Riccardo G.’s profile on CouchSurfing.com, the website that partners intrepid wanderers with willing hosts, notes that he lives in the “best neighborhood to go out and have drinks,” that he offers a “cozy/clean/nice sofa/couch” and that he’ll even let you bring your “small dog, if you just can’t live without him.”
He describes himself as “amazing, outgoing, funny, smart” and says his interests include friends, eating, drinking, the gym and puppies. His photos show the good-humored Latin American native — dark, handsome, and fit — in exotic destinations around the world, from Cairo to Capri. Nowhere does the profile state explicitly that if you are an attractive female traveler, you might skip the couch entirely and wind up in Riccardo’s bed, but it’s a good possibility.
In eight months using the service, Riccardo, who is 32 and works for an ad agency, has let eight visitors crash at his apartment, of whom he’s hooked up with five, for a 62 percent “success rate.” If you count the additional two who climbed into bed with him for a cuddle and then fell asleep, the percentage climbs even higher. (Riccardo and other Couchsurfing users quoted in this article asked to be identified by pseudonyms.)
On the business front, the crowdsourced hospitality site has been experiencing a rough patch lately. After a controversial transition to a for-profit model in 2011, which brought $22 million in funding in the past two years, growing pains have set in. In October, layoffs claimed an estimated 40 percent of the staff, and CEO Tony Espinoza announced his departure— giving an opening to competitors like BeWelcome and Hospitality Club.
Although the company has initiated a doubling down on mobile, the experience of users like Riccardo might suggest another path to profitability.
I simply do not know of an easier way for a guy to get laid with exotic women in exotic countries. Long live Couchsurfing!
Never mind OKCupid and Tinder. The almost decade-old Couchsurfing, which is available in 100,000 cities across the globe, is becoming the go-to hookup app for a certain class of young world travelers. Bloggers like Maverick Traveler will help you spot the “8 Signs of a Slutty CouchSurfer Girl” by decoding her profile, and female-centric advice site YouQueen has even offered tips on “How to Use CouchSurfing as a Dating Site and Get Away with It.” Meanwhile, a site called CouchBangs.com, which declares that “Couchsurfing isn’t just for Couchsurfing,” offers a forum for proud couch-cuddlers to share their experiences via short posts with titles like “French Girl in Istanbul” and “Brazilian Girl in New York.”
Perhaps, but use of the site to find sexual partners (a practice known in some bro-friendly circles as “cooch surfing”) is nonetheless quite routine.
“Get in my bed”
“All of my friends, they love these stories,” Riccardo tells Business Insider over beers in a quiet bar in Midtown Manhattan. “They call me the next day asking what happened. I’m like, ‘You know, whatever, we went out, had sex...’ They’re like, ‘No, no, no—tell me when she got there, where you went, did you kiss her, every single detail.’”
We had the same questions.
“My first Couchsurfing hookup happened when I was staying with my friend in Miami,” Riccardo recalls. “He has a studio and was hosting two girls from France.” He slept on an inflatable air mattress with one girl, while his friend shared his bed with the other. They didn’t go all the way. “She had her period,” he explains. Months later Riccardo got a phone call from the same girl, asking if she could stay at his place in New York City. This time, they made it official. “I never talked to her again,” he admits, adding, “I mean, we’re friends on Facebook.”
Couchsurfing was born after a budget-conscious traveler named Casey Fenton sent out a mass request for accommodations in Iceland and received 50 invitations from students with a free spare futon. Fenton soon realized people all over the world might not mind sharing their extra space gratis while making new friends in the process. Today, each of the site’s 7 million members has a unique profile which reads like a personal ad, highlighting interests, locations traveled, details about their accommodations and, most important, references. This system allows friends you’ve made globally or locally to vouch for you and the unlikelihood of you being a serial killer. Members can request a couch, host a traveler, or find new friends to meet up with locally.
Riccardo agrees to host only female travelers and stipulates that they be younger than him. He accepts them based on their attractiveness “of course,” but physical appearance isn’t the only criterion. “I’ve seen cute girls that have boring pictures and I’m like, ‘You look boring, sorry.’ At the end of the day I’m going to spend three days with you. I want to have three days with somebody I can talk with. Not somebody just empty.”
In Riccardo’s case, it all starts with a request for approval — from his pal in Miami. “I’m always sending him links like, ‘Hey, do you like this chick? Should I invite her?’” he says. “There’s more people coming to New York than Miami, so he’s always like, ‘You bastard!’ Then he always asks to do Facetime because he wants to see them.”
