Couch-Surfing: My Adventures Catching the Wave

School of Medicine

I first heard of couch-surfing two summers ago. It was advertised as a cheap way of traveling, by contacting locals of your destination of choice through an official website to see if, essentially, you could squat at their place for the duration of your trip.

After a study-abroad program I was attending in Spain came to an end, my best friend and I decided to bounce around the country for a few wild days to take in more of the beautiful sites and friendly natives. Ultimately, we ended up staying in hostels in the cities we visited, but the idea of couch-surfing stayed in the back of my mind.

Of course, now that I am a little over six months into medical school, I can’t just pack up and leave to surf, but I thought, “Hey, I live alone, why not give others the opportunity to stay at my place? I can travel vicariously through them by hearing tales of their travels, and maybe I will build a store of couch-surfing karma that I can use next time I have some time off and want to bounce around the country (or world) aimlessly.”

The first thing I learned is: San Francisco is popular! When you first sign up for couch-surfing, you are asked to fill in as much of your profile page as possible.

It’s like a more goal-oriented Facebook profile, with sections to describe your couch (if your main interest is hosting); write your interests; illustrate the types of people you enjoy; and a section entitled “Teach, Learn, Share” where you can list the things you hope to give and take from the experience.

Then if, like me, your interest is hosting, you can either search for surfers who need a place to stay, or wait. I chose the latter, but I did not have to wait long.

Within the first hour, I must have had five-plus requests for my couch, even though I had written on my description that “I am in medical school, and while I do have some free time, I have classes most weekday mornings and I like to study around campus until the evening. I don't want you to think I am a rude host. … My place serves more as a free hostel than as a one-on-one guided tour of the city.”

People make a request for your couch by listing the dates they are traveling, describing their trip, and giving a specialized reason for why they chose you, and your couch, out of the multitude being offered.

You can then click on their profiles and read more about them, look at their photos, and see how other surfers and hosts have rated them (if they are seasoned couch surfers), somewhat similar to an eBay seller’s rating.

So far my experience has been great. I have already hosted three surfers. The first was a California native from SoCal doing some traveling before her new job starts next week. She had actually been sleeping in her car for a few nights before she found me on the site. Currently, I am housing a couple who have been traveling the West Coast for about a month and a half, using couch surfing to keep down travel costs.

From these three alone, I have learned so many things, such as: where to find fun, free or discounted events in San Francisco; that “food skipping” is a far more appealing euphemism for “dumpster diving” and that it can sustain a communal housing unit of over 50 people in London (and probably elsewhere); that there is immense satisfaction in building your own furniture from what people leave out on the street; and that sour cream makes for delicious carbonara and goes great with bread “skipped” from a popular bakery located in the Inner Sunset.

With each moment I spend with these friendly and respectful visitors, I gain a bit more perspective and appreciation for the life I have, something that I, and everyone at some point, can lose if they have such a focused future.