Surfing the World Wide Couch: The Benefits of Urban Camping (Plus: Sweaty Tango)


Dogs get it. (Photo: Fran-cis-ca)

The last time I landed in London, I crashed with a friend on his sister’s floor. It rocked.

In between watching games of the rugby world cup, we drank great wine as kiwis and whinging POMs “took the piss” out of me for hours on end.

It was cheaper than a hotel, of course, but that’s not why I did it.

I wanted the comforting and fun experience of “home” through someone else’s culture and life. Even the Four Seasons, as much as I like it, can’t provide this.

Fortunately, you don’t need a friend in every country to experience “home” around the world. There are thousands of couch surfers and so-called “urban camping” hosts who are eagerly waiting to give you a taste of their cultures and private homes for free. From the New York Times

In an age of cheap airfares and porous borders, where nearly every corner of the earth, from Bulgaria to Bhutan, is open for tourism, the home is the final frontier, the last authentic experience. Instead of being in some sanitized hotel in Hanoi, said Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine, “if I couch surf I could be on some cool ex-pat’s or local’s sofa.” He added: “I’ve already leapfrogged barriers. It would take weeks under ordinary circumstances to get in someone’s home.”


He said the process of surfing was like the lottery. “Anything can happen: the glamour and the appeal are the stories you hear, the coming of age stories, the travel stories,” he said. Hosts get to travel without leaving home, through the surfers in their living rooms. “Who are they and what makes them that way?” Mr. Fenton continued, “and who are you? Because you get to compare and contrast yourself with these other selves every day in your own living room.”

For constant surfers, the couch becomes a new sort of home, redefining, in many ways, their own ideas about what a home really is.

Experiential travel isn’t about places, it’s about people. About exploring different interpretations of the human experience: what’s important and what isn’t, what can wait and what can’t, what’s beautiful and what isn’t, etc.

That is culture, not some old building the locals have never visited. Get out of shrine hopping and into the lives of those around you. The experience will be remembered far longer than any sightseeing slideshow.

Un abrazo desde Jose Ignacio!

Want to sweat? Try dancing tango in 100-degree heat at a house party in Uruguay. One partner, Nati, and I each went through 2 liters of water in a 30-minute session. Dig the dress shoes with the Baywatch shorts? Niiiice. This was the first time we had ever danced together.

Related resources and links:

Global Freeloaders and The Couch Surfing Project

How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)

New Year, New You: How to Travel the World with (or without) Kids in 2008

The Top-10 Destinations for Independent Travelers (This is very close to my personal list)

Life Nomadic: A Blog of Two Who Sold Everything and are Traveling the World

The stories of Jennifer Metz and her 55-week tour of 30 homes around the world


Posted on: January 13, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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38 comments on “Surfing the World Wide Couch: The Benefits of Urban Camping (Plus: Sweaty Tango)

  1. Hey!!!!! ROCKING video clip. You know how to pick em huh? :) Crashing at someone’s house definitely gives a better taste of the culture. I have done this in Hamburg, Nicaragua, and in Maui. You can even see this in the states. When I first went to NYC I stayed at a hotel and the last few times I stay at my sister’s place. It really gives you a better feel for how things move there.

    Cheers y que los pasas bien!!!!!!!

    Jose Castro-Frenzel


  2. Definitely the way to go…staying in people’s houses always gives you a better feel for the culture than staying in a hotel – and you’re right, it feels much more homely as well. I spent six months in Guatemala staying with a local family for $50/week (room and board)…it was awesome!


  3. Tim, why do you have twitter? It seems like a really bad idea to me based on what I read in your book – it makes you far more available, accessible, and keeps you tied down. You still are an email ninja, why the change about twitter?



    Hey there. I’m just testing Twitter as a means of asking quick questions or offering updates without sending out otherwise uninteresting RSS items. I don’t want clog RSS readers with a separate post for “hey, anyone want to grab a drink in NYC tonight? I’ll be at St. Marks and 1st” for example.

    I don’t respond to anything on Twitter, so it doesn’t increase my accessibility.

    Hope that helps. It’s another experiment. If I don’t find it useful, it’ll disappear after a bit. I’ll be testing out an alternative soon as well.



  4. by the way, are you ever going to do a seminar at harvard for tim ferriss wannabes who want more than the book but don’t attend princeton? thanks again.


    Hi S,

    I spoke at HBS a few months ago and enjoy Cambridge, so I’m certainly up for a return visit when I’m in the neighborhood. If you can get at least 100 students, just send an event proposal to

    Pura vida,



  5. This comment is placed here only because I have few alternatives to get word to you about a problem in ebook versions that is a major pain to anyone mobile.

    The problem:

    On the 11th I downloaded The 4 Hour Workweek as an ebook from It was available as a pdf file so I downloaded it expecting the usual pdf file structure readable on my systems. Unfortunately, Adobe apparently has a new reader called “Digital Editions” that is nothing short of absolute crap. I have no problem with restricting copying or printing of an ebook. The problem I have is that I cannot get their stinking Digital Editions to work on my laptop so I can study while I travel (and, apparently, neither can anyone else). Here is the statement from

    “Because of incorrigible technical issues, we do not recommend transferring Adobe ebooks to mobile or hand-held devices.”

