Accommodation can be one of the most expensive overheads while travelling as we all need somewhere to lay our head at night! For backpackers – particularly those who have embarked on a round the world adventure – a significant part of their budgeting will go towards their accommodation.
However, one of the latest travelling trends solves all these issues; couchsurfing (or couch surfing), and the possibility of free accommodation! Couchsurfing is just that – moving from couch to couch around the world, rather than staying in hostels or hotels. The couch surfing movement began in the mid 2000s, and has only grown in momentum and following since then. It’s a worldwide community that shares their hospitality and homes with other travellers, who then in turn can stay on someone else’s couch when they travel.
How does couch surfing work? Couchsurfing is all about people opening up their homes to travellers. Couchsurfing sites allow travellers to sign up, create an account, and get access to the emails of locals in various cities around the world. Travellers contact these locals and ask to stay at their place. It’s not always a couch – sometimes it’s a spare room or just a space on the floor. Others just sign up to show visitors around their local cities.
What are the benefits of couch surfing? One of the biggest benefits of couch surfing is that it’s free, and operates on the presumption that those offering their couch and hospitality can then call on others to do the same when they are travelling. But more importantly, it allows travellers to get off the well-trodden tourist path and integrate themselves into local cultures and customs. If you’re visiting Thailand, for example, couch surfing can be a great way to step out of the tourist beach party scene and experience the culture and life from a local perspective. Couch surfing is also a great opportunity to meet people from around the world and establish friendships that can last for many years!
How can I couchsurf safely? Some people are put off couch surfing by the fear of staying in a strangers home. However, using common sense and checking the background of your hosts will protect you from any uncomfortable situations. On their couchsurfing profile, the user should have a profile picture, and a completed profile that shows they are involved and keen to participate in couchsurfing exchanges. Often, users and members will also be verified by the site, who can vouch that the information provided is correct. Bear in mind too that the host is also accepting a stranger in his or her house, which also means that he or she is taking some sort of risk. Finally, read other people’s comments that have stayed with them previously. If they’ve had a pleasant experience, it’s likely you will too!
How can I get started? Very easy. Your best bet is to join the largest couchsurfing community in the world at www.couchsurfing.org . Begin by completeing your profile and filling out all the information requested. Don’t make it short because this is what potential hosts will use to decide if they accept you in their house or not. I highly recommended you include one or more recent pictures, and if you have a blog or travel blog make sure you give the url because it will give the host an opportunity to know what you look like and what you like to do (this proved to be very helpful to me). From here on it’s just a matter of using the website’s simple options to contact potential hosts around the world and wait for answers, being polite and explicit in your messages. I also recommend you contact hosts as far in advance as possible- believe it or not there are many couchsurfers around the world and homes will be booked! It will also give the host some time to learn more about you without feeling any kind of pressure.
Is there any couch surfing etiquette I should be aware of? Of course, but they are mostly common sense. These are a few simple things to consider:
- Generally speaking hosts do not expect guests to pay for or bring anything, but in some cultures this would be expected even among friends so I would recommend you check into this first.
- Try to show up as clean and tidy as possible, you don’t want to leave mud tracks in the host’s recently cleaned carpet.
- Set aside some time to chat with your hosts. Most hosts invite guests because they like to meet people from all over the place. Also, local people are excellent resources for interesting stuff in their city.
- Tidy up before you leave in the morning if you’re staying a few days. The extra bedroom might also be an office, and you wouldn’t want to make the host feel like he/she is walking into someone else’s room.
- Offer to cook dinner. It’s a great opportunity to know each other better and hosts love trying new and different foods from around the world- it’s greatly appreaciated.
- Ask before using things belonging to your host, such as internet. Most have no problem with it, but some people might.
- Don’t smoke unless invited to.
- Don’t ask for a key. If your host is comfortable giving you one, they will offer it.
- Don’t overstay your welcome. Put firm dates in your note asking to stay. If you hit it off with them, then staying longer might work out, but if you want to stay longer try to think about it from your host’s perspective. Maybe try to find another host in the same city.
Couchsurfing can be a new and exciting way to meet new people and experience different cultures. And, if you’re looking for cheap holidays, it eliminates your accommodation expenses. I couch surfed last year in four countries and made friends that will last a lifetime (read about my first couchsurfing experience).
Are you a couchsurfing veteran? Daring to try? Where will you couchsurf in? Share your tales and experiences with us…and this post too if you liked it!