Once the domain of homeless musicians and aimless wanderers, couch surfing is more of an art than a sport. Taking up friendly locals on offers of free place to crash is a great way to save money while traveling and meet new people — especially if you’re low on cash, friendly and willing to rough it a bit.
Since 2004, the website Couchsurfing.com has expanded the concept of couch surfing worldwide and promoted cultural exchange by connecting willing local hosts with travelers.
Buenos Aires is one of the top ten Couchsurfing cities in their global network, and there are nearly 40,000 members in all of Argentina.
Those who sign up can create elaborate Myspace-style online profiles with pictures, personal descriptions, places traveled and their couch surfing objectives. Travelers seeking to rely on the friendliness of strangers for a spare couch browse profiles and send messages to local hosts to see if they can crash at their house for a few days. Host are free to accept or decline any request that comes their way.
Couchsurfing members don’t have to offer a couch or surf the couches of others, in fact many members use it as a way to meet new people through events and meet-ups. Couchsurfing members in Buenos Aires tend to be regulars at events such as flash mobs, the San Telmo Fair and the drumfest, La Bomba de Tiempo.
Couchsurfing attracts mainly 20-something travelers, although there are certainly older members. The tendency for it to be a young crowd is even more pronounced in Argentina, where those who grew up after the ousting of the repressive military dictatorship in 1984 tend to be more open to ideas of free exchange.
Not surprisingly, considering there are 600,000 Couchsurfing members worldwide, there have been a couple of incidents of sexual assaults by members that have made it in the press.
This led to articles such as one in Bitch Magazine titled, ‘Is Couchsurfing Safe for Women?‘
In truth, just like the in the big bad world itself, terrible things can happen but the profiles allow members to have Couchsurfing friends, references and have people ‘vouching’ for them. It’s a system that can go a long way in weeding out creeps, but the downside is a good profile that proves your trustworthiness requires a bit of effort and the willingness to put a fair amount of personal information on the web.
With safety in mind, single gals should be aware that some seductive Argentine men might treat Couchsurfing as a convenient way to get foreign girls in their nighties right into their living rooms.
Females utilizing Couchsurfing or similar organizations may want to consider staying with only couples and other women, or simply using the site to meet locals while staying at hostels.
• Remember that hosts aren’t on vacation, they have regular lives to maintain while you’re passing through and having a good time. Try to keep out of the way when they are busy.
• Try to find a way to make it worthwhile for the host: cook a meal, buy a bottle of wine or invite them out one evening if they’re available.
• Don’t use Couchsurfing as a way to try to hook-up with people. (Sometimes sparks may fly though — just make sure the feeling is mutual before making a move.)