“The first time,” he says, leaning over his beer, “I had two girls that stayed … I didn’t sleep with either. Big fail!”1++
He got a little closer on his second try, a girl from Slovakia with blonde hair (his weakness) and small, dark, squinty eyes.
She was in the process of moving to New York and needed a place to stay for four days while she looked for a permanent home. “We went out for drinks the first night,” he says, “and I hit on her. I tried to kiss her. She, was like ‘No, no, no—I don’t want to make it awkward.’ I was like well, whatever, so we kept on drinking, dancing, and having fun.”
Riccardo later learned he’d made a critical error. Experienced couchsurfing casanovas know to hold off on making a move until later. Your guest is already committed to coming home with you, so why risk the old fashioned approach? His friend later advised him on a more direct strategy.
“Come, get in my bed,” he’ll say, just as his guest is preparing to hit the sack.
At first, Riccardo could not believe it was that simple. “I’m going to get slapped,” he thought. “I’m going to sound like such a jerk just telling them.” But he tried it on his next guest and bingo. “We got home just laughing and telling jokes, and I just said it. She was like, ‘Okay!’”
“My friends say, ‘You’re telling me that line — get in my bed — it works?’ I’m like dude, it works.”
Riccardo is asked if he feels sleazy. “I do feel guilt, but not like I took advantage of somebody.” Instead of calling his friend with tales of his latest conquests, he has recently found himself calling to complain. “I’m telling him it was awesome last night, I had sex and everything—but it was empty sex.”
We ask if he’ll stop, since it’s become so unfulfilling, he smiles and shakes his head no.
Why stop, when it’s so easy? As Maverick Traveler, a self-proclaimed nomad who “roams the earth, seduces beautiful women,” and blogs about his adventures, puts it, “I simply do not know of an easier way for a guy to get laid with exotic women in exotic countries. Long live Couchsurfing!” The anonymous blogger is also the author of the popular “How to Bang CouchSurfing Girls—The Complete Guide” (which, after he declined to comment for this article, mysteriously disappeared from his website) and “8 Signs of a Slutty Couchsurfing Girl” (which mysteriously didn’t).
According to his blog, he started using the site in 2009 “as a tool to get to know a city, meet interesting people, and, of course, to bang chicks.” Four years of his exotic lifestyle later, Maverick is sharing the secrets of Couchsurfing as a “gateway to easy lays” — from preparation (“Wash your cum-soaked bed sheets”) to avoiding a negative review at all costs: “Under normal circumstances, I use every trick in the book to get a bang, but with a possible negative looming over my head if things don’t work out, I play it cool with Couchsurfing chicks.”
Most of his readers are clearly appreciative of his advice: “Nice post. I didn’t know CS was a bangtool,” reads one response.
Girl Meets Boy(s)
Jessie S. just turned in her two-weeks notice, a final preparation for her upcoming road trip through the Americas along the Rocky/Andes mountains to arrive in Brazil just in time for World Cup 2014. Currently she lives in her hometown of Philadelphia, and though single and actively looking, the early twentysomething hasn’t met anyone of interest locally.
Most Couchsurfers are travelers at heart and don’t want commitment. They’re a little more rebellious.
“I haven’t had sex in five months!” she tells Business Insider. “But I have made out with about 10 different guys.” While she encounters plenty of prospects in Philly — men she works with, men from her martial arts school, men on her community soccer team — she prefers to do her hunting further afield. “I’ve decided it’s really not worth it to get romantically involved with any of those guys. It’s important to stay professional, and guys I train with need to see me as a fighter and a teammate or it gets too complicated.”
A Couchsurfer since 2009, Jessie has traveled the globe using the service. But it’s not a dating site, she insists, “It’s a social site. But with anything social, there is sometimes a spark. I’m very passionate and very easily seduced!” She bursts out laughing. “I have high standards, I don’t just sleep with any guy I think is hot. But once there is a connection, there isn’t much holding me back.”
For instance, this guy in Wales. “There was a very strong attraction on both of our parts,” she recalls. “When he came downstairs to offer me blankets and pillows for the couch, I just asked him, ‘Can I sleep in your bed?’”
Then there was Ireland, where despite being a little fuzzy on the specifics, Jessie also recalls making the first move with her male host. “Whether it was verbal or if I just went for it and kissed him, I ended up sleeping in his bed that night and having sex with him. It was funny because the next morning his roommate, who had seen me sleeping on the couch the night before, barged in his room and was very surprised to find me naked in his bed!”
