Is This Finally The End Of Couchsurfing? (And What’s Next?)

published by Bren

Last updated: September 17, 2021

If you’re a part of the Couchsurfing community, you’ve no doubt heard the news.

And you’ve certainly seen the outrage.

If you log in to your Couchsurfing account today, this is the screen you will see:

What’s more, everyone has been locked out of their accounts until they pay the monthly fee. All our friends lists, messages, groups, photos, profiles and references are now locked behind this paywall.

Many of us have seen this coming, but after nearly two decades of helping people travel the world for free, it’s official. Couchsurfing is no longer free.

To be 1,000% clear – I am not against paying fees, and I’m not at all against paying a fee for Couchsurfing.

I prefer it actually. I already pay monthly subscriptions for Spotify, Headspace, multiple blogging tools, multiple WordPress plugins, Audible, a couple of premium newsletters – quite a lot of stuff, actually. I prefer it this way, because when you pay for things like these, they’re usually way better than the free stuff.

What I do care about is who I pay this money to, and how they use it.

Over the last few years there have been many “incidents” between Couchsurfing HQ and the community, and “Couchsurfing is dead” was chanted by many longtime members. But most of us let it slide. We tolerated one more stunt, because we love this community that much.

However, I think this one is finally going to nail the coffin shut.

Again – it’s not about the $3.

None of us care about the $3.

In the words of The Count Of Monte Cristo: There’s a history here that you don’t understand!

So let me rewind and recount this Couchsurfing story from the beginning, since it’s quite a long and dirty one.

Couchsurfing and the many “Incidents”: From 1999 until today

The idea was born in 1999 by an American programmer named Casey Fenton. When travelling to Iceland he found it too expensive to book a hotel, so he randomly emailed 1,500 University of Iceland students from a hacked email list and asked for a couch to crash on.

He got about 100 offers, and this sparked the idea of creating a website.

In 2003 he founded Couchsurfing as a non-profit, and officially launched the site in 2004.

Couchsurfing took over the travelsphere and became one of the most popular travel sites in the world. But rather than blooming because it was such a beautiful site (it wasn’t) it bloomed because of what it stood for.

Casey Fenton regularly said the goal of Couchsurfing was to create a better world, one couch at a time. As many of you have experienced, the backpacking culture is not guided by money, but by trust and generosity and openness, so the Couchsurfing mission resonated. Everyone loved Couchsurfing.

There was no money in it, obviously, so from 2006 to 2011, the site was built, coded and moderated entirely by volunteers. The events and groups were also moderated entirely by volunteers. Volunteers from every continent donated tens of thousands of hours of work to keep the site operational and the community growing.

Many consider this period the golden era of Couchsurfing. Nobody made any money from the site, it was funded purely by donations and 100% a labour of love by travellers around the world. “Hosting” and “surfing” quickly became dictionary terms in the backpacker community. And the community was rich. Any time you were in a new city you could just post in the groups, who’s around this afternoon? And instantly you’d have awesome people to hang out and explore with. I started travelling full time in 2011, and was neck deep in the backpacking community. Couchsurfing was central to the culture. It was everywhere.

Even in my hometown I used it – after a surf one morning, I felt like hanging around to enjoy the beach. Logged onto Couchsurfing and what do you know? There’s a Couchsurfing event going on. I found them and spent all day lounging on the beach chatting. For those years, the site thrived.

In May 2011 came the first “incident” that started to split the community. Couchsurfing abandoned its non-profit status and changed to a for-profit corporation. Many of the volunteers that had dedicated much of their lives to the site protested. Why did they need to be for-profit? Where was the profit going to come from?

But this was just a precursor to the second “incident” that happened four months later. In August 2011 the founders accepted $8 million dollars in a Series A funding round. One year later they took an additional $15 million in a Series B. The beloved site that had operated solely on volunteer hours and donations for eight years raised $23 million of venture capital in 12 months.

I guess from here, it’s not too hard to guess how the story goes. Probably because we’ve seen this story a thousand times before. When venture capitalists put $23 million into something, they expect to get much more than $23 million back out.

(according to former CEO Jennifer Billock’s Linkedin, the company was sold again to a private equity firm in 2015, so technically we don’t even know who the owners are right now):

Almost the entire community was against this (except maybe the founders, and the new owners) but Couchsurfing assured the community nothing would change.

“We are confident that we will find a way to generate money that doesn’t hinder the amazing experiences that CouchSurfers have,” they wrote on their blog.

Yet many things started to change.

The third “incident” was a big one, but inevitable. Couchsurfing started hiring and staffed their own team to rebuild the site, moderate the forums and events and groups, and basically told the volunteers that had dedicated the last six years of their lives to the site they weren’t needed anymore.

Not to mention, those volunteers that had worked endless hours on the site for years got none of that big payday money. Couchsurfing was now a for-profit company, and this company now owned all the code and the site, and all the profit being made from it went into the pockets of the new owners and staff. The people who actually built the site got nothing.

This was doubly damaging because the new staff at Couchsurfing weren’t Couchsurfers, so they had no idea how the community actually worked. After they completely rebuilt the site they emailed everyone saying “Yay, look how great the new site looks!”

And yes it probably looked nicer, but it also damaged the community in a way that wouldn’t become clear until years later. For years Couchsurfing volunteers had built and nurtured “city groups”, with regular meetups and many years of friendships. The site was redesigned and overnight those communities were gone. To give you a comparison, imagine if Facebook rehauled their site, and overnight every single Facebook Group disappeared. That’s exactly how it was with the new Couchsurfing. In their place they built generic city pages with events and forums.

While trying to turn it into a fancy Silicon Valley website, they destroyed the communities people had spent years building that made Couchsurfing Couchsurfing.

Those were the foundations of Couchsurfing and looking back now at the big picture, I think this was where the downward spiral really began. Even when they turned for-profit and ads started going up everywhere, the community still survived. But once they imploded the original communities that the site had been built on, it meant the membership started to disband and finally give up on site (or become much less active), and newer, less loyal members started to make up the core membership. As we’d start to see, the site is nothing without a critical mass of loyal members.

The fourth “incident” was when Couchsurfing tried to start charging fees to surf. This was where they really crossed the line and one of the few times I saw massive pushback from the membership.

This was a notification I got in 2016 when a host confirmed I could stay with them:

Again – I have no issue with paying a small fee like this.

Hosts invest a lot of time and money into hosting. Hosts often pick surfers up from train stations or bus stops, feed them, drive them around, do laundry, provide water and internet and power and linens. I’ve done my share of hosting. It cost money. Always.

So the fee wasn’t the problem. The problem was hosts were going to put all this effort into hosting, and then the fee wasn’t even going to the host!

Even then, most hosts would never want to receive a fee anyway. Couchsurfing resonated with us because there was no money involved. If people wanted to pay to stay somewhere, they could go to a hostel. Couchsurfing was supposed to be different.

To make this a double insult, we all knew exactly where those fees were going. This was 2016 and Couchsurfing were leasing some fancy new offices over in San Francisco:

Couchsurfing offices

We were all sleeping on floors and couches while these guys were playing nice in Silicon Valley. But that still wasn’t the worst part.

What made the move triply bad was Couchsurfing had promised they would never do this. After taking their VC millions in 2011, they published a blog post that said (I quote):

“CouchSurfing will never make you pay to host and surf. It’s against our vision to exclude anyone from having inspiring experiences for financial reasons, and that’s not going to change just because our methods of generating revenue do.”

-Couchsurfing 2011

As you can imagine, the move generated a big uproar (again) from the community, including from myself and other friends of mine on the site:

They never replied to me or anyone I know, but to my surprise and to Couchsurfing’s credit, they pulled this idea after a month or so and surfing remained free.

Until now.

This fifth “incident” happened a few weeks ago where Couchsurfing suddenly locked everybody out of their accounts.

It didn’t matter if you were one of the most active members of the community and had thousands of positive references and hosted hundreds of surfers per year, and even if you had paid for lifetime verification.

As soon as we logged in, we were asked to pay a monthly $3 fee to access our profiles again:

All our friends lists, photos, references, groups, were suddenly held hostage behind a paywall.

After promising Couchsurfers would never be forced to pay to host or surf, we were now being forced to pay just to log in.

When I saw this I was obviously disappointed (again), not because of three dollars, but because of how we got here. Because how did we get here? $23 million squandered over the years on CEO’s we never asked for and who never talked to us, fancy offices nobody needed, being bombarded with ads on every page of the site and app (which still doesn’t work properly), numerous other money grabs over the years which I won’t even go into right now, all the other “incidents” I haven’t even mentioned, and finally it had come to this. Locking us out of our beloved community for $3 per month.

Which led to the biggest question of all…

Where has all the money gone???

Despite painting themselves right now as a company that has always been frugal, and all their staff are now valiantly working from home in the spirit of Couchsurfing and living on ramen, that’s not the case.

In fact, I’m quite certain Couchsurfing has earned PLENTY of money over the years.

Don’t forget, I’m not just a travel blogger, I’m also a Chartered Accountant. This kind of thing used to be my job (and now I also know a little about websites). So maybe I can find the money. Let’s have a look.

How much does Couchsurfing make from verifications?

They said on their socials last week that only 4% of active members pay to verify their profiles, which usually costs around $30 per year (it differs between countries). So let’s take a guess.

Of its 12 million members, it’s estimated there are 400,000 active hosts, and you could guess an equal amount of active surfers, giving them ~800,000 active members.

