If you’re an open-minded traveler on a budget, then Couchsurfing is the #1 site you need to know! While hostels and Airbnb often offer great low-cost options, there is nothing that comes close to the price of Couchsurfing...which is totally free!
Free? What’s the catch?
Couchsurfing is a fantastic platform that connects you with locals around the world who are willing to open up their homes to you. You can often read through hundreds of profiles of other open-minded travelers in the city you will be traveling to and send a request to those you vibe with asking to ‘surf their couch’—or to simply meet up if staying with a stranger feels too strange for you.
The genuine Couchsurfing host does this out of the goodness of his/her heart and expects nothing in return but your gratitude and company. As with any host, a postcard or trinket from your home country is generally well-received as would be an invitation to treat them to a dinner, drinks, event, etc. Use your common sense and etiquette but know that there is not some unwritten rule that you actually have to pay this person (in money or otherwise).
Normally, the kind of people who host are simply outgoing folks who are happy to show you around their town and include you in whatever plans they have that weekend. While it’s not required that you spend your entire stay with them, the idea is to usually connect and get to know each other, so be sure you’re open to socializing if you decide to Couchsurf!
How Safe Is It?
Of course, when you throw out the idea of staying with a stranger for free, many of us get skeptical; I know this is a concern for solo female travelers especially. In my personal experience, I’ve never had a single problem or uncomfortable moment, but that’s also because I’m conscientious about who I stay with. Here are my top tips for ensuring you have a safe experience as well:
2. Read a potential host’s reviews (ideally all of them): In the case that the person you’re looking at staying with is one of the top-listed hosts, they will likely have dozens of reviews, all of which point you towards them being an upstanding citizen. At the same time, someone who is newer to the community might be just as great of a host but only have one or two reviews. I recommend listening to your gut—even if all the reviews are good, if something doesn’t feel right, simply don’t request to stay with that person.
3. Choose a verified host: Now, this is not to say that non-verified hosts are not good choices (most of the hosts I’ve had did not fall into this category and they were fantastic). Still, this is a good indication that your host is genuinely committed to the community because they have to pay for their credentials to be verified in order to give you peace of mind.
A Typical Stay
Although each experience is going to be different depending on the host-surfer dynamic, a few things that I find to be common are the following:
1. Your host will expect to spend time with you: Unless you have something urgent to do right after you meet your Couchsurfing host (which I would give them a courteous heads-up about), be aware that your host is likely going to want to sit down and chat with you and/or take you out on a tour right away. They’re also likely to ask what your plans are during your stay—so he/she can coordinate.
Pro-Tip: I like to include a brief explanation of what I will be up to when I ask a potential host to stay with them. That way they know what I have in mind in terms of the amount of time together vs. activities I’ve already planned (and if it isn’t to their liking, they don’t have to accept me).
Dani's hosts gave her tips on which attractions to visit during her stay.
2. You probably won’t have a lot of free time: Perhaps this is just something I notice as an introvert, but I find Couchsurfing to be a very social experience-meaning that in many (though not all) cases, if your host sees you just relaxing around the house, they’re going to invite you to do something with them or at least join you on the couch and strike up a conversation. I’ve also gotten invited to join for dinner plans hosts have had with friends. All of these opportunities turned into great stories that I tell again and again, but the adventure often ends up being different than what I had initially imagined, so just keep yourself open to the possibilities.
3. You will see/do things you wouldn’t otherwise know about: Of course, one of the great draws of Couchsurfing is the chance to live like a local. Not only are you staying in the home of a local but, if you’re open to it, you’ll likely be incorporated into the life of a local. You’ll find yourself shopping at the open-air market, catching a live band at a hole-in-the-wall bar, or taste-testing craft beers at an off-the-beaten path biergarten. For this reason, even though the introvert in me sometimes comes away from a Couchsurfing weekend a bit exhausted, I keep going back because the experiences are unforgettable and certainly ones I would have never had otherwise.
The blog posts featured in this section are written by friends we've made around the globe that want to share their experiences, lessons they've learned, and tips and tricks.