Of course, that sort of spontaneity is part of the appeal. “When you are a traveler it’s hard to be able to commit to anything, so if you do want any form of romance in your life, you kind of have to be cool with this way,” she says. “You recognize that you are kindred spirits and you have a lot to offer to each other, but you’re not going to suddenly move to this person’s country to be with them. It works because most Couchsurfers are travelers at heart and don’t want commitment. They’re a little more rebellious, and people who are used to breaking the rules understand that.”
What the World Needs Now
An active participant in her local Couchsurfing community, Ana B. organizes events and goes to weekly meetings designed to connect local and visiting CSers. It was at one of these weekly rendezvous where she met her husband. “We hooked up, started dating, moved in together and now I’m pregnant!” she says. “We’re having a Couchsurfing baby!”
A Couchsurfer since 2007, who first began using the site as a way to practice her English with non-Portuguese speakers, the South American native is always “changing, learning, growing” and is “pretty messy,” but draws the line at leaving a wet floor in the bathroom. Ana has hosted between 30 and 40 travelers in both Portugal and Brazil, proof of which she keeps displayed proudly on her refrigerator. “I collect refrigerator magnets, so I ask my guests to bring me one from their country. Now I have lots of them!”
Having hooked up with about a third of her visitors — some while still single, and others with her husband — she has lots of stories too.
Like the time Ana and her husband hosted a “really cute, adorable, and loving” Israeli couple during Brazil’s notorious Carnival festival. The guests booked their stay six months in advance, so there was plenty of time to become acquainted via Facebook. “We started chatting and I saw that she had pictures kissing other girls on the lips and she has nice boobs. I thought, ‘When she comes to Brazil, we’ll see.’” After a cheeky game of “Never Have I Ever” lubricated by numerous caipirinhas, the visitors were suddenly upgraded from the couch to the bed. “We never expect it to happen until the last night, when the person wants to go crazy,” she says. Her guest, it should be said, left Ana a glowing reference on her profile, gushing that she “simply enjoyed every moment with her.”
When asked how she broaches the subject without offending her guests, Ana replies with conviction that Couchsurfing tends to inspire connections that are more intimate than one has with close friends. Small talk leads to wild stories of past experiences. In Ana’s case, the fact that she and her husband have had threesomes with other women often happens to get worked into the conversation. “You see it in the other person’s face if she is interested, if she is curious. And if she is interested and we are interested in her, why not?”
She says the main benefit to Couchsurfing hookups is that they come without strings attached. “There’s no wondering if he will call the next day or jealousy over the new girl he’s dating now. It’s perfect.”
CouchSurfing remains adamant that its service is designed to bring people together for cultural exchange and free lodging, not sex. “Couchsurfing is not a dating site,” Billock asserts. “However, there are many examples of people who have met through Couchsurfing and formed all kinds of wonderful relationships — friendships, travel companions, married couples.”
But mid-November brought the launch of a competing site, Loveroom, that is explicitly designed to facilitate sex — a direct approach that appeals to users like Ana. Originally floated as what its founder Josh Bocanegra calls a “thought experiment to connect people in a new way” via a simple Launchrock splash page, it was billed as “a platform where single people & couples can share a room with other people under one condition: they need to be attractive.” According to the user, that is. “The users are 100% the judge of who they think is attractive,” clarifies Bocanegra.
The idea, says Ana, is, “‘You can come to my house, you can stay for free, and if I like you and you like me we are going to have sex, no strings attached.’ I like that, the honesty.”
As to whether it will really take off, she predicts, “Men will definitely join. But I think if I were a single woman, I wouldn’t create a profile, because it’s a site that basically says I will have casual sex with you.”
That said, Ana’s married, and in fact, she is one reason why the site announced a new feature just six days after it’s launch. “I contacted the website admin to talk about creating a couples profile and Josh immediately replied,” she says. “In less than 12 hours the feature for couples was available!”
At this stage, such timely additions to the site are feasible and user feedback is priceless. “We didn’t need any funding whatsoever,” says Bocanegra of his passion project. “I did all of the programming myself, [with] my girlfriend” — Loveroom co-founder Jeanine Fuentes — “did a lot of the design work.” In fact, Bocanegra lives off the residual income from his first successful tech startup, Beats4Real, which he created at age 16. Loveroom is now looking for developers to ensure the site can handle its rapidly growing demand.
While the site had registered 6,500 users as of this writing, Bocanegra isn’t sure any have met in person. “I’d give it a couple of months,” he says. Still, it has attracted plentyofpress and seems to have identified a market niche that Couchsurfing was serving only reluctantly.
“As of right now, Couchsurfing is our biggest competitor for sure,” Bocanegra says, “but I wish we could team up somehow!”