At 4% that’s 32,000 verified members, $30 per active member, that’s around $960,000 per year in verification fees (a guesstimate of course).

I have also seen the 2008 financial statements, shown to me by the volunteer accountant from back when CS was a non-profit (us legacy CSers stay pretty tight 🙂 Even then they were bringing in a million per year in verification fees/donations, but with a tiny fraction of the members they have today.

So I would say $960,000 per year is almost certainly an underestimate.

How much does Couchsurfing make from ads?

CS makes money from ads. Every Couchsurfer will tell you there are more ads on the site than Couchsurfers.

In fact, I can just show you. Here’s what a Couchsurfing profile currently looks like:

That’s pretty much as many ads as Google will allow you to put on a page (header, footer, left and right sidebars, and maybe one more in-content).

In other words, they are maxxing their ad space allowance.

How much is that in dollars?

We would need to know their traffic. But we can make a rough guess using some tools.

Here’s the current Couchsurfer Alexa score, which ranks a website’s traffic/engagement on the internet. It’s the 10,000th most popular site on the web currently:

But you can see that 90 days ago (before Covid 19) their rank was actually 4,000 (that is very high).

I don’t pay for Alexa premium so it’s hard to find a perfect comparison, but to give you a yardstick, that puts it significantly higher than a mainstream travel site like The Travel Channel, which ranks around #16,000:

And a few months before Covid hit, it was ranking almost on par with the NZ Herald – New Zealand’s largest newspaper:

That’s a lot of traffic. Millions of page views a week.

We can cross check this with more tools (blogging tools are so much fun, hey?)

Here’s their score in SimilarWeb, which ranks sites purely on traffic:

Couchsurfing ranks 32,000 globally, and is the 42nd most popular travel site in the world.

More importantly, it had 1.39 million visits in April. Look at the graph though! Before Covid when people were travelling, they were actually doing 4.5 million visits per month.

You can also see they get ~5.5 page views per visit. Do some math, and that adds up to around 25 million page views per month.

Just to cross check again and make sure we’re in the right ballpark, here’s the Travel Channel SimilarWeb results:

Their traffic (very interestingly) hasn’t been affected by Covid. They’re doing around 22 million page views a month. Similar to Couchsurfing a few months ago.

Couchsurfing said last week they will remove ads as part of their new revenue model, but up until last month, we can make a reasonable estimate that Couchsurfing was making as much (or possibly more) money in ads than The Travel Channel, one of the largest mainstream travel sites.

(Note: Based on my own sites, SimilarWeb isn’t super accurate, but tends to underestimate rather than overestimate. So their traffic is possibly even higher).

How much ad revenue is that, exactly?

I know on a blog like mine, 100,000 page views brings in about $1,000 USD. And that’s not with ads in every corner of the page.

If you really pump out the ads like CS is doing, you can get up to $2,000 per 100,000 page views pretty comfortably.

Let’s just give a conservative $1,500 per 100,000 views.

Over 25 million page views, that’s $375,000 per month, or $4.5 million per year.

So where’s the money?

$1 million a year in verification fees. $4.5 million per year in advertising. $23 million in venture capital. Nine years. Where is it?

The only way we’ll know is if they release their financial statements. The community has asked for this numerous times (in fact, we’ve asked numerous times just to be talked to) and we’ve had nothing to date, so I don’t expect we’ll ever see them.

But I can tell you where that money didn’t go:

It didn’t go to hosts, who are the foundation of Couchsurfing.

It didn’t go to volunteers who have spent thousands of hours organising events and keeping the community alive.

It didn’t go to the volunteers who spent thousands of hours building the site for the first seven years of Couchsurfing’s life.

It didn’t go to bloggers, influencers and unofficial ambassadors like myself, who for years recommended the site to friends, readers, fellow travellers, while also putting together beginner guides like this to grow the community.

We can also guess it didn’t all go into the site, which is a pretty standard membership site and doesn’t (or shouldn’t) cost $5 million per year to maintain.

So where else could it go? Our best guess is it went to the investors, staff and executives who, in all honesty, haven’t added millions worth of anything to the community since they took over in 2011.

Of course my numbers are estimates and may be wrong; Maybe it’s only $4 million per year. Or even $2 million. Or maybe it’s way higher. Does that change anything? Not really.

It breaks my heart to finally say it, but I have to.

I’m breaking up with Couchsurfing

I’ve resisted this day for a long time. For many of those years on the road, I considered Couchsurfing a part of who I was. It was like a badge we wore, we were so proud of it. The site really did give me so much, friendships, lessons, and changed me as a person. But I guess we all part ways eventually.

Under different circumstances and different leadership, I’m sure many of us would have gladly paid $3 per month or even $5 or even $10 to support the community we have built over the years, but after this many years of second and third and tenth and eleventh chances and being let down year after year, we can’t do it anymore.

It’s like having an ex that says they’ll change and stop treating you like ass so you keep getting back together and they’re still treating you like ass ten years later. Well, for many of us that ex is Couchsurfing.

It’s heartbreaking because with the community we had, we really could have been something great and different, a free community that thrived and built something revolutionary like Wikipedia or Afrikaburn. In fact for a few years, that’s exactly what we were. But unfortunately it has ended up as ten years of so much hope and so many disappointments. It’s a fool me once fool me twice (or ten times) scenario now, and I don’t want to be the fool anymore.

Let me give them some credit where it’s due. I used CS heavily up until around 2018, and met some of my closest friends on the site. I can attribute dozens of my best ever travel experiences directly to Couchsurfing.

The site has changed my life.

Of course we knew there were people earning huge salaries off our community, while we all slept on floors and tried to show people money wasn’t everything – that disconnect wasn’t lost on us.

But we let it slide and stayed on board, because the site meant so much to us. To be fair, it still gave us what we needed. The site was used by us to meet people and find hosts and connect with other travellers, and in that sense it worked just fine. As long as they didn’t change things too much, we tolerated it.

But I think now it really has changed too much.

When Couchsurfing released the news of this latest move, I was sure it was just another money grab hiding behind the excuse of Covid 19, and this was also the word recently on reddit by a former CS employee:

“Some time ago, I joined as an employee of CS because I was passionate about this project.

Unfortunately, I was only able to make a small dent, as the profit incentives were quite misaligned.

I was quite disappointed by the leadership. Don’t blame the employees. I know many of them were true couchsurfers and had real heart. (Read the glassdoor reviews, skip past the obviously fake ones). I doubt that most of the leadership has ever even couchsurfed in their life.

The leadership sees a golden goose and doesn’t love it. That’s it. This latest thing is a cash grab.

And bird for bird, this one needs to die so a new phoenix can rise from the ashes.

The concept of couchsurfing has been released into the world, and like the best ideas, the idea itself will never die.

XO. Stay Safe. Stay Curious. Stay Awesome.”

I can’t confirm that post is actually from a CS employee, but it lines up with a lot of what we’ve heard through the grapevine. The employee reviews on Glassdoor are similar.

Will Couchsurfing survive?

I guess this isn’t a surprise; this is what happens when you take big investor money. Investors aren’t interested in hearing how many nice travel stories they’re creating. They’re interested in profit.

And of course that’s not always evil – you can do it and can do it the right way.

Couchsurfing is really just a social network after all – people connecting people. And it’s not impossible to do that for free; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, all do it, all are much more complicated than Couchsurfing and have never charged me a cent. For some reason, Couchsurfing just never figured it out.

So my guess is this ends in two ways. Either CS is lying and they have plenty of money, and a few people are going to get even more rich off all the new fees. Or they’re not lying, they really are going broke, and soon they’ll disappear. Maybe a combination of the two.

Either way, I can be certain Couchsurfing will no longer be the Couchsurfing we knew and that spirit will move elsewhere. If the site continues, it will be a different type of travel community. The entire premise of Couchsurfing was that money was irrelevant, and anybody with a free spirit could be one of us. Obviously that is no longer true, so it may become more like an upper middle class, millenial, glamping, Airbnb hybrid kind of high society place with a membership fee.

Maybe that type of thing will thrive, I really don’t know. If it does, all my best wishes to them.

However I am also going on record today to say:

I will not be paying the Couchsurfing monthly fee (at least not under the current management), meaning I will no longer be using Couchsurfing and Couchsurfing is no longer a service I am recommending.

I know I have been a champion of the Couchsurfing brand for almost a decade, have promoted them endlessly on my blog, to many thousands of people, but as always things change and it’s time to explore something new.

The site is still active and anyone is still welcome to sign up and pay the fee and use it, but my recommendations will now move elsewhere.

What’s comes after Couchsurfing?

It’s important to remember Couchsurfing isn’t just a website; it’s an idea, and a set of values, and a community.

Ironically Couchsurfing said this quite well in their lockout message:

All of us who are members of Couchsurfing believe in something greater than money, possessions, and status.

This is true and while Couchsurfing itself no longer embodies this ethos, the members still do and communities can be rebuilt anywhere, from the ground up, just like we did before.

There are three active communities up and running already.

The first is BeWelcome. This is a site very similar to Couchsurfing (pretty much the same) and is run by volunteers on a donation target of $1,500 per year. It was founded in 2007 and has around 130,000 members.

The second is TrustRoots. Most people I’ve met talk quite highly of TrustRoots, which has about 36,000 members and is also very similar to Couchsurfing. I am unsure of their budget but they are a registered UK non profit.