    In actuality, the stupid thing will not even load onto a Vista equipped laptop–must be those “incorrigible technical issues”. Of course, the warning is buried deeply within the website and not presented anywhere prior to downloading the ebook. So much for full disclosure. Now I have the 4 Hour Workweek on my desktop while I spend my weeks traveling with my laptop where it will not work. Obviously, I have spent my money on something that is worthless to me until I have time once I return home.

    Please let me know how I can redownload the ebook as a standard pdf file (or in any other protected format you may desire) so I can study it on my laptop. What I have read of the book so far has been fantastic and I am dying to get into outsourcing and organization that I have only briefly scanned thus far.

    By the way, there are forums full of complaints from many others attempting to use this idiotic Digital Editions design so I’m not alone in this problem. Adobe should be scrambling to help out a bunch of irate customers…

    Thanks for the vent space…get back to your dancing…


    Hi JC,

    Thank you for mentioning this. I’ll shoot this to my publisher and drop you a line here or via e-mail with their recommendations.

    Cheers :)



  6. Great links Tim. I’ve been considering the budget for a round the world trip, and this could definitely trim it down, particularly in western Europe.

    Along the lines of twitter, you may consider keeping a simple calender, so we can plan around any speaking engagements in advance (or so you can have a team of eDisciples following you around).

    I’m not sure it will help your particular pdf problem. But if you guys hate Adobe in general you might try foxit viewer. It’s way less bloated.


  7. Shout when you’re next in London. It would be fun to catch up!

    I’m planning a trip through a few US cities this year (autumn time) and will hopefully be staying with a few different people to get to catch up with them and experience things in the US that you just don’t even know about unless you know the people, culture or cities. For example in San Diego I found out what Roller Derby was! Crazy sport! And have to go back to do the diving out there in the Kelp gardens at La Jolla. (and of course some climbing in the desert too!)

    Nice post, keep up the good work1


  8. Hey Tim, great post. I agree that often the experience is about the people, not necessarily the destination.

    Quick question…when you travel internationally do have any requirements that you make sure will be available? Like internet access or cell phone coverage or anything else?


  9. Hey Tim,

    I have just got back from Punta del Este with friends.
    Was there for New Year’s.
    Amazing time!!!
    Funny, I was mentionning you and your book at that lunch place on the beach in Jose Ignacio.

    Then a week of tango dancing and great food in Bs As.
    Now in NY ready to try the recommended matte.

    I so wish I would have just run into you one day!!!
    Your dance video made my smile.
    You’re guys great!!!



  10. I’ve been using now for about a year. I’ve met people from all over the world looking for a free comfortable spot to lay. My brother met his current girlfriend with a fellow surfer. It’s really an incredible tool for the budget traveler. I’m planning to couchsurf in Morocco this February.

    It’s funny how excited you get when a new CS’er come through your door always with some interesting exciting stories of travels and interests. It’s totally based on referrals from other CS’ers so filtering out the riffraff is easy. My brother did have to tell some Peruvians to hit the road after the took advantage of his couch for over a week. He now stipulates a 3 day max stay.


  11. What song is playing in the video? This may be a question for Amy, but I’m sure others are wondering as well.
    Also, tell Nati she has inspired me to brush up on my spanish. Dígale las gracias.


  12. Tim

    Glad to see you’re picking up the ‘Down Under’ lingo. I also hope you ‘shouted’ (bought) some of that wine for your hosts and weren’t a ‘bludger’ (freeloader)!

    Until I travelled I had no idea other English speaking countries did not use the same slang as us Aussies and Kiwis. It’s a great big and fabulous world out there.



  13. global freeloaders and (and this blog) are examples of what is so great about the web.

    these communities will just naturally grow through word of mouth and don’t need any advertising. pre-internet it would have been hard for this kind of thing to get off the ground.

    in all my traveling experience, meeting locals and hanging with them was always the best (and cheapest) part.

    another great & unusual post topic Tim!



  14. I just couch surfed for a week for a snowboarding trip in CO and it was great!

    On a different note, I’d like to ask for your brief input. The information you put out about how you created a bestseller as a first time author was simple, yet unique. I’m also interested in how you became a guest speaker at Princeton. I imagine that it was a matter of focused PR efforts, but my instinct also tells me that your approach was unique.

    What would it take to entice you to share a few sentences about that approach?


    Hi Jeff,

    The Princeton case was unique as a former professor of mine invited me back to speak. No real PR involved :)



  15. An avid way to travel the globe and stay within budget. I have found if I could live out of a suitcase and meet people from all over the world, I would find inner peace. Thanks for the tip as I will assuredly look into it.
    I traveled to London and Paris in 2006 and am hoping to permanently relocate to the UK at some point soon. I started seeking to learn French through, and now your article has motivated me even more! Thanks! très frais!