As the final installation in this series of Financial Travel Tips about free accommodation, let’s talk about getting free accommodation with couch surfing.
What is Couch Surfing?
Although the term was coined and popularized by a service/website called CouchSurfing, it lends itself to a wider phenomenon referred to as a hospitality exchange.
The concept is simple: travelers are connected with and stay with local hosts in their homes. There are a few web resources to pave the way (listed below), and you can often create your own couch surfing opportunities as you travel and meet people along the way. (For example, two weeks of volunteering in Spain led me to a further four months of couch surfing experiences all around Europe).
Couch Surfing Resources
Below are some sites (most are free to join) to connect travelers with free accommodation and local hosts. In some cases, local hosts are only offering advice or a coffee meeting and orientation – which can be equally valuable, and result in new friendships.
As the namesake of the concept, CouchSurfing is one of the most popular resources. You can also find local CouchSurfing chapters and meetings around the world, which are apparently a blast. The people I know who use CouchSurfing love it.
Any formal couch surfing I’ve done has been through this website, which has an extensive worldwide membership (and a high concentration on Europe).
I haven’t used this service since membership is contingent on being in a position to host a traveler within six months (to ensure its membership has a proper balance of hosts and travelers and that the spirit of free accommodation is accepted with the desire to give back to other travelers in the same way). I like the concept, but with my full-time travels it was impossible to commit to being a host.
This one is just for the ladies, and although it’s not geared towards free accommodation, it’s a venue for meeting local women around the world to have your questions answered and assistance given as needed. Sometimes a new friendship and offer of accommodation can ensue. Here’s the scoop on HERmail.
Founded in March 2016, this fast-growing service is a unique combination of language and hospitality exchanges. Hosts who wish to practice a foreign language offer free accommodation to travelers of that mother tongue. I look forward to using this one in the future.
Couch Surfing Etiquette: The Unwritten Rules
There is nothing worse than a bad guest. So don’t be one! Here’s how:
Good house guests are like fresh produce: they go off after a few days.
Unless otherwise specified, don’t expect to impose for more than about three days. If a friendship and offer to stay longer blossoms, great. But the “probationary” period of a few days is best – for everybody.
Bring a Gift
Although you can buy a gift towards the end of your stay (when you know the host – and what they’d like – better), it’s nice to arrive with a gift too. Even a bottle of wine is a lovely gesture.
Do as your hosts do; observe them, and pitch in wherever you can. Some hosts will (initially) eschew your efforts, but it’s polite to try and help – and in many cases your help will be accepted and appreciated.
Leave No Trace
Don’t leave your crap all over the house; signs of your ablutions and messy lifestyle have no place here. Store your things neatly and in one place, and clean up after yourself as you go (wherever you go).
Keeping it Safe
Since you’re meeting – and accepting the hospitality of – a complete stranger, it’s good to arrange a first meeting in a public place so you can (both) ensure you’re comfortable. Many of the above sites have a passport authentication element to confirm identities and create an element of safety, but it’s ultimately up to you to trust your gut instincts.
Contact hosts who have fully completed their profile (because you’ve fully completed yours, right?) and with whom you share common interests, and create a dialog before you meet. This initial period of communication is important to ensure there’s a good (and safe) fit.
Managing an Online Business?
I haven’t done much couch surfing because it’s not entirely conducive to a lifestyle of managing an online business. Here’s why:
Interested in Free Accommodation?
Couch surfing isn’t the only way to enjoy free digs around the world. I’ve been doing it in one form or another since 2007. Check out this jam-packed resource to help you make your next trip a lot cheaper – and probably more enriching:
How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World