What do I think of them? They’re both great. They’re also both very anti-profit, possibly to the point it is hampering their potential. I don’t think profit is dirty, I just think obsession with it is. I think they could also use someone at the helm who can really push the site full time – something that Couchsurfing had for its early years. Regardless I think with a little push in the right direction, both have the potential to do quite well. Maybe neither of them want to be the next Couchsurfing anyway, and are happy where they are.

A third site being developed right now is They’re open about their goal of replacing Couchsurfing as the go-to site for surfing and hosting. What the team has put together so far looks great. If you’re a CSer, I’d highly recommend signing up for the beta. Watch this space – it looks promising.

There is also a fourth option, which is Facebook Groups. I’m already a member of several Couchsurfing Facebook Groups, and a lot of activity happens in there, including finding hosts and surfers. I think this will grow as people migrate off the platform and into these groups to stay in touch. If you search for a Couchsurfing Facebook Group in your city, you’re likely to find one.

The fifth option is your own travel network. When we Couchsurf, what are we actually trying to find? People. Usually people to stay with, or people to hang out with. And we don’t need millions of people, usually we just need one.

In fact, in many countries I visit these days, I always have an old travel friend who is happy to let me crash, or will say “I know someone that lives there, let me hook you guys up!” And their friends become my friends, and the circle grows. This is really Couchsurfing in its purest form, travellers helping travellers connected by other travellers, and you don’t need a website with millions of members (or dollars) to do it.

The sixth option is the space itself evolves, and it kind of already is. This is likely where I’m heading. If people actually want to pay to join a travel site, I would recommend something that gives you more than just a basic social network. The best example I know of is NomadList.

It’s a community of people who actually live and work on the road full time, and not only do you get access to tons of useful info, you’ll be mixing with other web entrepreneurs like bloggers, Youtubers, programmers, freelancers etc too.

Since this lifestyle is growing rapidly I think NomadList will actually become huge. You can also find people to crash with, and I’m sure a lot of the members were Couchsurfers too back in the day (CS is mostly centred around younger backpacker student types). I also love that its founder is super transparent about running it, building it, how much it earns etc. I’ve pretty much watched him build it from the ground up on Twitter over the last few years. Been very cool to see. The site is free to use, but also has a premium membership.

Going forward I will probably use all of these resources in some way, and continue to report to you on my experiences and which ones have worked best.

Lastly, I’ve also donated 2x the yearly subscription Couchsurfing was asking for to BeWelcome and Couchers (will do the same for TrustRoots once they’re accepting donations) and I’ve also paid for a lifetime membership at NomadList.

Just to show that it was never about the money 🙂

Sending love always!


Disclaimer: The figures in this article are all guesstimates. I do not have access to Couchsurfing’s financial statements and everything is a best estimate based on the information and tools mentioned.

Photo credit: Bob Dass @ Flickr

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  1. Hey Bren, big fan of yours and have had your “Couchsurfing 101: Everything You Need To Know” on my profile since you published it. I have a few hundred refs and been on CS for 8 years.

    I understand all the anger and resentment and confusion.

    Yes, CS didn’t launch this well. They typically haven’t ever relaunched well. They don’t have many staff and only during the gogo years flush with VC did they have a big staff. And then as with so many tech companies, that money dried up and was gone and on to find a new business model they went.

    So the oldsters who believe it should stay free forever and therefore in their ideological righteousness will abandon CS. To them I say: bye! Don’t slam the door in your face on the way out.

    We are in a goddamn global pandemic, the worst in 100 years. People are dying. Businesses are dying. Things we loved are vanishing on a daily basis and a lot of them won’t return.

    The people who actually read CS’s mea culpa last week, that long blog post that said “Hey, we’re sorry, we could have launched this better” understand we live in an imperfect world and little tech companies don’t do everything perfectly or even well.

    I’m one who is staying on. Especially as I had free verification.

    And that gets me to the incorrect premise in your opening paragraphs:

    “What’s more, everyone has been locked out of their accounts until they pay the monthly fee.”

    Those of us who were verified, i.e. if we had hosted even once in the past 3 months were in because we had verification.

    So because I had hosted last year, I am verified for free through later this year and therefore no paywall for me until then.

    And many countless thousands of others are in the same position.

    When we think about it, it means those who still were actively participating in CS and “living the values” as we say in corporate doublespeak saw no change.

    So then you descend with a very solid analysis into the same whinging I’ve heard since I joined.

    “What I do care about is who I pay this money to, and how they use it.”

    Dude, it’s the price of a hamburger and french fries. Every time you order a hamburger and french fries, do you expostulate at length upon the righteousness of the establishment; whether the proprietor pays his/her staff a living wage; and whether that burger was sustainably-sourced and the meat comes from a cruelty-free meatpacking plant? Or perhaps you are vegetarian and leading the pure life (congrats) and you could still expostulate at length on the proprietor’s business practices.

    Stated differently, a great Buddhist master once wrote: “Even the finest meal turns to excrement.” So whether or not you meditate at length on that burger and fries, it’ll turn to shit within 24 hours.

    But Couchsurfing? My friend for 8+ years we’ve heard of its demise. It’s a long, tired, story, rehashed more times than ancient refried potatoes.

    Here is my new go-to reply for all the angry tinfoil hat-wearers:

    Facebook is free, and you the user are its product. It uses evil algorithms to divide people and to silo them into tribes.

    It makes tons of money off everyone, and pretends to be a “free” experience while using military-grade artificial intelligence to sort out the world’s humans through facial recognition.

    That’s honestly scary as shit … and millions of comfortable Europeans angry at everything (especially in Belgium! I know many of them!) spend 6+ hours per day on it blissfully unaware and couldn’t care less.

    That worries me much more than whatever Casey Fenton might have done wrong X years ago.–but-executives-weakened-blocked-efforts-combat

    Now more than ever decent platforms that actually connect people without profiteering in the BILLIONS need their users — and users need their connections. Abandon if you will but for the price of the CS annual subscription in western countries (most countries in the world will be free!) it’s kind of nuts to be permanently angry that CS simply could have announced this better.

    Thanks as always for posting. You gave an extremely thoughtful and thorough analysis, even if I disagree.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and for sharing my CS 101 guide.

      Again, had nothing to do with the money. If I believed in this management team and believed they were telling the truth, I’d give $50 a month. CS has been hugely important to me. I’ve lived through my share of “CS is dead” as well but this one certainly feels different. Maybe it won’t be, who knows.

      You’ll see on Glassdoor ex staff claim the new CEO had this subscription model being readied for a while. Just this was the right time to launch it. It’s a new team running CS right now. Former CEO Jennifer Billock revealed on Linkedin she oversaw the sale of CS in 2015 to private equity, which CS obviously kept quiet after the backlash from the first deal, but it’s now certainly under much more aggressive management. Of course with private equity maxing profit is always the goal so they’ve obviously done the math and figured half a million paying members is more profitable than 12 million non paying ones. I didn’t write about this because couldn’t get enough (confirmed) details on it, but it mostly checked out. As I wrote above, I think there’s a chance CS survives but will just be a different type of community now. And if enough people are happy to pay and it makes the owners happy I don’t begrudge them any of that. All the best to them.

      Also I’m aware some verified members have been given temporary access, but even those who paid for lifetime verification are being told they’ll be locked out in 12 months unless they start paying monthly again. Which I couldn’t believe.

      As for conscious spending, yes I do spend with orgs I agree with AMAP. I don’t design my whole life around it or go out and start campaigning against everyone I don’t like but I simply spend my money elsewhere. Won’t be giving money to this new CS team but again if this works out for them then I wish them a long success.

      Thanks again for sharing and happy for us to disagree. As they say if both our opinions were always the same, one of us would become unnecessary.

      1. Thanks much for your reply! And for being awesome. Truly, you are amazing and that’s why so many people think very highly of you (as do I).

        I’ve read the Glassdoor stuff and seen over the years the negatives about CS on Glassdoor. I’ve not defended their management and I only know how the company was run from the stuff that can be found in open sources as well as on Glassdoor. And it ain’t pretty. But compared with other tech companies — the amount of crazy-ass stuff that happens in corporate America in comparison is beyond breathtaking.

        I mean, just yesterday Twitter apologized on behalf of its biggest troll who daily destroys public life and the rule of law. They could have just deactivated his profile, right? But they won’t because they want the big ca$$$$$h that comes from their biggest abuser.

        CS in contrast is known to remove abusers based on user reports. Now, do they always get it right? No. But do they get it right when things go wrong? Unquestionably most of the time.

        So two address two open points that are of great interest (and thank you for mentioning them!):

        1. “I think there’s a chance CS survives but will just be a different type of community now.”
        Agreed. And if it is one without freeloaders and whiners in my view that would be worth double the price they are asking. Stated differently, it might actually be a great community if shrunk down to a manageable size.

        2. “even those who paid for lifetime verification are being told they’ll be locked out in 12 months unless they start paying monthly again. Which I couldn’t believe.”

        I also could not believe it. I still can’t. I want to guess that it won’t happen and that in a few months if they have enough case (which we don’t know if they will) they will crunch the numbers again and decide those who paid it forward long ago should not have to pay for verification again.

        Even if we disagree on stuff, nothing will change the fact that you are amazing

        1. Giving $3 to CSHQ because CS is worth way more than that is like giving $3 to Donald trump, personally, because living in America is worth way more than that. If you give them your money you are enabling their mismanagement, and there will never ever be a more opportune time to hold them accountable than right now. You have no reason to expect their platform to ever improve.

