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By Edgar Phillips

If you are new to a city and want to connect with locals and find hot spots then use the Couchsurfing Network while traveling on your next endeavor.

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Couchsurfing began in 2004, when the four founders were looking for a place to stay in Iceland. In their search they decided to write to people they didn’t know. Many would call people they don’t know strangers; the Couchsurfing community likes to look at these individuals as, ‘friends you have yet to meet.’ The idea of opening one’s home up to people who traveled spread like wild fire.

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Couchsurfing offers users a blend of services. It can be used to meet people in your city online, as a social network, or it can be used to find a place to stay like a travel guide.

Before coming to Budapest, I had never heard of Couchsurfing. I didn’t consider the idea of people from different walks of life staying at a stranger’s place in a foreign country. When a few American friends and I heard of this organization we immediately exchanged side-eye glances of skepticism. I knew of a few friends who had used this service and they tried to reassure us. Then I decided to find out for myself. I attended a Couchsurfing International Meeting Point here in Budapest. At this weekly meeting anyone involved online with Couchsurfing gets together for a beer, interacting and conversing with other couch surfers from all over the world.

Since its inception, Couchsurfing has stood with integrity. Their mission statement, “We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couch surfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.” They share a few principals like, travel the world, rediscover your city, and become a host and more. With over 7 million people in the community, Couchsurfing pushes these principals to the limit.

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With so many people traveling and hosting one might ask, “Just how safe is this?”, “How do I know I’m not going to be kidnapped?”

Amazingly, it’s rare to come by a host that is pervasive or wants to do fellow couch surfers harm. On their website, they have a list of “safety basics”. They say, “Trust your instincts, if the person seems unsafe, move on and be sure to look into cultural norms of your host country or city.” Other warnings on the website include, “communicate through Couchsurfing only, review profiles carefully, know your limits and enjoy responsibly.”

Many incidents happen when you are under the influence and acting irresponsibly. If you haven’t consumed alcohol before, it might be a safer to refrain from drinking in a foreign country. Use the buddy system or stay with someone of the same gender. There are profiles that give general overviews of your hosts. All kinds of information about the person’s background, family life, favorite music, personality, and ratings can be seen publicly. It is highly encouraged on the site to leave feedback of both positive and negative experiences with hosts. Another great tip is, if you feel unsafe leave a running log of conversations on the Couchsurfing message board; this could serve as evidence if things go sour. Last but not least, the website used my favorite rule, “Always have backup plans”.

When I travel, even to insignificant places in my home town, I use Google Maps and street locate the future meeting place. I look for landmarks around that place, and still write down the name of the place just in case I get lost.

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That’s enough about safety; this is the part we all love. Meeting new people is at the heart of the organization. The website is constantly bombarded with events for meeting new people. You can have dinner, party, or socialize.

You’re bound to meet a few interesting people at the weekly meeting points (social parties) and there’s always a few funny characters. These meetings are usually held at VakEger Tozsdekocsma, and typically there is a raffle for free wine.

To find out more information about the organization, Couchsurfing profiles, and upcoming events visit their website.