About 1 year ago, I began hearing about “couchsurfing”. Never knew what it was or that it existed, but it has spawn from California and now exists all over the world. I tried it for the first time last month and it worked out really well! First, let me tell you what it is and then how my experience went.
Photo via Photodropper via Flickr by Craige Moore
What couchsurfing is exactly, is another way of finding accommodations when traveling and staying with locals. Rather than staying in a hotel room, renting a place from Airbnb or similar sites, you are the “surfer” and you find a host to stay with in their own house. The host will be home and at first, this started out as them offering you their couch to stay on overnight, hence where the term “couchsurfing” came from. Now, it still continues as people offer their couches to stay on, but also includes guest rooms, blow up mattresses or all of the above.
Is it safe? Pretty much, I haven’t come across any stories out there that resulted in an unsafe experience. I heard reviews where maybe personalities didn’t click entirely, but just because you stay at someone’s house (this is also 99% of the time for free!) doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them.
So yes, couchsurfing is for free, for most of the time. The way it works is, you sign up at Couchsurfing.com and make a profile of whether you travel and want to surf at someone’s place or if you want to be the host and have travelers come stay with you. No fee to sign up either.
Verification is key – you make a profile, add links to any social media sites you’re signed up on, and you contact via message to be approved. Many link their Facebook accounts or personal websites to prove they have a reputation. Reviews are written for both hosts and travelers and Response rates are given so you know how quickly someone will write back to your message.
As you message with the host or the traveler, you discuss dates of arrival and departure, any rules, any specials (sometimes they pick you up from the airport!) and etc. This is also the time to verify if the host wants any small fee and see if you would trust the person before they arrive.
For example, I plan on staying with a couple in Bermuda at the end of this month and everything in Bermuda is 3x more than in the US – hotels, electricity, gas, internet etc. They charge every traveler a small fee if the stay is longer than 1 day, so I will be paying a small fee to stay with them for 3 days. Mine is $200, which is less than 1 hotel night stay in Bermuda!
Onto my first experience – I stayed with a female photographer inside the Teton National Park in Wyoming. She had many good reviews written by others who had stayed with her and her response rate was 1 day, which she did in fact write back very quickly.
She had a guest room, a couch, and a blow up mattress to stay on in her apartment – which was a 2 bedroom house in the actual park! I met her at the Teton National Park where she kindly gave me Free admission and a map marked with all the best spots to stop at. After I traveled around, I met her at her house around 9pm and she had dinner ready – carne asada mmmm – and I picked up wine for her as a “Thank You” since I was staying with her for free. We chatted for a few hours and then were both back to work the next day. Short lived but was a fun time. We remain friends on Facebook and she moves around so maybe I will stay with her again in her next apartment!
I don’t think couchsurfing is for everyone, yet it is something to try if you’re leaning towards staying with locals and going on a super budget to another country. I’ve heard more and more travelers using this in Europe also as they’ve outgrown staying in hostels with multiple other people in the same room. I think it’s a great mix to add into a trip. I will always love ocean view rooms in hotels or renting a condo out, but couchsurfing definitely helps with not spending money on accommodations and learning more from someone who actually lives where I’m visiting.
It is to everyone’s own discretion and preference, but so far I love it!