Traveling is one of the best ways to meet new people and expand your horizons. The United Nations World Tourism Organization found that the number of international tourists to grow to 1.4 billion people in 2018, a new record. And according to Eventbrite, 78% of millennials would choose to spend money on a desirable experience instead of purchasing something. Due to this rise in young people traveling, a natural shift in sustainable and economical tourism has emerged—including foregoing big-name hotels for homestay options such as Airbnb and couchsurfing.
What is couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is one homestay option that allows travelers to spend the night in someone’s home, typically for free. Unlike a hotel, couchsurfing travelers may have access to some (or even all) of the comforts of home—from a stocked kitchen to a washing machine or laundry room—without having to pay for the service.
The idea behind couchsurfing is simple: Like-minded individuals who are open to hosting potential new friends practice their hospitality skills and provide a spot to sleep. In exchange, the hosts gets a potential new friendship or at least a few nights of company. It doesn’t always just mean a couch, either. Some couchsurfers will offer spare bedrooms and even whole guest houses.
Although couchsurfing is free, it’s considered common courtesy to provide a small token of appreciation to your couchsurfing host and spend a little time with them. Most couchsurfing travelers usually bring along something from their home country or a bottle of wine. Bonus points if you pick up a few ingredients and cook a meal for your host!
What about the Couchsurfing app?
In 1999, New Hampshire native Casey Fenton booked a trip from Boston to Iceland. But he couldn’t afford lodging in his host country, so he sent emails to local students and asked for a place to stay. Fenton knew he was onto something when he got more than 100 offers from potential hosts. On the return flight home, he came up with the idea for the website.
While couchsurfing as a concept can be as simple as crashing on a friend of a friend’s couch, the best way to secure a couchsurfing stay is by using Couchsurfing.com or the Couchsurfing app. With hosts in more than 200,000 cities around the world, using the official app or website purportedly ensures travelers find a safe spot to stay. Travelers and hosts can connect on a personal level before deciding to move forward with the planned stay.
Why should I couchsurf?
Though some users have noticed that hostels and Airbnb listings have become more affordable over the years, the benefits of couchsurfing go beyond just saving cash. Choosing to couchsurf may be right for you if:
- You prefer saving money. Couchsurfing is an undeniably economical option.
- You want access to a real kitchen. This can help you cook the meals you want and save money.
- You want to meet people. Many couchsurfing travelers have made lifelong friends this way.
- You value getting local recommendations and insights from your host. This beats researching destinations online.
Is couchsurfing free?
Yes, if you’re talking about a homestay booked through Couchsurfing.com. All stays are free, and the company is funded through donors and investors. You might be able to find free or low-cost accommodations through other platforms, but these aren’t official Couchsurfing services.
If you want to verify yourself on the Couchsurfing platform, you’ll pay a one-time optional $25 fee. A verified account will help you find hosts quicker and allows for a more seamless overall experience, making it a worthwhile investment if you plan to use the service regularly.
Is couchsurfing safe?
Staying with a complete stranger has its risks, no matter which platform you use. Couchsurfing.com is a self-moderated community and does not feature an official vetting process for its hosts, which is an obvious risk you should consider. You can always run a quick search for your host on social media or a people search service before committing to staying with (or hosting) a stranger.
The Couchsurfing website does provide a few ways to make hosts and couchsurfers feel more comfortable. You can choose a type of host, such as men, women or families, and check out their basic information on their public profile. Hosts and guests can also rate and review each other, and hosts may list their personal friends on the website, creating a narrative about who they are and their reputation as a host. You can even contact travelers who have stayed with your potential host to get a feel for their experience before booking.
While there have been some reported incidents over the years with couchsurfing in general, the process is typically safe. It’s a good idea to avoid using other websites that don’t allow you to research your host before committing to stay.
Couchsurfing can be a great way to reduce the cost of travel and make friends along the way. It allows for more spending money that can go toward sinking your teeth into the culture and local activities at your destination.
If you’re ready to try out a homestay, consider the inherent risks that come along with staying with a complete stranger, and do your research properly. Stay with a host you connect with, check their references from past travelers and ensure you’d be comfortable spending an evening with them. Unlike paid services such as Airbnb or hostels, part of staying in someone’s home for free means showing your gratitude and making an effort to connect as potential friends.
You may want to plan a combination of homestays and private hotel rooms or hostels during your trip. Depending on your personality, you’ll probably appreciate a few nights on your own after sharing a stranger’s space for more than a couple of days.