Saudi Arabia: Would couch-surfing work in the Kingdom?



A trend that is picking up momentum among adventurous travelers is couch-surfing.  Couch-surfing is where an individual opens up their home to someone who is traveling through the area.  The traveler may spend a day or may spend a few days.  The host agrees to provide the traveler with a place to stay.  Some hosts may do more such as showing a traveler around or provide meals.  Couch-surfing is an inexpensive way for individuals to travel to places they may not have an opportunity otherwise to visit.  Couch-surfing is more popular in Europe and the United States but is making itself known in the Arab world too.

A couch-surfer or a host would join  It’s free.  Travelers and hosts would  set up profiles.  For example, a host can specify certain times when couch-surfers are welcome or maybe state male only or female only.  Additionally there are reviews and references of both hosts and couch-surfers.

I am aware of individuals from Saudi Arabia who have used couch-surfing when outside of the Kingdom to see more of the world.  However due to the challenges of getting a visa for Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visas) it is less likely to have non-Saudi couch-surfers seeking a place to stay in Saudi Arabia.  The conservative and private nature of the Kingdom does not lend itself to couch-surfing.

Have any American Bedu readers experienced couch-surfing?  What was the experience like?  What were the positives?  What were the negatives?


22 Responses

  1. I enjoyed hosting people through Couchsurfing. Pretty much everyone I met was really friendly and easy-going. They all had interesting stories to tell, and it was nice to meet them all. I still keep in touch with a couple of them. 🙂

    The positive parts were getting to meet new people and helping others. The negative part was that some of my flatmates prefer to have their time to themselves, and when you’re hosting people, it is harder to be antisocial. LOL. There’s still that element of hospitality to it, although I tend to be too hospitable if anything.

    Each couchsurfing host will have different rules. Typically though, when the person hosting you leaves for the day, the couchsurfers must also leave. Sometimes the host will be a guide around the city for the couchsurfers. Somtetimes, someone may not be able to host in a particular city but may still act as a guide to others who are traveling to the area. Couchsurfers are responsible for cooking for themselves usually, though typically they are allowed to use the host’s kitchen. If you are going to be travelling via couch-surfing, I’d recommend to find places at least a week or two in advance because sometimes it takes people a while to get back to you. Always have a backup plan in place just in case the couchsurfing host isn’t able to host you for some reason and you have to change plans at the last minute.

    I’d host now, but not all of my family members would be okay with that. Can’t blame ’em- we used to let friends stay with us, and not all of the friends were respectful of that.

    I am fairly confident that people do, in fact, couch-surf within KSA. I am just not sure how it works there.

  2. Couchsurfing is fantastic. I can’t imagine choosing to stay in a hotel again actually. It’s so much more meaningful to have a local tell you all about their culture. I’m surprised that couchsurfing wouldn’t work in Saudi Arabia because one thing I’ve always heard about Arab folks is they have amazing hospitality. Couchsurfing shows that off!

  3. Are you kidding? ???? ???? Can you see a single guy in a house with a single women? No family ties together in a house?? You know Saudi culture. It would not happen.

  4. You have been back in the states too.

  5. This is what I like about Amer Bedu – a little bit of everything. It is a feast of culture and knowledge – much of it useless, but still interesting. It shows how different we are, and yet pretty much the same (well, except for Stange one. Just joking!).

    I actually like meeting different people but doubt that my better half would go along. And there is the problem of living in hell. It was 113F (about 44C) again today. Will this summer ever end? Who in their right minds would couch around in Arizona in the Summer? My wife sometimes tells me I brought her to hades as punishment for the sins she committed and a bunch she didn’t. I imagine Arabia is about the same.

    Anyway, for you, Stranger, Deedee Durbin singing Danny Boy:

  6. “Are you kidding? ???? ???? Can you see a single guy in a house with a single women? No family ties together in a house?? You know Saudi culture. It would not happen.”

    I was pretty certain that there are at least a few who do host in KSA. Wouldn’t it work well for the locals and/or expats?

    @jay kactuz,
    I could imagine more than a few people who would love to stay in Arizona- even in the hot, hot heat! Although, I can imagine why you’d want to live elsewhere. LOL.

  7. Years ago when I was younger, I was a member of a group called SERVAS. They are all over the world and the idea is to have people from different cultures to connect and learn from each other. The traveller stays with the host family and it is their responsibility to be respectful and eager to learn about the host culture. The host’s responsibility is to offer the guest hospitality and/or provide a cultural experience for the guest and to learn about the guests culture in return. The idea is to promote cultural understanding and a more open mindedness about other cultures.

