat by ourselves for a few days as the owner had to leave on business. We paid something like $50/night.

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  16. I have been on CS for 5 years. I think its amazing, both hosting and surfing. You can tell immediately who the “freeloaders” are, so you dont accept their requests. There are genuine “travelers” out there looking for a cultural exchange. I personally alternate between “doing things alone” and couchsurfing on a week-by-week basis. Without couchsurfing, I don’t think I would meet as many friendly locals.

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  17. I offered my home up once for couchsurfing – thinking of it as a way to payback all the kindnesses I have received over my years of travel. I ended up with a 40 something guy who viewed my place as a hotel and never wanted to leave. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I would be happy to have legitimate travelers but haven’t gone any further after my one & only experience.
    Brendan – you sound like you got very lucky. Somewhere I read that about 75% of couchsurfing experiences are excellent.
    If you’re a traveler and you’re reading this I’m happy to host you in Vancouver.

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  18. Great article Brendan, I also enjoyed the chat with all who contributed it took the article further by engaging others. So Brendan if you are ever back in Alberta
    you can couch surf here 🙂

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  19. This is in response to Leigh’s comment:

    Were you unhappy because he wouldn’t leave…or because he was “a 40-something?” LOL

    And what do you mean you “ended up” with him? It’s not like this is “pot luck” or anything like that. Didn’t you know how “old” he was before you accepted his request?

    Why didn’t you just call the police to get rid of him? Didn’t he tell you how long he was planning on staying before you accepted his request?

    I am a “60-something” (although emotionally immature) and I have always felt welcomed into the homes of the “young” CouchSurfers where I stayed.

    I feel badly that you had an unpleasant experience, but please don’t blame it on the guy’s age…blame it on his being an inconsiderate a-hole!!

    Stick with it, Leigh, you’ll enjoy it.

    BTW, Vancouver is one of my top 2 favorite cities. Can I come stay for….2 months? hahahahaha

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    • hahahahahaha…. @Barry

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    • Uffffff… Lacombe… When we used to go to Lacombe for hockey games as kids we’d pack in our own water. The water in Lacombe was famous for being the worst in Alberta haha

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