          If you weren’t on CS before the hard shift away from developing community and towards developing consumers you don’t understand how much better it can be, and how likely it is that an open source alternative NFP (like BW or TR) will return to that if we are willing to break CS’s monopoly.

    2. I have to disagree with your statement about the paywall. I was not hosting in my home regularly because of my location but I was hosting events in the city every week and I was not able to log into my account and delete it without paying the fee. Then, after multiple complaints and correct me if I’m wrong, reports filed, they placed the option to delete your profile. This way was greedy and malicious. It’s not about the money but the way they did it for some of us. I literally paid to host events, something I think it is ridiculous and that’s why I don’t use Meetup website. I have hosted 3 surfers that didn’t write my reference on time and when they did it went to “personal reference”, I emailed CS about it being switched and they said they don’t do it (but I had one done before) and explained it’s done before but no response. So I ask, what’s being done with the membership fee if there’s no customer service at all for a paying member?

  2. Thanks for writing this, Bren.

    How things have changed. I remember hearing, long after it happened, about the CouchSurfing Collective in Nelson NZ of early 2007. Which was strangely during the time I was planning my first trip. I didn’t come across CS until later, during a serendipitous encounter on a train to Berlin in October 2007. I have always admired that nice connection to our country. I wonder where those volunteers are now, and what they think of how their contributions have been treated…

    Personally I mostly gave up on CS in 2013. The culture had shifted too far into free-Airbnb terrortory with many guests not even wanting to talk after arrival. I went to a few meetups during 2018 and 2019 in Europe, which was a far different experience than I had before.

    We all use CS for different reasons. The new fee is cheap. But I no longer like what I’d be buying. See you on BeWelcome!

  3. A couple big errors… couchsurfing said they only get a few thousand dollars per year from advertising and they are dropping it from the website all together. If they were lying and got a few million dollars per year, they would not drop advertising from the website. Who would give up a few million dollars per year?

    Also you have the wrong URL for huffpost. It is and has an Alexa rank of 700.

    1. It’s impossible to get “just a few thousand dollars per year from advertising” with their level of traffic. This blog you’re reading right now uses exactly the same ad network as them and even I get more than just a few thousand dollars per year in ads, and I don’t even put advertising on every page, and my Alexa score is 800,000. So yes, what they said about not making money from ads was a PR stunt and they are lying.

      The reason they are dropping ads (this is my best guess) is because they have modelled they will likely earn more from verifications. They have 12 million members so let’s say they manage to keep half a million members after the paywall, at $30 per year that would be $15 million per year. So about 3x the $4-$5 million they are making from ads. Even if they only keep 200,000 members it will be more profitable (around $6 million per year). But if they go this route they have to drop ads because you cannot show ads to verified members. So they had to remove ads anyway, they just spun it in a way that’s good for PR. Most people don’t know how web advertising works so just took their word for it.

      Also thanks for the Huffington note, I don’t read huffpost so didn’t know their url changed.

  4. Your estimations about the money generated by the site are way too high.
    According to some trustful internal sources and some discussion between current management and ambassadors, there is literally no money left.
    The revenue from Google Ads was irrelevant.
    The revenue from verification was also pretty irrelevant. None of them generated “millions”. If they did, the site would have survived.
    The investor money just paid the salary of the few people still working there, the server costs and the legal costs. These running costs are quite high and that’s simply how that money burned down in few years. With nothing to replace it, the site ran out of it.

    I was as pissed as everyone else when the profiles got kidnapped and I agree the multiple managements changing every year have been a disaster.
    But in the past two weeks I have seen a lot of false information and a lot of bile spew by people who didn’t bother to login in the site since years.

    1. Those are estimations based on reasonable sources of data that will not be 100% correct but are certainly not 100% wrong.

      It is a fairly simple task to estimate advertising income. Because we can see the ads on the site, how many there are, which network they’re from, and we know the rates (because we use the same networks). We can do the same exercise on our own sites to test how accurate it is.

      I was also sent the 2008 financial statements by the old volunteer accountant from 2006-2008 and spoke with her about them (we are both in one of the “originals” Couchsurfing FB groups) and the accounts show CS was bringing in a million per year in verification fees even back then, 12 years ago with only a fraction of today’s membership. So I am 99.9% sure they are bringing in even more than that now.

      I’m aware ambassadors are being told there is no money. Many of them are in our FB group as well. I don’t even doubt there is no money. But there has certainly been money coming in. Where has it gone is the question.

      I’m happy for Couchsurfing to send me the current financial statements and I’ll update the numbers. I’m also happy to hear from your internal source and see if what they’ve been told checks out with the data I have.

  5. Thank you for this very comprehensive article. I get the feeling that many of the newer members on couchsurfing do not understand the culture and community that couchsurfing used to be and therefore do not understand that many members are so extremely unhappy and unwilling to be forced to pay now. I hope that a new platform will take the place of what couchsurfing used to be.

  6. Hi Bren,

    Thanks for the breakdown. I’ve been a long-time CSer (since 2007 on the site), verified, and hosted and met-up way more than surfed. Also active locally. . . and was an ambassador (oh how brief!). As an expat for over 20 years and a long time traveller, I made many friends through CSing, but I kinda feel like you do. If it survives, I am not sure it is the same. I can still access my profile (?) but it has no activity. Nor do my groups.

    Peace and Love,


  7. This hit me right in the heart. Couchsurfing changed my life too, and I have been so sad to see it decline over the years. I still remember how many friends I made in my own city, let alone while surfing and hosting. I had sadly already become cynical about it from experiences over the last couple years, and then locking surfers out was just the nail in the coffin. Thankfully I was able to transfer my whole profile over to Be Welcome, thanks to having hosted recently enough that I was still verified for an extra month (which allowed me access behind the paywall, somehow…though I know not everyone got that).

    It makes me very sad, but I hope Be Welcome and Trustroots thrive. I fear they won’t. I have seen very little activity on Be Welcome, but I really hope that changes. I will definitely be checking out Trustroots too. Thanks for this information. It’s nice to see there are still awesome travellers out there.

  8. “If you log in to your Couchsurfing account today, this is the screen you will see”

    nope you won’t unless :

    you live in a country where the 2 bucks a month are not significant
    and you have not been verified before or have not hosted people in a long time

    The problem I have with this type of ‘outrage’ is :

    you pretend to have as if the endorsement of the community & quite frankly have not been ignoring all the facts that don’t fit in this ‘outrage’ theme.
    I have been around for some time – I feel very different about all this and I am certainly not even close to rage over the 2 bucks (yes I know it s not about the 2 bucks – but you did expect to be consulted and before anyone does take any decision)

    1. Well, since you are so educated about the subject, how about a Brazilian couchsurfer who said in our Facebook group that her entire small family has to live on about 65$ a month? It is not about the money, as Bren has stated correctly, but about the way Couchsurfing has turned a great and open spirited idea into a some Venture Capital venture, wasted the venture capital money according to a current Couchsurfing employee on our Facebook group and now they make a significant change to a “subscription only” model (they said they would never charge for Couchsurfing a few years ago) without ANY newsletter sent out so people just got locked out and saw they had to pay to even log in? You seriously think this is the way a company treats its customers, who by the way, provide the core service (free hosting) that makes this site interesting in the first place?

      I don’t care one bit about the money, but I do not trust a management who seems to have zero sensibility towards its core users and pushes through this kind of change. The glassdoor reviews by former employees paint the rest of the picture so I am happily moving to another platform, even though as a “lifetime” verified user, they were so kind to convert my “lifetime” membership into one year of their great subscription model.

      There was a million other ways to monetize the site. The current CEO, who was involved in investment banking and venture capital, before joining Couchsurfing, who names flying planes and sailing as his hobbies on LinkedIn certainly has a “different” approach to running a successful thriving community internet business, compared to other CEOs I know.

  9. I was a couchsurfing host in California in the past. As a guy over 30 it was always very hard for me to be hosted anywhere. I paid to verify. 90 percent of cs members had shell profiles and were just looking for a free crash pad. They didn’t host.
    How much did Casey Fenton cash out at? Cs reminds me of every other volunteer org. You volunteer to work for burning man and maybe you get a ticket. You volunteer write for yelp and create their content and maybe you get a free party.
    Let this be a warning to young Or naive idealists. Usually orgs get greedy and get worse over time. Control your content and control your life.

  10. Thank you for a great article. I started Couchsurfing in 2007 and I feel your pain. It was a really beautiful community that also gave me so much. I’ll add my lightly edited resignation letter from the Ambassadors here in case you’re interested: I touch on non-profit alternatives back in 2011 and have a few more sources you may not have seen, including a surfer who wrote her thesis on CS.
    I disagree on profit and think that hospitality exchange is fundamentally incompatible with a for-profit, which is why I’m pinning most of my hopes on bW and TR. But it really speaks to me that I’ve encountered several people who were willing to pay but CS implemented this so terribly that they’re no longer willing to. And you’re welcome to my couch wherever I am =)

  11. I want to present a different point of view from the others below: a beautiful and simple idea, only possible by internet technology, generous people and trust, in few years, from a gem, became a 14M database of users with around 700K active,
    without a decent safety system to select the users ( like for example AirBnB). Unfortunately, after around 2012, the typical pattern was male hosting single female. No longer couples hosting singles or couples, female other males of females.
    Sadly, the average level of CS users became men looking for sex and mostly female looking for a free hotel without any interests on the host. The basic function of the CS team should be to ensure safety for people who put their property at risk for free and to the people surfing. This takes time ( document verification, managing complains and reviews, which bacame often a backstabbing system when they because double blind ). Too much freedom never worked on this world, and lots of people saw the real corporate face of CS when they had a problem and tried to communicate with them.
    A profile describe an identity and defamation is around the corner if not managed properly. The actual CEO and his team don’t care less about what is the real value of it ( a trusted community of people with some money and time to spend for travels ) so they preferred to have a community based on street smart people or even worst. Bad business guy ? Greedy ? Name it. Of course you can think about a business model for CS as a selected club for people ready to meet new ones, only if you club is a real clean place, but this is not longer the case.

