Budget traveling: Couchsurfing

If you have never heard about the concept couchsurfing before, it will probably sound weird to you. However, if you are looking for unforgettable non-touristic experiences, meeting amazing people and are traveling on a low budget, I can’t recommend it more.

couchsurfing.com is a world-wide network of travelers, which allows you to do any (or any possible combination) of the following:

  • host fellow travelers who are looking for place to stay
  • meet fellow travelers to show them around or just hang out with them
  • stay at somebody’s place at your travel destination
  • meet local people at your travel destination who may show your around or hang out with you

And yes, all of it is free of charge and is based on trust and free will of the members of the network. Also, it’s really safe, although as with everything in this life, common sense is necessary when using couchsurfing as means of traveling.

Important things to know before you start:

  • Make sure that your profile has a lot of information about you, including photos. It will help your future hosts to determine if they want to accept your request or not. Everyone has to start somewhere, and in most of the cases you will start without a single reference on your profile, so make sure that the rest of it tells a lot about you. There are many people in couchsurfing that will be willing to host you even if you have no references, but you should invest time in creating your profile before you start contacting potential hosts.
  • Choose carefully. Read the profile and the references your potential hosts have. My main advice here is that you should trust your gut feeling. If there is even the smallest feeling that there is something wrong with the person, just leave it and go to the next one. Couchsurfing is really safe and I nothing bad has ever happened to me, but there are crazy people out there anywhere in the world, and couchsurfing is not an exception.
  • Couchsurfing is not a dating site, so beware of people who might be using it for other reasons that traveling. If you see that a host you are about to contact is hosting people of only one gender, you may want to take this into account and look for somebody else.
  • To increase your chances of getting accepted by a host, look for someone who has things in common with you – maybe you both like music or are learning Arabic? Finding things you share with a potential host will not only help you to write a personalized request and explain why you want to stay with them and not with somebody else, but will also make your stay with them more enriching and pleasant to both of you.
  • Couchsurfing is not about crashing somebody’s couch for free for an unlimited time – it’s about respect, cultural exchange and spending some quality time with your hosts. There are no written rules nor obligations, but cooking a traditional dish from your home country to your hosts, or bringing them a souvenir will be always be warmly accepted.
  • Couchsurfing is not a hotel service, and even though a lot of times your hosts will invite you to share their meal or take you out for a drink or two, don’t expect them to clean after you or do your dishes. Be respectful and treat their home as if it were yours.
  • Although there are no rules about the number of days you can ask someone to host you for, your chances to get accepted by a host will increase if you request no more than 2-3 days. Most of the people who are hosting through couchsurfing live busy lives and will be more willing to let you in if they know you won’t be staying there for too long.
  • A lot of times hosts will offer not only a couch or a bed at their place but also clean bedsheets, towels, etc, but if that’s not clear from their profile online, it might be useful to ask about it before you pack your bags.
  • References are very important. Make sure that you leave an honest reference to your hosts. Another unwritten rule is that the guest usually is the first one to write a reference to his/her host. The better guest you are, the faster you will earn good references and build a trustworthy profile, which will open doors for your future travels. In the rare case of a bad experience, do not omit it and explain it in your reference. It will help other travelers to avoid these types of experiences.
  • Couchsurfing does not mean a direct exchange of couches. In other words, if you are hosted by someone, it does not mean that sometime in the future you must host that same person at your home. Actually, it does not mean that you have to open your doors at all and accept couchsurfers if you travel as a guest, but the whole couchsurfing philosophy is about giving and not only taking. You will find a lot of hosts on your way who started off as guests and ended up as hosts when they got established and had a bigger place they felt they could share.
  • When you plan your trip, you should have in mind that not all the hosts will give you the keys of their apartments. Some of them will specify these things in their profiles, but some of them won’t. If your traveling plans include late night activities, make sure you clarify these details before your arrival. A lot of times the hosts will give you the keys once they had spent some time with you and had a chance to get to know you. Trust is key.

Currently I am not using couchsurfing as traveling means that much anymore, but I must admit that a lot of my best traveling experiences are related to couchsurfing, and I still host people from time to time at home. It’s time to give back now.

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