    Their Mission:

    “Servas is an international, non-governmental, multicultural peace association run by volunteers in over 100 countries. Founded in 1949 by Bob Luitweiler as a peace movement, Servas International is a non-profit organization working to build understanding, tolerance and world peace.”

    I was not in long as I moved home to help my mom after a hysterectomy but I hosted a couple of girls from France and once a couple from Germany. I myself stayed with a family when I visited Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. It was a heck of a lot of fun…But you have to open minded. Accommodations can range from an elaborate home to a couch or an air mattress on the floor. (my situation for the people visiting me.)It was a blast while it lasted.

  8. BTW..if anyone wants their info here it is:

  9. Oby,
    Very cool! ❤

  10. Thanks for that link Oby. We had recently been tossing around the idea of hosting an exchange student (thought we’d done such a great job messing up our own kids that we’d move on to foreigners 🙂 ). This would be an easier decision since it’s only for a short duration. We’ll have to look into that but I just don’t know that our location would be of much interest to anyone.

  11. You’re welcome Lynn…

    You never know. At the time i lived in New Orleans so it was a place that got a lot of folks. But there may be people who are traveling across the country that need a place…

  12. I’m surprised it works in the US and Europe – my first reaction was ‘You’d have to be insane!’ Seriously, taking a complete stranger into your home, or going to stay with a complete stranger, totally at their mercy? They could be thieves, rapists, serial killers… it just doesn’t seem like a good idea. It’s an awfully big risk to take just to get a vacation that would otherwise be outside your budget.

    I don’t think it would work well in Saudi Arabia for two reasons: gender segregation, and social class. Arabs are a very hospitable people, but most Saudis wouldn’t want a completely unknown man camped out on their sofa. The men wouldn’t want him that close to the women of the household, and the women wouldn’t like having to tiptoe around their own house to avoid compromising their religious and social values. It’s not unusual for a man to stay in a hotel when visiting his own brother for just that reason.

    For women, it’s worse; travelling alone is something that ‘good girls’ just don’t do, and a woman trying to ‘couch-surf’ in the Kingdom is setting herself up for abuse. It’s not fair or right, but many would assume she was a prostitute just based on the fact that she was spending every night at a different man’s house. Also, from what I know of Saudi law, a woman couch-surfing would be illegal.

    In most Arab countries, there are separate, nomadic subcultures like Bedouins and Gypsies who are looked down upon by mainstream middle- and upper-class society. There’s some tolerance for foreigners with their funny ideas, but an Arab who took up couch-surfing would be criticized for mimicking the behavior of those groups. It would be considered beneath their dignity to ask for charity from strangers when they have a perfectly good house of their own to sleep in.

  13. @Sunni Side Up,
    With couchsurfing, everyone has a profile. On it, people are able to give reviews on other people. You can arrange to meet at a public place before staying at the person’s house. The people I’ve met through couch-surfing are more of the type of people that just love to travel, meet new people, and are extremely generous, honest people. When my laptop broke, one of the couchsurfers I was hosting offered to let me use their extra netbook. So very honest, very trusting, and very trustworthy, too. Since people can review each other, it gives others an idea of how safe it may or may not be. I don’t see the problem with it; just use common sense.

    The people you meet at work university, religious places, etc. could be ” thieves, rapists, serial killers” too. The only time I came close to being raped (as in seconds, but thankfully he had some sort of moral principles) was by someone I already knew. Not many people would have expected that kind of behavior from him. I don’t talk to him anymore, of course. Just sayin’.

    I like the idea of couchsurfing because you get to meet the locals, and don’t have to worry about bedbugs like you might at a hostel or budget hotel. (Bedbugs are becoming a larger worldwide issue these days.) Also, most people don’t have the kind of money to stay at nice hotels while travelling. And why would you if you don’t have to? With couchsurfing, you can extend your vacation (work/school/etc. allowing). Plus, you get to meet interesting people. I LOVE meeting interesting people! 🙂 But I will agree that it’s not for everyone.

    Why wouldn’t couchsurfing work in KSA for men who live alone?

  14. Strangeone…

    Funny you mention bedbugs… I was thinking that the other day…while someone coming to visit might not worry about bedbugs, those being visited might have to worry as you don’t know if the people coming to your home are carrying the little critters with them. I saw a program about a week ago about them and although they were eradicated in the 1940’s in the USA, they are making a comeback in the USA due to travelers coming from countries where they are NOT eradicated, and bringing them here in their luggage etc. They showed one woman who had such a bad problem that after trying everything she knew of, she finally spent $10,000 to get rid of them. they had to kill them with heat…the whole house they had to heat to 140 degrees I think it was to kill them. Ugh! Every time I go to a hotel, I strip the bed looking for signs of them and I put my luggage way up high to try to avoid any just in case…but the show said the bathroom is the best place to keep your luggage…in the tub. For whatever reason they don’t go there.