  12. Here’s my guess.

    They wanted to destroy the community. In fact, it was their Goal.

    Always follow the money. What happens when you can’t stay somewhere for free? You pay to stay somewhere. Or you just don’t go.

    They’re probably the people who own airbnb. Or some big pharma. Or hoteliers. Lots of businesses would benefit financially from destroying CS.

    If one thing is true, it’s that they like to separate people away from support and loving community.

    And they will do whatever it takes to complete this task.

  13. Great analysis!! I got so mad at CS for suddenly keeping my data hostage, that I have just asked for a GDPR request on all my data held by them. They are now processing the request, and have 30 days to comply. I have also received emails from an employee asking for my account details (!). My point is: if they wanna keep my data hostage, they will have to work/put down man hours for it. I will make sure to keep them busy, using GDPR as a tool. If every user of CS made such a request: the a Silicon Valley execs would have to start working as volunteers in order to process everything in due time. Keep in mind that has serious legal fines if you don’t follow the protocol of data request. ;). Karma is a bitch….;)..

    1. Victor, that's a great idea. I was deeply disappointed when they locked me out of my account. CS has really changed my life in many ways and I've met so many wonderful people there and I knew things were changing, but this was absurd. Sure, I hadn't used it for a while, but I was an active user for a long time, both hosting and surfing. I'm entitled to at least have a copy of my info…

    2. Can you share the form/note you wrote for GDPR to get your data?

      I found this blog now due to the login for an event of someone who is very new to the platform. I joined CS a very long time ago… and even hosted some peps back in the day… once I had "a life" I forgot about CS… I never received any emails of any kind… so, being presented with a paywall and blocked from a website, it strikes a nerve… I want my data and afterwards delete the profile.

      At least the damn people running the website could have used some sort of notification/email to all users, what is going on.

      I believe that the firm who bought this is partially doing that "to break" the large community into smaller ones. "Divide and conquer" comes to mind…. I want no part in such gimmicks.

      The few mentioned new platforms barely have a million users together. I am still undecided, which one to choose.

  14. Alongside from and, a new initiative has been brought to life in the form of This is set up by a group of disgruntled CS hosts and surfers. So far, they seem very serious and professional about setting up a new community with all the good things CS featured – and more good things CS lacked. Go check it out if you will.

  15. Thank you so much for your article! I really enjoyed reading it.

    I found CS by chance and as soon as I saw the concept I started to host travellers. Thanks to them I decided to leave my normal life and spending my last year travelling as backpacker.

    I’m super sad now because I can’t access to my account. As you said, it’s not about the money…

    I only can say that thanks to CS I found the best friends in my life. During all my trip I looked for “old hosts” because I loved their spirit and who they described the inicial concept of CS.

    I hope a new community with the same mentality and spirit grows in the next years. The world needs more good vibes, altruistic and selfless people and adventures!

    Again, thanks for your words! It’s been a pleasure to read you!

  16. Hi !

    Please check out! We are still in the development process, forums are rife with conversations from former-couchsurfers from all over the world. We are non-profit and free, and hope to improve on what CS was lacking – better trust and safety in regards to references and verification.

    I would love to hear your opinion, and our growing opinion would also, I imagine.

    Check us out and let us know what you think, and if you have any input – AWESOME

    CouchSurfer since 2008
    100+ positive reviews
    no more profile =(

  17. I only recently got into travel. In feel keenly the lots of something that I never knew but am intoxicated by the second hand smoke of the stories from people that did know. I was excited to try couch surfing on my next set of travels but a little thing called covid19 came along and now it's too late.

    As you said, it may survive but it will certainly be changed. I think once you start paying the expectations change. Now it's a product or a service. I don't think it's possible to retain the spirit under those circumstances.

    I enjoyed the read. I'll be looking into those alternative sites and maybe I'll still get to hang she tales to tell of my own.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing such a heartbreaking and at the same time illuminating piece of work. I met life long friends on couchsurfing and even the amazing girl I married, couchsurfing gave me so much, that no matter how much I tried to give back I always knew, I was falling short. Thanks also for the alternatives you mentioned. We, or at least I am simply not really to let go yet of this way of connecting with people.

  19. It serves you right. I was banned from the site for 5 years after being bullied by members in a group. I was called the most disgusting names etc etc.. Not able to get my profile, references etc etc. I had hosted over 300 surfers and had 300 positive references . Only been hosted twice. They still believed the other members instead of looking at my profile.

    When I was able to get back on the site, I was happy to pay the small fee to keep the site going. Not for me but for future generations. I would never host again not even if I was paid.

    If you think the new sites will not become like CS if they grow then you are delusional.

  20. I agree with you in most aspects, I joined couchsurf around 2012, i saw many of the transformations in the website bringing ads and paid options to users and I stringly believe that couchsurf will end its life soon if the business model doesn't change

    while some people are willing to pay a small fee to be a member and have a possibility to get free acommodation while travelling

    im pretty sure NOBODY is looking forward to PAY A FEE TO BECOME A HOST… that is completely nonsense, it would be simplier to create a "couch page" on airbnb and rent it for very very low price… you would have similar experience, dont pay anything and possibly get paid

    I guess the major flaw of couchsurfing all these years was to not actively watch the community, to not offer an incentive to people become hosts and to not care about those freeloaders that will create an account a week before their trip and delete the account as soon as holiday is over.

    When i started using couchsurfing I spent a whole year hosting, attending to meetings, before even plan my own trips.

    But more recently i saw the community changing and more and more freeloaders joining in while the hosts kept in place and later on (after they created the "meeting" feature in the app) the tinder for tourists kinds getting around…

    but altough i dislike their actual business model… i do understand that the website does need to get fundings…
    the platform has existed over AGES based only in loans from investors… those people do deserve their money back

    i disagree with your calculations about ads revenue (i do use ads blocker so i dont generate one cent to any page i browse, as also the rpm and cpm varies DRASTICALLY from country to country) and i strongly believe that the company might really take a few millions per year in debts as it is clearly not well managed (they might be overpaying for it infrastructure and the corp of directors)

    but mainly i do support that the inverstors get their money back… any company or organization which the stackholders doesn't get financial returns from their work and investiment is faded to fail… so it really shall give all possible revenue to inverstors

  21. Bren

    Thank you so much for this informative article. As an Ambassador, I feel jilted by CS now O! I've always put CS out there to anyone willing to listen, and have established strong relationships with hundreds of people and groups. Yes, I've found my 50's + (now 70's plus) on FB .. we plan on staying together. I'll send them your article.

    I discovered your article when I mentioned CS in a magazine interview. An acquaintance mentioned she first had to pay the fee! I'm like, What Fee! So I googled and found your article … wow.

    Thanks for the list of other upcoming sites; I'll also share with other CS'ers.

    Be well, and I look forward to following you.

    Wish I could afford a website … I'm a Writer, StoryTeller. Is there any platforms you might recommend? I put some out on fb and youtube. I'm looking at wordpress. Idea's anyone?

  22. Thank you for all this information! I never knew Couchsurfing started because of high prices in Iceland. I'm Icelandic but I learned about Couchsurfing from a German guy I rented an Airbnb room from in Italy. Since then I have hosted countless couchsurfers from all over the world and gone to many meetups while travelling. I never used it for my own accommodation but I probably hosted a total of over 600 nights. Many booked a couple of nights through Couchsurfing and ended up staying for a few weeks. Others have booked the first time through CS and then directly through me 5-15 times. The longest stay of a CS guest was almost for months, even though the original request was only for a couple of nights.
    Like you said hosting can cost quite a lot of money and I don't care about a penny of that cost but why on earth should I pay someone who I have no idea who is, to host guests for free?
    I currently have a couchsurfer staying with me but he is probably the last one. I think I might have promised someone they could stay here before the end of the year and a few maybes for next year but now I have no way to contact them. I keep getting email messages from CS saying someone posted something in events or sent me a message but I refuse to pay a fee to unlock my account. If there had been some kind of a warning, saying this would start in a few weeks or months, and an explanation about what the money is needed for, I probably would have paid up. My account was supposed to be verified well into next year.

  23. I had become an active host on Couchsurfing two summers ago after not using my account which I created back in 2013. For all of the reasons stated, I too loved the platform. It gave me an ability to give and connect with others whereas I never would have had the opportunities without it.

    One can't help but, feel a blind sided with how this was rolled out by Couchsurfing.

    I just feel betrayed upon opening my profile the other day only to find that I've been shut out by a pay wall. I had a verified free membership for a few more months after hosting some surfers in recent months. There were messages that were left without an opportunity to finish communication with others that are now lost. The way that this was handled is just wrong.

    Thank you for the detailed breakdown of how, who and the probability of why this has happened Bren. It's disappointing but, it's most likely the reality of where Couchsurfing management and ownership are.

    Although the money isn't an issue for me, I am a man of principle and I won't be strong armed into paying for something that has been driven into the ground by people who are motivated by making big profits.

