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


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

38 Replies to “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!

  16. hey tim,

    reading your post makes me nostaglic. myself and my boyfriend traveled around the world for a year and became very familiar with couch surfing. as im sure you know, people are very generous. there is this ‘underground’ society of international travelers willing to help one another. when we left the states we were actually going to stay with a girl in london that i met ONCE at my job and emailed once…we kept hoping that she would be there when we got there. now…we are going to her wedding!

    so i didnt go to harvard or princeton, how do i get to sit in one of your classes? i did go to college, speak fluent spanish and conversational french/dutch, and i look young enough to be a student…should i dress up?

    (btw kiwis rule! we spent a month there and they are awesome…crazy…but awesome!)


    Hi O,

    Thanks for the comment and contributing!

    My classes generally aren’t open to the general public, but I’ll definitely post any open speaking that I do. As it stands, I’ll be speaking at SXSW Interactive ( and keynoting the last day at E-Tech in San Diego, both in March.

    Un abrazo 🙂


  17. Tim,

    I just got back from Kauai. It was an incredible adventure. Not only did I have an amazing time, but I also bought your book and read it in one day. This says a lot coming from a guy who didn’t even buy text books in college. Your work is beyond incredible. I’m an enormous fan and have already implemented some of your strategies. I’m enjoying the benefits of working less and have planned another trip. I even made my staff read your book as well. Truly an amazing perspective.




    Thanks so much, Josh! Kauai — I’m jealous 🙂

    Go Jurassic Park,


  18. You look like you are one happy man, dancing up a storm in such heat.

    What’s your secret? How do you see so much joy where other people would feel pain?


    I think I distinguish between transient pain (sometimes positive) and acute pain (usually bad). In this case, Nati was a good dancer, and I was only in S. America for two weeks, so the price was worth it. I also find that people are just about as happy as they decide to be, external events notwithstanding.

    Hope that helps!


  19. Tim,

    Nice work! I purchased your book a while ago (before it was on the Best Seller list) and have implemented some of your strategies with much success. I have seen your book before…..”Time To Live” by Gove Hambidge (McGraw-Hill, 1933). It has parallels to your book but was written in the 1930’s. Gove’s goal was a “five hour work day.” I guess we have come along way! Check it out.


  20. Tim, I had my epiphany about work and life 4 months ago and took off to Greece with a backpack and no return ticket – leaving my restaurant and real estate business to fend for themselves. When I finally did return no overwhelming catastrophes happened and a customer gave me your book as a gift – commenting that I wasn’t alone in my new way of thinking. It was the perfect time to receive it since some of my friends think I’ve gone a little nutso – that they’ll find me singing in a lounge somewhere 10 years from now with a feather boa around my neck!

  21. Hi Tim,

    liked what you said. I’ve couch surfed many a time and am always looking to repay the favour.

    I think travel not only teaches you about culture, it refines your sense of hospitality.

    Knowing what if feels like to turn up somewhere where you know no one, thousands of miles from home, and be taken into someone’s house…

  22. Dear Tim, I picked up your book yesterday. I am one of the millions that are unhappy with their job. I am a ICU nurse and I am so tired of seeing the things Ive seen. I am 43 years old and I just do not want to wake up one day and be old and say what going on hell just happened. I do want to help people, but not like this. I believe I have several talents to explore. I want to jump out and be one of those success story. Not for material reasons, for freedom reasons. Sorry about being a downer. I am reading every page of your book to hopeful open up a door I have been unable to open. One is fear. Thank you for your time. I truly believe there is more out there. You are inspiring. Sorry about the type O’s. Dina

  23. I’ve just signed up to be a couch surfer – wouldn’t it be heavenly if a tango dancer came to stay …

  24. Right on! Although you don’t mention it in your blog, I’m sure you’ve heard of Very cool way to meet people abroad and for finding a cool place to stay. I am personally a verterean “urban camper” myself, and am very intrigued by the surge in new urban campers. It seems to me to be part of a spiritual renaissance.

    [Sorry, Mike, but multiple links removed. Please see the “comment zen” rules where you leave the comments. Sorry!]

    Artopium Mike

  25. This is for Dina Gonzalez and all of the other burnt-out nurses out there: I have been a nurse for 35 years and liked my job but felt no chappenge/excitement in it. 2 years ago I became a Travel Nurse and have fallen in love with nursing again! I have travelled the entire eastern seacoast 13 weeks at a time. I work 3 days a week and sightsee the other 4. The travel company provides my (fabulous) apartment and pays my utilities, so my competative salery goes so much further. Just think about it. I’ve loved this and wish I had done it so much sooner.

  26. Dude.

    In addition to being on the dodging bullets of my four hour workweek exercise, I feel like I’m doing an optimization experiment. At times, i’m shit scared to act but the experiment in lifestyle design is totally worth it.

    I am an official couchsurfer since May 09 after moving to the Philippines and just wanted to provide another prop for it. Women especially might have more apprehensions but I’ve couchsurfed alone ladies and gents and it’s been a great, great experience. There are so pretty down to earth amazing people the world has to share. I’ve surfed and been surfed and it’s also been a very chill experience it has been sharing this little spot in the world with others, it has enriched my experience moving here, learning the area and the local vibe as I show someone with fresh eyes and a new perspective around and having seen what home is like for someone else while surfing. I don’t think I could have said it any better, “Experiential travel isn’t about places, it’s about people. About exploring different interpretations of the human experience”

    I kinda wished I birthed that sentence myself. Of course, there are other ways to travel, times when you with luxurious accommodations, etc and to each there own but after having experienced a tourist dream tour I vastly prefer the experiential traveling experience. If you vibe with that, couch surfing is a great way to go.


  27. I couldn’t agree more about the importance of people over places. But sometimes places bring out the best parts of people and enable the true mega awesome times!

    Couch surfing is great! I’m flying to Europe tomorrow from New Zealand and am staying on my cousins couch as well as three other friends couches. Cheap more or less comfortable and local culture experiences guaranteed!

  28. My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I may as

    well check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to exploring your web page repeatedly.

  29. Anyone with connections in Tanzania Africa? Would love to visit and see how this country is really booming!