Couch-surfing: a revolutionary movement

My generation tends to be criticized by older generations because of our lack of creativity, responsibility, and our tendency to always look to take the easy road. We depend on our gadgets and social media – iPhones, laptops, Pinterest, and Instagram. Little did we know, somewhere in this world of gadgets and social media, a movement would be born.

The summer of 2014, I backpacked all over Europe on a budget. My budget included food, shelter, transportation, and attractions. I was able to make this adventure and cultural growth experience by working an incredible amount of hours (diminishing my family and social time, and staying home the few hours I was off). This was a sacrifice I made happily, because in our society we are taught that through sacrifice and hard work, we will achieve great things. I traveled with a group of friends and we strategized how to better stretch our money, by traveling overnight from city to city, so we would eliminate a night of paying for a bed. This was also a sacrifice. The American mentality pushed us forward on those hard nights.

Now I am living in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and recently discovered a movement that could have made an incredible difference in my backpacking trip to Europe and my constant hunger for travel.

I wanted to visit Duluth, Minn., and met someone who also wanted to travel there. I met Matias Levin at a Black Lives Matter demonstration during the first few weeks of my move to Minneapolis. We quickly clicked on many levels, including our Chilean American background and the passion for traveling. Matias introduced me to a website called on this trip to Duluth. I knew a little about this social media site and the concept, but experiencing it is a completely different story.

I learned that couch-surfing is basically a community of people who are open to hosting or being hosted in private homes all over the world, all at one affordable price: free.

The term is kind of self-explanatory; in the sense that you “surf” the world (travel) and stay on people’s couches. In the 1970s when community living and grassroots organizing experienced a boom through antiwar and “hippie” movements, people were already practicing a kind of couch-surfing, without the easiness of our social media world. Thus, this website now facilitates these originally grassroots community building movements on the website, making it easy and safe.

At first you automatically think, “Staying at a strangers house? That’s crazy!” I thought that when I heard another friend was consistently traveling through the same website. Danna Guerra, a friend from Florida, traveled to multiple cities in United States and Canada using the site, and she said she was able to save over $2,000 in hotel rooms, or hostels in a year of traveling. I was curious about the big question of safety. I asked Danna, who said, “Well, the good thing is that you get testimonials of people who know those people, they need to verify their identity and it gives you the option to meet up with locals even if you don’t end up staying with them.”

I did my own research on the site, and found a “Safety” tab that listed all of the ways to be safe while couch-surfing. With that in mind, I asked Matias what he initially thought about couch surfing and he responded, “At first I thought it was some weird hippie thing, but the idea of meeting random people and having less travel expenses sounded more and more inviting.”

So, with this site you create a profile, are able to read and write reviews about your host or the people you hosted, “verify” that you are who you say you are, add pictures of yourself and your place, and meet up with people around you, without having to stay in their homes.

When looking at it through a wide-angled lens, we’ve been staying at people’s houses for hundreds of years; saving money, meeting new people and really immersing ourselves in the culture.

In just a few days after that we searched through the website and found someone to host us in Duluth. It was my first time going to Lake Superior and I was incredibly excited. There was this sense of adventure in my gut again, and not having to budget for a place to stay gave room for more adventure. Our host was great; he was kind and warm. He made sure we had everything we could need, from towels to directions to the best local sights. To say the least I had quite the ground shaking experience. I visited Lake Superior, Enger Tower, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, tried local brews and local smoked fish dishes. All this without a dent in my savings. I asked Matias how he felt about not paying for a place to sleep and he answered; “I feel that is true traveling. Backpacking, staying at friends and friends-of-friends houses. Not staying at an all inclusive resort all day, but immersing and sharing the culture, even if the culture is some random person’s little world.”

I thought about all the money (close to $2,000) I gave to million-dollar companies that didn’t care to tell me what locals were doing and were not interested in who I was and why I was there. I know that the purpose of these big hoteliers is not to get to know me, but if there is this other option – an option where communities join in camaraderie thousands of miles away and make life happier, help educate and create awareness of what living is about – well if that’s not revolutionary, than what is? I think that the Internet has made all this (and much more) possible, and creating relationships, learning from each other, becoming more self-sufficient people will be a step closer to changing this money-hungry, selfish, and ruthless world.

Photo: Camila Valenzuela/PW


Camila Valenzuela
Camila Valenzuela

Camila Valenzuela is a writer and activist.