    We're in a pandemic and leisurely travel is almost completely shut down. Why would anyone want to pay for something that they don't need given the inability to travel?

    I predict this will be the demise of Couchsurfing as many will feel similarly about a taxation-like tactic. Especially when other options available for people to connect through. Why stay?

    Not going to fund their gravy train. Cya Couchsurfing!

  24. Thank you so much for spending time writing this article. I used to use CS and made great ppl around the world. I have not been travelling since 2019 and was surprised CS are asking for money. Same as you, i am happy to contribute if i clearly know it is going to benefit all the hosts and volunteers.

    Thanks again for your precious time and the information of alternatives.

    1. I don't know why people are missing the point that Couchsurfing was supposed to be free. It is the generous hosts who allow us for free or for something in kind.
      This is nothing like the corruption in third world countries where developed countries donate money for clothes and the corrupt officials instead of giving it free take money from the poor to get it. Like 5 dollars for 5000 dollars worth of stuff. They say you can pay that much you are getting it free.
      But the officials is already getting salary for doing the job.

      Yes a website costs money but you have so many users it is very easy to monetize a website with so many users easily that would have been more than enough would have made the owner or company a billionaire soon.

      But this is greed. I am sure someone has crunched numbers and done a machine prediction of how many would leave and how many would stay.
      There are people who do 200 trips in a year for them 25 dollars is nothing.
      Those who travel even once a year they end up staying for at least 10 days so its only 2.5 dollars a day No way you can get a room for that much.
      And ofcourse the experience of CS meeting hosts and living as one of the locals is priceless.

      So they have crunched numbers and they know they would be making more money with this extortion easily rather than work hard and think creatively to monetize the website in other ways.

      I am not sure if hosts charge but if they did then CS could have charged them a huge commission for it.

  25. Not only are CS asking for a fee, but it looks like they've been applying stringent censorship on their site since then too… Many people are complaining that their account has been suspended because of mentioning BeWelcome or TrustRoots on their profile, or even in a private message. And I've seen some reports saying they don't allow sharing email address or phone number unless a hosting request through their tool has already been accepted.
    Note: I saw all those reports on BeWelcome, where many disgruntled members have migrated. Some CS-bashing can't be excluded, but there are enough reports from different people that I trust most of it to be true.

    Besides, the paywall has been up for a year, but there are still many people who were not affected until May 2021 (because of being verified or having paid for lifetime subscription) and who had not even heard about it until they got locked out too! That's saying something about how tightly they control information.

  26. As far I remember couch surfing was something you did free. That was the idea you didn't pay for it or you paid it in kind or some service to the host.
    This yearly charge kind of defeats the purpose. I don't why you didn't bring that part up.
    Since the host are not charging guests so they won't pay anything.
    So basically CS is simply extorting money for their service from guests or couchsurfers.

    They should have figured out a way to make money with ads and so many other way to monetize This is just blackmailing users to pay for what they could have done free.

    I hope a clone comes out. Yeah the excuse is verification but how much can we trust them and if that was a verification charge then why charge it monthly or yearly you verify a person once and then hosts will rate them.

    They could have …well I am not going to give those greedy scum free ideas to make money ..There was a lot they could have done especially with the platform they had.
    Since it was free they could have asked ……….ok No I am not going to finish that too.

    I see a clone coming in soon that promised to be free and I am sure I am not the smartest guy on the planet if I could come up with so many ways to make money on this platform I am sure others can too

    Those defending the charges are the ones who like do 200 trips a year They are literally staying free 200 days a year and for them 25$ is nothing. They would literally die if CS was not around so all that sob story about the pandemic and not being able to meet their expenses is BS.

    They were just waiting for the right time. Now that is an understatement. The reason they had to wait for the "right time" was because they knew this is a borderline scam and extortions. They knew that they could shut down as a clone would rise from the sidelines and take over their business.

    The best analogy to understand why this is a scam. There is a website that connects poor children with donors who would sponsor their education and meals. These websites run on Donations(the analogy is not perfect because it would be hard to monetize this website as the children are not potential consumers and the donors are but the numbers are very less and most of the time it is a one time donation so its hard to monetize that in comparison Couch surfers had way more people just surfing their website ogling at the locations, that alone could have bought them so much Ad revenue.
    Tomorrow if they started charging the Children a monthly or yearly fee to get "verified" that they are genuinely in need(ofcourse there are many ways to directly pay money to the school but you this "verification is BS) and they have to keep paying as the donations are yearly or semester wise. Then what would you say.
    There are enough people who could have donated. Maybe there are but they are greedy. People would fine it almost inhumane if they said "these children are getting 50000 rupees worth of education so why can't they pay 500 rupees. Its not like their extremely poor and they can arrange for 500 rupees easily

    I think this is similar though not as dire or as fraudulent as a donation website.
    But yes couch surfing was supposed to be free. That was the idea so you are coming in between the host who is giving it for free and extorting money from the surfer for availing that free service.

    Yes a better analogy would be corruption in a country like India. Where if there is anything given free from the govt there are officials in charge who will charge the citizens a bribe to avail that freebie even though they get paid a salary from the govt to do their job.

  27. Couchsurfer for many many years… Over 150 References (50 Hosting, 50 Surfing, 50 Personal)… I used it when I wasn't traveling. I used it when I travel and I helped in Berlin for Events for many years… It is just sad… I just got recently active again and was a Pioneer and early contributor… Now I got the Payroll and wrote to the support. RIP Couchsurfing. I am not paying money for hosting people. I am not paying money for sharing values of friendship and Couchsurfing spirit.

  28. I got in on the ground floor with the hospitality exchanges in 2003. I was a member of,, and I've hosted hundreds of people, and I always provided a personalized itinerary and food for my guests. When I traveled abroad, I knew how good it felt to arrive from a long journey to the smell of a good meal.

    Hospitalityclub, founded by a German guy named Veit, really seemed to embrace the backpacking spirit the best. In fact, I hosted Veit at my place in Los Angeles once and he told me the long story about how he reached out to Casey at one point wanting to merge membership platforms but Casey always had a profit track in mind whereas Veit always wanted to keep it free. They were fundamentally incompatible.

    When Airbnb started to become a thing, I saw it as a paid version of the hospitality platforms but that's really not what it is at all. It seems there's an expectation now that you'll never meet your host, which to me feels really strange. Although under the right circumstances, it is pretty wonderful. A few years ago I traveled through New Zealand with my in-laws and having our own houses to stay at really did feel great.

    Couchsurfing, in comparison to hospitality club, always felt like it provided a lot more of the freeloader type of traveler, who just needed a place to stay and wasn't interested in meeting people. I realized I had to start vetting my guests pretty strictly in order to ensure that they understood that hospitality exchange was about both parties benefiting from the experience. Be fair, I never did get much into the community groups. I always saw it as being very much a one-on-one experience. Those times that I got involved in group couch surfing activities I felt the experience was diluted and I just didn't enjoy it as much.

    We haven't hosted in quite a while, not just because of covid but because we have a baby now. We also have a house that could very comfortably accommodate one or two travelers so I would like to get back into it at some point but I'm not sure where to go. Since CS locked me out of my account, and hospitality club is still open but hasn't been updated in an extremely long time and is very much a relic of the early 2000s when it was built. I'll check out bewelcome and see where that goes, I am rather sad that all of my contacts on CS are effectively being held from me. And even if I did write to them, what is the likelihood that they'll pay to bring down the paywall on their end?

    The whole thing is really a mess.

  29. Thank you so much for this thorough explanation. I used Couchsurfing for years and had some super memorable experiences around the world – including meeting someone I had a romantic relationship with… by staying on his couch. He played Gregory Alan Isakov while he made breakfast and I've never forgotten that. I live close to Gregory's farm now here in Colorado. Couchsurfing has been woven into my backpacking and nomadic experiences. I'm so sad to hear that this has what happened.

    I noticed the change when trying to look for people to stay with in Joshua Tree, as I'm going there for a ceremony from July 8-12. If you know anyone near Landers or Pioneertown CA, Brenon, let me know 🙂

    I am all for paying money for all kinds of things that are of value to me, but when it comes to traveling and staying together, I feel all of the money going to Airbnb is getting exorbitant. Even with a great salary in tech, one trip can easily cost me $2k for a cheap plane ticket, cheapest car, and an affordable retreat.

    I would love to host people here in Boulder, Colorado and receive hosting in return – the good old fashioned generosity and trust that what goes around comes around – within community.

    Thank you so much for this lengthy explanation. I'm super thankful and will not be paying this fee either to re-access my account. So sorry to see it go after all these years.

  30. Hi Bren,

    Greetings from the UK!

    I was a longtime host in London and agree re the direction of travel of CS. I run a fintech and operating costs are more than management using AWS etc.

    I enjoyed your analysis which was spot on. I think the final insult, if that was possible, was a demand that I pay to download my own data!

    CS is dead and hope someone else pics up the baton!

    Best Regards


  31. I guess the new "owners" tend to lie…. After all comments, I went to check out their blog. I found many entries for help, of 14th May… then one entry for "apology", where they wrote that in a weeks time they will release another more financially elaborate post… And they did not…

    So very sad about this.
    Couchsurfing is a community, not a website. They can kill the website, which they somehow did. Now we just need to "find" a better alternative.

