As I get ready to embark on a six-city tour of the US and Canada with Nomadic Matt (part of the The Nomadic Network) I thought I would share my thoughts on another travel community: Couchsurfing. Specifically, I wanted to review the Couchsurfing Hangouts app.
In 2016, Couchsurfing released a new feature called Hangouts. In addition to finding locals you can stay with (or hosting travelers yourself), you can meet other CS members at home or abroad via the new Hangouts app. The premise of the app is pretty simple: you can see who is nearby and send them an instant invitation to hang out. That’s it, in a nut shell. While simple, the app has revitalized the usefulness of Couchsurfing and ushered in something of a new era. Instead of having to host members or stay with them yourself , you can now just meet them for coffee or a beer or a movie. While you could do this in the past, using the messenger system built into their website, the app is a much easier, simpler way to do so. This has allowed new members to test the waters of Couchsurfing to see if it’s for them. I’ve used the Hangouts app on multiple continents now, having met folks in the US, Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden. It’s been a great way to connect with travellers and locals alike.
How It Works
To use Hangouts, all you need to do is download the Couchsurfing app to your mobile device. Once you log in, you’ll be able to see who is available to hang out. Every person available will have a suggested activity they want to do listed under their name. These are often pre-made suggestions like “I want to grab beers” or “I want to go out and party.” They can be customized, however, for specific activities. For example, if you’re in Paris and you want to go and visit the Louvre with someone you can customize your availability to say, “I want to go to the Louvre, yo.”
Once you browse the activities you can also browse the individual profiles to make sure the members are folks you’d actually want to hang out with. Once you find someone you like you can send them a message. If they are interested, they will reply. From there, you can make plans and see what sort of adventures are afoot!
Couchsurfing Hangouts Review
What makes Hangouts so useful is that it takes place in real time. Couchsurfing messages on the website act more like email, whereas messaging on Hangouts operates more like a text message. You can see who is available and what they want to do without having to wait around. For a solo traveler or a local who wants to meet other travellers (or even other locals!) this is a great tool. While you never know just who will be available, you do know they will share your love of travel, which is always a plus!
Moreover, Hangouts gives new members a chance to test the whole “Couchsurfing thing” while giving a potential boost their references. Since you will be able to use Hangouts at home and abroad you’ll have a constant stream of opportunity to meet other members, thereby securing more reviews. And a positive review, as all CSer’s know, goes a lonnnnng way! Just be sure to write a positive reference (assuming it was a positive experience!) shortly after the hangout. This will make sure your reference is the most accurate, but it will also serve as a subtle reminder for them to write a reference for you!
I’ve found that most of the time I message folks to hang out I often don’t get a reply. While at first I thought the reason was me (Does everyone hate me?!?!) I eventually realized that it was the app. Unfortunately, once you log into Hangouts it keeps you there until you manually log out. I’ve accidentally left mine on overnight and woke up to a handful of messages. The key is to make sure you log out when you’re not using it, but also don’t take it personally if folks ignore your messages. (I've actually been signed into Hangouts for about nine hours today and didn't even realize)
I’ve also noticed a lot of dudes on there are specifically looking for women to “hang out” with (looking at the app right now and there is a topless dude with zero references wanting to “party.” I’ll take a hard pass on that). If that’s not what you’re looking for, you’ll want to screen your hangouts accordingly.
The app, while super helpful, crashes all the time. I’ve been locked out of the app on a handful of occasions and have had it freeze and crash regularly. Moreover, I’ve also noticed that the distances it lists between members is not accurate whatsoever. I mean, it hasn’t even been close! For example, I was once sitting at a bar with a CS member from Hangouts and it listed them as 4km away! While I can see the benefit of not having everyone’s location available (for obvious safety and privacy reasons) it seems silly to include a distance calculator that isn’t accurate.
Hopefully a few updates and patches will fix the bugs, which are the only real pains I’ve experienced using the app.
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In the end, Hangouts offers a lot of potential to revitalize the Couchsurfing community. By allowing new members to test the waters and secure some references before they travel, Hangouts has the potential to ingrain itself as a staple of not only the CS community, but as a vital tool for budget travellers everywhere. But don’t take my word for it, check it out!
Are you a fan of the app? Don’t really like the idea of Hangouts? Let me know what you think in the comments!