Diana Smith paused before knocking on the door of the stranger she was supposed to be staying with.
“There’s that nervousness of not knowing the person,” said Smith who is from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “So when I was about to knock on their door, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?'”
Smith, 22, knocked anyway and met Lexie McRae, 21, who opens her doors for travelers via Couchsurfing.com, a website that connects travelers to a global network of hosts willing to house guests for free. Couchsurfers might be given a spare bedroom, a couch or even just a place to pitch a tent. People can sign up both to travel and to host travelers.
Smith was traveling to Utah to visit an old friend who attends BYU. Smith resorted to Couchsurfing for the first time since Smith’s friend couldn’t provide a place for her to stay.
Users can search any destination in the world and view a list of hosts who are willing to let them stay in their homes for free. The surfer can then review potential host profiles, which include brief biographies and helpful references from other surfers who have stayed with that host.
McRae said she found the site with a friend when she needed a place to stay during a road trip to Seattle.
“Being the poor college students that we are, we were trying to find work-arounds to where we wouldn’t have to spend as much money,” McRae said.
McRae has both hosted and been hosted by travelers she’s connected with on couchsurfing.com, and said she’s only had nothing but good experiences while Couchsurfing.
McRae and Smith both spoke about how positive their experience was with their short time together.
“It’s cool that people are that giving, that they are willing to just take people in like that,” Smith said.
McRae said she liked that she and Smith were able to share stories about their travels and get to know one another. She feels Couchsurfing gives her the chance to meet people with different views and perspectives and to learn from them.
McRae emphasized the importance of being careful and staying safe when Couchsurfing.
BYU alumnus and avid Couchsurfer Stephen Graham also admitted there are some people on the site who could be scary. Couchsurfing can attract both great people as well as dangerous people, and Graham said a person using the site should be aware of any danger.
Couchsurfers have reported theft and sexual assault. However, the number of positive experiences is greater than negative experiences, and there are some security measures in place.
The site includes references and member verification to ensure the safety of its users. Verification gives members a green check mark on their profile if they’ve proven that they are who they say they are. The Couchsurfers do this by providing Couchsurfing.com with a proof of address or proof of identification.
“Look at the reviews, be smart and filter through the possible hosts and travel in groups,” Graham said.
The potential downsides haven’t stopped Graham from using the site to travel. He has been to Italy, Germany, Australia and several other countries with the help of the site.
Graham said he doesn’t feel like as much of a tourist when he is Couchsurfing. He has made a lot of friends through the website and uses Couchsurfing whenever it’s available.
“I feel like a local who eats normal meals and lives a normal life,” Graham said.
There have been times when Graham has not only used the site to find a place to stay, but also to meet up with people and get to know them. He said even when they aren’t able to host him, some will still take time out of their day to meet and spend time with him.
BYU students using Couchsurfing.com services to host guests should know and understand their housing rules regarding overnight guests. Rules may vary depending on the student’s landlord.
The BYU off-campus housing rental agreement states, “the student may not have overnight guests without notice. If consent is given, a single student shall have only overnight guests of the same gender as designated for the dwelling. All guests must comply with the BYU Honor Code and Residential Living Standards when on the premises.”
Smith, McRae and Graham have all enjoyed their experiences while using Couchsurfing.com website and said they intend to continue to use it in the future.
“I have two people right now, one from Korea and one from Germany, who are asking to stay at my house, and it will be way cool to have them stay and get to know them and their culture,” McRae said.