Since Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter became the mainstream social networks, I started looking for new ways to connect with people. That’s how I came across, a community that allows its international users to develop networks by location, find free places to stay while traveling, and create a cultural dialogue.

The protocol is similar to Facebook:  Set up a profile, join groups, and add friends. But the purpose goes further than just stalking people from high school. CouchSurfing’s self-described premise is to “create deep and meaningful conversations that cross oceans, continents, and cultures.”

Here are five ways to make CouchSurfing a useful tool for you:

1. Network in your hometown: After creating my profile, I joined some Denver-specific groups. There’s a main Denver CouchSurfers group, which hosts a wide variety of events and activities. From Great Divide Brewery tours to Estes Park day trips, there are plenty of things that can provide highlights to your calendar.

2. Volunteer to be a host: You don’t have to offer up your couch to strangers in order to participate, though it’s certainly an option.  You can specify on your profile that you’re willing to play tour guide for travelers passing through Denver who only want someone to show them the sights or join them for a meal.  You’re never under any obligation to host people, and CouchSurfing tries to build in safety features. Members can write references on other people’s profiles, they can vouch for one another, and names and addresses can be verified.

3. Find free accommodations during your travels: I was originally introduced to CS when I spent a semester in Spain and traveled around Europe. My friends and I used CS to secure a place without shelling out big bucks for a bed. It may mean sleeping on the floor, but expect to find gracious hosts who are interested in having a conversation and sharing helpful tips about their culture.

4. Keep in touch with people you meet: Once you’ve gone to an initial happy hour, hosted some folks passing through, or curled up on someone else’s couch, add the people you encounter to your list of friends. Offering much more than a status update, they’ll become your international network of personal travel references as well as fellow adventure seekers.

5. Bond over common interests: You may not always be able to participate in the activities within your network, but you can still join groups like Denver Food Enthusiasts or Denver Film Fanatics and take to the message boards to converse with other CouchSurfers about topics like baking in high altitudes or finding the best film festivals to hit up in the area.