    If anyone works for and the other 2 or 3 platforms and they want some assistance, kindly write me an email. I'm an alumni of a student org. I am also very computer literate. We can figure this out, for a fraction of a cost, that people think it takes for 14MIL of data… it doesn't take science fiction. All technologies are already out there. (blockchain, decentralized social media platforms, etc. – just to give you some ideas)

  32. I haven't used Couchsurfing in a couple years, but even in the past (starting from Hospitality Club) I only surfed a few times and mainly used CS to meet up with people one-on-one. No interest in group events, nor in posting publicly on their city/country forums for any rando to reply to. I'm a pretty cheap traveler but would happily take an $8-10 guesthouse room for privacy.

    But CS was perfect for finding people who could give local context about places where I was traveling. So much more relaxing to plan a meetup with a person whose profile interested me, rather than hoping to randomly encounter interesting people. I often met CSers who had only 1-2 references because they were the only member in a way off-the-beaten-track place. I don't have much interest in meeting expats or other tourists unless they're the only option in that area, but a network as big as CS was more likely to be familiar to locals even in small towns.

    So while I only used CS to message people directly about meeting for meals/drinks, and am less bothered about forums/groups/events, I'm worried that no other site will ever match the reach of CS. I didn't hear about this fee until I tried logging in today, then found your explanation of what happened. Would love to know—one year later—if you or anyone else reading this have found that any of the alternative sites listed have penetrated remote areas, and seem equally conducive to meet-ups rather than surfing?

      1. Yeah. I suppose that reduced activity could mainly be a pandemic effect, unrelated to the new fee. It hadn't even occurred to me to log in until the other day, due to less travel and the fact that even though I only used it for meetups, other people were definitely using it to sleep in strangers' homes and that is probably way less appealing since March 2020. Thanks anyway!

  33. Couchsurfing, what an amazing concept, originally promoted as a social community not a freeloading society it did though provide poor travelers a passage way to visit places they ordinarily would not have the funds for. It was good for me in the beginning at my remote station to meet and engage with energetic young people, I can't talk to folk my own age they are just too damn grumpy. I so miss it all now, it was such fun but I haven't logged on for months, I did pay the $3 a couple of times to reply to surfers or lookup profiles but the site is virtually dead.

    Couchsurfing was already dying a slow death when Covid swooped down and moved the goalposts for any budget traveler looking for a couch. Unfortunately now it makes no sense for an old man like me to host travelers who have just passed through multiple households or hostels on the way to my place. Hotels and Guest House prices have posted significant increases in rates this year which is a double whammy for the backpackers.

    I look forward to the day when we can safely restart the budget travel scene, well relatively safely? Hopefully this new will take off and I will live long enough to see it grow into what couchsurfing was. The spirit has not died.

  34. Wow, this was superbly written and struck my heart in so many ways. I was a pretty active member in that "golden years" era – many friends were made, a couple of relationships happened, and so so many memories created. I haven't been active for six or seven years now, but when I checked the site for a recent trip across Canada… I was a little surprised. I paid the $3 and wrote to some folks, but it seemed like a ghost town. I received no responses. I tried to verify my address but by the time I got the postcard, I see today that I've been locked out again, pending another donation. So sad, but I think that's it for me!

  35. What a shame. I traveled solo around the world from 2006-2009 and used CS heavily. It changed my entire trip and life really. The easy friendships I made and bonds I shared elevated solo travel in a way I never imagined. I too was an ambassador of it sharing thoughts on my blog and even in travel articles like one I wrote for the Chicago Tribune about it.
    Thanks for your post and for the suggestions of other similar orgs.

  36. Hi there, I've been a member of CS since 2004 (yes almost 20years!) and I donated to the site until 2009 because the staff at that time would let people believe that the site belonged to the users.. After that it was a series of deceptions, some of them you mentionned.

    Trying to log-in today was still a surprise as that kind of pay-to-log-in threat is sure to infuriate most.

    This actually gives me hope as I believe the death of CS would leave some space for something new and hopefully better. Please disappear quickly.

  37. Thank you for this great article and insights. I never really used CS before, until recently, when i wanted to explore it. Funnily enough i managed to use it a couple of months ago, and i was checking the options. As of today it suddenly asked me to pay. Since i'm in between jobs and on a tight budget, i did not consider paying at all. What i thought was really weird was that CS is a free service, from what i know and heard, people do not ask for money to stay at their place. So why would i pay to use the site. My first idea was to google CS alternatives and you straight away came up with some. Your article was really interesting and informative. Thank you. Have a great day.

  38. I've been a member since 2007 and frequently hosted (and surfed) until 2011 or so. I was an ambassador for Hong Kong for a few years with a verified account and made donations to their platform.

    The changes that have happened over the years all rubbed me in the wrong way.

    Initially it was the changes to the forums and the city groups, then it was the commercialization of the platform that was just done in the wrong way. Nobody listened to the community, we weren't being listened to and they thought they knew better.

    Today i login to the account, not for a particular reason, just to have a look, only to find a paywall. No access to my profile, friend list, posts, etc. This is community management at its worst.

    I don't give a sh*t about the $3 USD, but refuse to pay it. This post (above) explains it very well and i wholeheartedly agree with it.

    It's a great example on how a great platform because nothing more than an afterthought.

  39. Hi Bren, wow, what a mess, I actually discovered it just now.
    I am wondering, did they ever send an email to alert that they would do this, and give people time to contact their friends etc?
    Because, it seems to me that if they didn’t, it’s kind of illegal that they block access after people paid lifetime verification.
    I mean, I paid of a lifetime service which now I can’t access unless I pay more?
    This can’t be legal.
    Any idea if people organized group sues?


    1. Well, their trick is that they didn't change the validity of lifetime verification: they just created an additional fee independently from it. So now you have 2 different things, a "verification status" depending on payment of the verification fee and a "membership status" depending on payment of the membership fee.
      So those who had paid for lifelong verification still have it: if they pay the new fee, they'll still have "verified" status… whatever it means now. I'm not sure whether people who only pay the membership fee still get limited messages and the kind of limitations non-verified members had before.

  40. An excellent piece. My first CS experience was being hosted at a house in Mission SanFrancisco. I wasn't told until the morning I was leaving that the quiet guy I met in the kitchen the day I arrived was Casey, the founder and that this house, as well as the one next door was actually the Batcave or CS headquarters.
    That was in January 2010 and it was a lively place with both people who lived there – working at other jobs outside, as well as others who volunteered there and just dropped in.
    There was a communal meal on offer in the kitchen and because the houses had been extended out back and there was not much of the backyard left, organic vegetables well grown in soil in polythene sheeting hung from the back wall.
    After that, I hosted many people at my house in Dublin, Ireland and made many friends. I also surfed in a few different countries.
    While I haven't actually tried to log in since getting an email and broken up with them, it looks like they've broken up with me.
    Sad, and thanks for the information on what else is out there.

  41. Sad – like the author, some of my most memorable travel experiences are from Couchsurfing, around 2007-2015.

    First as meet-up host for lunch and walking tours of my city, then as guest in the US and Canada, England, Japan, California, Japan again, then South of France – each visit creating unique individual lifetime memories of personal local interactions much richer than any forgettable stay-in-standard-hotel and visit-standard-tourist-sites.

    I was just logging on now to research places I could visit after COVID lockdown and found this page

    Thanks man – you were one of us – believers who tried to make a better world.

    We did – for a while – before the money-grabbers stole it from us.

    'Money-makers are tiresome company, as they have no standard but cash value' – Plato

  42. Thanks for that summary, it was just the information I was looking for.

    For me, as a regular host, couchsurfing was killed off by the covid pandemic. In a world of covid lockdowns and closed state and international borders, it just didn't make sense any more so I disengaged with a lot of fond memories.

    Now, when things have finally got to a stage where we might imagine returning to the wonderful sharing days of old, to encounter this message was a shock.

    I disagree with paying the fee for all the reasons you mentioned. But there's one other factor. After having been off couchsurfing for so long, and after the world has changed so much, I would need to confirm that couchsurfing is still alive before committing to joining a subscription service. This is the stupidity of the fee, paying for something when you don't even know whether it's worth it or not. That uncertainty means I will baulk at paying, and so will many others, and this will create a feedback loop that will ultimately kill the site. These people are complete and utter fools.

  43. I just logged on for the first time in forever it seems to and was faced with this obnoxious pop up and no way to see my profile or even download it for legacy and historic records say(as Facebook, Yahoo and Google all sensibly offer). It comes across literally as a pretty amazing and surprising "Fuck you" really. Oh, well, I'd be impressed if it survives and hasn't lost the vast majority of its users, and if it does survive will be a totally different thing to what it once was. Shrug, the world changes.

    Puzzles me that it doesn't even give me an option to resign, delete my account, as hey, I got not interest in getting contacts from a profile I can't see, update or maintain. In fact I logged on precisely because of such an email … hmmm. Seems to me the approach taken is disrespectful and twisted IMHO. I dig needing money, and maybe locking us out to the point of accessing our account, downloading it as an archive, or deleting it but a blunt paywall … hmmm. As I said, it's a simple "Fuck you dudes". And that's what it feels like. Adios

    In the meantime for what it's worth I host on,,, (which alas looks broken now, perhaps died of neglect which is one way volunteer driven sites go). I used to host on too but never got any visitors and my account is lost in time.

    There's always too though has an expired cert now which is not a good sign (suggests poor maintenance).