    BUT they are in so many places…even high end department stores are having problems with them and eradicating them. Some creatures just shouldn’t exist!

  15. Couch-surfing in a Saudi home? Impossible!. It is definitely unheard of and not likely to happen in the near future as Saudi families are very particular about their privacy, religious and cultural issues.

    Couch-surfing may be happening in westerner homes in Saudi Arabia though I don’t know any example myself but I don’t expect it in a Saudi home.

  16. Ohhh couchsurfing… I love it!! As others have said above, there are so many lovely experiences, both from hosting and surfing. We like to say that CSers are a balance between crazy and openhearted – a little bit of both is needed to enter a strangers home, or let a stranger enter yours. Also, the only “bad” experience I had was from a CSer I already knew well for several weeks. Nothing but joy from the people I knew for 2-3 days. And the reference system is quite well developed. Having other people independently verify that a person is OK, while they themselves are well-referenced, adds a good security. The site offers several levels of verification.

    I’ve actually been a couchsurfer in Syria (Believe it or not there were still surfers traveling through during the recent protesting). They use it not as much for hosting overnight, but as a way to connect travelers from around the world with locals. In Damascus they were having a meetup about once every two weeks; in Aleppo the group seemed quite well-knit and friendly, greeting foreigners in their favorite park each time a group came through. A Syrian CSer and I even organized a German language conversation group. Many other locals organized siteseeing visits around the city and meetups at coffee shops with foreign travelers, and the group organizes an adventure outside the city each summer.

    I’d imagine CS could work something like this in Saudi, even incorporating gender segregation – a travelers’ network to facilitate cultural exchange.

    The main obstacle for hosting was that the generally 20-something Syrians who were involved in couch surfing were still unmarried and thus living with their families in relatively small living spaces, and so hosting guests overnight was a challenge. I did surf at someone’s house once though, and knew of others who had the ability to host guests.

    Girl CSers travelling in Saudi (or Syria, for that matter) would hopefully opt to stay with families only (preferably women only if there are any hosts) if they knew ANYTHING about Saudi culture. I sure did that once I figured out the Syrians.

  17. Lynn,

    I think that an opportunity for an exchange student from most countries would welcome the chance to live in a sponsor’s home in America to experience America. I know that you are way up North where you get that foul white stuff but I imagine there would be exchange students that would welcome the experience.

    Here in Charlotte there are also a number of charitable organizations that look for sponsors to host a child (age ranging from around 10 to 18) who needs medical treatment in the area. Most children are only in the states for 60 days max. The charity has some funds and helps make arrangements for the medical treatment. The host shows them love and gets them to their appointments. The children have been from all over the world.

    et all: I do agree that couch surfing in Saudi would have its challenges and likely more attractive to the expats who would have more freedom in taking advantage of the program. The Saudi culture would make it very difficult for Saudis within the Kingdom to couch surf.

  18. Carol, hmmmm, that’s something to look into. U of M hospital is not far from me. But, then again. I think that they have residential facilities available for patients and their families.

    And by the way, a lot of people come here specifically FOR that foul white stuff. Crazy, eh? LOL

  19. I wish I could remember the name of the charities which seek foster homes for the organizations are national and NC is one of the places which participates.

    I know Abdullah had fun and enjoyed his exposure to that white fluffy stuff!

  20. @lynn,

    Yes U of M has residential facilities, but often comes with a price tag 😉 if you are interested i could put you intouch with people who organize short term patient stays, ranginig from 30 to 90 days …
    however your place must have a separate bedroom and a separate bath facility for them to use . hosted patients are usually very grateful adn will keep the place spic and span.
    I’ve never hosted anyone , since we;ve had kids and a hectic schedule travelling but maybe in a few yrs when we are done travelling we might.

  21. @Radhaa – Thanks, I thought you might know about this program. Our basement would be perfect, like a little apartment for them (or for us if they can’t do stairs). That is as soon as we finish that bathroom down there. I’ll have to get on that. I’ve been nagging about it but, with the ’empty nest’ and all, he hasn’t been able to see a real need to complete it. How great do you think the need is? I’ll bet that could put a fire under his butt to get on with finishing that bathroom 🙂

  22. couch surfing in Saudi Arabia? The saudi men will be raping women left and right… given how sex starved they are and how the culture holds the woman responsible for a man’s misdeeds… and I am a muslim saying this.
    Even if it were available in Saudi Arabia, I would never couch surf in a home with Saudi men in it.

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