  44. I was first introduced to Couchsurfing in 2008 by a good friend. I was very skeptical at first, but quickly came to embrace the whole culture. For the first few years, I had the most amazing travel experiences and met some of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life. Even though some of my friends thought I was a bit crazy for letting strangers sleep in my house, I became somewhat of an unofficial ambassador for CS. And then around the time CS changed from being a non-profit to a corporation, something about the culture also changed. I was finding it very difficult to find hosts. I came across many male hosts who “preferred” hosting females only. CS had somehow became a hookup site. I also got surfing requests from travelers with bare profiles and no references, saying things like they were only in town for a few days or wouldn’t be around much. I was made to feel like I was providing free accommodation out of the goodness of my heart. When I went to meetups, I was meeting more people who were neither hosts or surfers. The old CS forums had essentially become threads where anyone can coordinate meetups, which is ok, but that can be done on any platform. Then once COVID hit, no one was traveling and then CS became a ghost town almost overnight. When I tried to login and was hit with a paywall, that was the last straw for me. There was no way I was going to pay to be a host, which I already incur costs to do anyway. I can’t even login to delete my information and profile without paying first.

    From a business standpoint, they only care about engagement. If you’re using the site regularly, then your activity can be tracked and that data is valuable. Unfortunately, I feel like they’ve lost the true meaning of what made CS special in the first place. It makes me sad to leave CS because it really changed my life and had a profound impact on my travel experiences when I was younger. I only hope that CS 2.0 will somehow revolutionize travel in a different way and appeal to a new generation. For now though, like Bren put it, I am saying goodbye.

  45. Great post. I logged in after years of inactivity because someone had requested to hang out. I had stopped a long ways back when suddenly the local meetups seemed to have disappeared and things seemed scant and haphazard. Now I know why.

    Thank you for the info on the other sites. I met a number of dear people and some other not-so-dear 🙂 on CS. It was quite the era.

    Much love to everyone. Stay sovereign yet connected. May you meet many open and loving souls.

  46. Hey, i was really suprised today when i wanted to log in my coucsurf profile and couldnt…..I am unsubscribing too cause the feeling of community is dead. I have met so many great people thanks to CS, just wanting to share their stories, who they where, their culture….it wasnt just to find a free place to stay…
    It will be a part of my travels with my son, who first couchsurf in Cabo Verde when he was 4 yrs old…
    We hosted a lot of travelers too, just the 2 of us. It was a good way to show him that people around the world are nice and sharing.
    Thank you for your article.
    I will try the other website you hv quote.
    I have a feeling of saddness and waste.
    Happy travels

  47. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and appreciated all of the information you provided (about CS history; new options; etc). I was really disappointed when CS started charging just to sign into my account. It left a rather sour taste in my mouth considering what the site was supposed to stand for. I'm happy to know there are other options.
    Just wanted to send you a "thank you!"

  48. Hi Bren,
    I just want to thank you. I had so many questions and your perfect article helped me a lot!
    I was there during "the gold era", more hosted than visited.. However often used local groups to met people.
    In last years (using AirBnB or I realized how much I miss the comunity, the additional value in travelling!
    Im not gonna contribute into their (CS) aggressive strategy and disapear ideals. Hopefully one day somewhere else, the ideas never dies!
    Takw care you all! 🙂

  49. THank you for this article. ITs been a few years since i have used CS and yesterday came as surprise to me that now you have to pay to join. And I was about to sign up for a year, but then ran into your article. CS for me is also like a bedge, I met my husband via CS and had many great adventures with frinds from this organization. But seems like its time to parte with CS and explore other communities that you hava mentioned.
    Safe trails.

  50. Like many others, I found this article after trying to login to my CS profile and being shocked to see the paywall. I feel very luck to have started with CS back in 2006 and participated quite a bit in the "glory days" (I even met my husband though couchsurfing). I started using it less and less but remember being frustrated when I logged in the 2010s and found the redesigned site that got rid of all of my old groups. The "streamlining" felt off to me, but I never bothered to look into the backstory of what was happening. I knew they were growing their "back office", and that felt odd, as the site seemed great the way it was, no need for tampering and pushing for "continual growth" and revenue streams. I am very fortunate for the hundreds of volunteers who kept the site going before the VC's got involved. After several years now of being virtually locked up in Hong Kong, I am looking forward to traveling again and am sad that I can't rely on CS, which really was such an amazing tool. I could browse host's profiles to find ones with similar vibes and interests to me, which really made it easy to make great connections from the get-go. Especially for solo traveling, nothing could beat it. I've used Airbnb a few times but don't care for it: the company behind it or the transactional nature of it. It certainly offers a more mainstream, "sanitized" version of what CS was, which is maybe why it has been so successful. CS demanded a level of trust and effort and compromise that many people don't want to put up with. I cherish all of my memories and friends I've made, and will look at some of the alternative sites you wrote about. Thank you for the write up!

  51. Thank you for this blog. I joined couchsurfing in 2006 (when I was 17) and started traveling with it by 2008. I used it regularly up until 2014. I have made many deep connections with the most amazing humans and it changed my life forever. Reading this made me sad, but I'm not surprised, It's great to see there are alternatives out there and I know this community will continue on. It must. This is needed in our world and I hope those that are young and wanderlustful can have the same transformational experiences that I got to have. Love to you fellow traveler!

  52. Oh wow! I only just joined Couchsurfers and really wished I had seen this posting first. I'm currently on the road for the next two years and don't know if I have the energy to be active in more than one space but I'll still check out your other recommendations. I'm so sad to hear about the change of the business, but am glad the community is still a strong caring one. I hope I'll be able to contribute one day too.

    Thanks so much for all this background (and for the CS 101 post which is how I got here in the first place) I really appreciate the info. It never feels good to see something you have high hopes for, and truly believe in, get lost in corporate gains. I had that with my last job as well. I wish I had seen it in its heyday but hopefully those of us who are members now can keep it a positive and happy experience.

  53. This article is so helpful. Thank you so much for putting this together.

    I was a Couchsurfer member for years when one day, my Couchsurfing profile was suspended. Something about "terms of service". So, I contacted them and they would not tell me why it was suspended. I had positive reviews and had hosted quite a bit of travelers while I lived in New York City, in Brooklyn.

    I searched online for what was happening with Couchsurfing and found a Reddit thread and they mentioned that if Couchsurfers declined or did not answer people requesting to couchsurf, then their CS profile would be suspended.

    When I lived in Brooklyn, I was getting so many requests and some of the couchsurfers treated it like a hotel, asked what was for breakfast too which I said, "well if you feel like picking up some breakfast I can cook it for you" something like that. One couchsurfer, a girl, would go out, come home at 3am, text me to open door, and even asked if she could bring over guys she had met. LOL! So, to stop that nonsense, I quit replying to people who appeared to copy-and-paste and send out requests with a machine-gun like approach. One couple, recently married, requested to stay for 2-to-3 weeks that they were on their honeymoon. At the time, I had a room in a loft with a bunkbed and the couchsurfers slept in the top bed. Ha ha ha! Honeymooners! LOL! So, I politely declined them. Anyway, my CS profile was suspended.

    I am signing up to TrustRoots, BeWelcome, and when I get some money, intend to join NomadList.

    Thanks for sharing these websites. It's good to know there are alternatives to Couchsurfing.

  54. Thank you! I knew there was trouble brewing and didn't have the energy in my life to travel at the time, so was out of commission. But our family were/are couchsurfers. We were older starting in our 40's but our kids loved having so many cool people in our home. Lots of bicycles as we live in Canada on the US border at the West Coast. We've all couchsurfed all over the world and boy do we have incredible stories to share. Yes, it's the best way to travel! We're 64 now, but it'd still be our first choice often. I went to look at my highly verified site and saw the fee. So Thank you for this article, even if it's dated, it's valuable info and I'll be going to the sites you mentioned.

  55. Thank you so much for this super helpful, warm and committed article. I was so surprised, confused and disappointed to discover the new Couchsurfing website! It could not be more unfriendly.

    The referrals to other international communities are gold. I hope that BeWelcome or another option will provide a safe landing and vibrant community for travelers hoping for more than "Top 10 Spots."

  56. I was a CS member since 2007, hosted hundreds, loved the site and deleted my account when I got blocked from logging in. You summarized everything very well, thank you.
    Before CS, I was active in Hospitality Club for a couple of years. It had a great community like CS, but was run by a group of arrogant lying volunteers. It took days to get messages approved (yes every message had to be approved by a volunteer), mentioning of CS in the forums was illegal and so on. It became very frustrating and the majority of the members left to CS. CS had all the good stuff from HC + a much better functioning site, including very active groups for all kinds of interests you can imagine. Even a few for HC members.
    The HC volunteers, who despised CS, left to start their own site, Be Welcome. I would rather sleep on the pavement than being harassed by those people once more.

  57. Thank you for all these information.

    I just happen to see the paywall when I tried to log in after long time.
    I was not using CS often recently but when I saw the message in pandemic period my first though was I need to support them financially.
    After all CS gave me so many experience for free.
    It all started back in 2007 when I was totally broke but I wanted to travel and I could not. So CS replaced the "travel" by allowing me to host people from all other the world and interact like I was actually travelling. I was hosting them on my small apartment and I was receiving the whole world experiences when I could not afford to travel.
    CS totally change my life. I actually end up married with on CSer and moved out of the country due to this.
    This person unfortunately has pasted away and I was left alone abroad but managed to get on my feet again.
    Just for that I was willing to pay the annual fee and even if I am not actually using much the CS due to busy life nowdays.
    After reading all these I have zero intention to pay. This is not the real idea the CS was. It is not about the money as every person who has genuinely used CS in the past will tell you.
    It is so sad that this amazing journey has died and I am sure it changed so many people lives.

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