What Is Couchsurfing?

How to Get Free Accommodation: Is Couchsurfing Safe?

What Is Couchsurfing?
••• Couchsurfing doesn't always mean sleeping on couches: you'll find beds, too!. Greg Rodgers

A social and travel-changing phenomenon, people have been asking "what is couchsurfing?" every time they hear that there's an opportunity to secure free accommodation -- and perhaps new friends, even -- before visiting a new place.

The idea behind couchsurfing is simple: "couchsurfers" leverage the hospitality of friendly people around the world who open their homes to travelers -- an act of kindness that dates back millennia.

Couchsurfing is a remarkable way to travel for cheap; travelers of all budgets have been taking advantage since the site launched in 2004. Even with using a few tricks to save money on accommodation, sleeping costs add up on a trip. Couchsurfing.com -- the social website that makes connecting travelers with free places to stay easier -- now has millions of members in countries around the world!

What Is Couchsurfing?

While the term "couch surfing" loosely refers simply to staying with hosts while you travel, most people associate the concept with couchsurfing.com -- a social site to help budget travelers and backpackers to meet potential hosts in different countries.

Hosts, who are often former travelers or expatriates wanting to meet, help, and interact with travelers, sign up on couchsurfing.com to share their homes. You can find free accommodation for short durations ranging from simple couches to spare bedrooms and dedicated guest cottages.

Not only is your place to sleep free, you get to potentially befriend locals who know your new destination well -- a huge, money-saving advantage while on the road!

Couchsurfing can dramatically lower your expenses when traveling in expensive places such as Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore. Hosts are usually interested in learning about your culture, practicing English, or just enjoying your company as a break from their regular routine.

Typically, the only thing asked in return for a free stay is some level of interaction, although taking a gift to your host is a nice gesture.

The CouchSurfing.com Website

Couchsurfing.com first became a public website in 2004 as a way to match travelers with willing hosts. The site operates much in the way of other social websites such as Facebook; people add friends, build profiles, upload photos, and can send messages.

Signing up for an account on couchsurfing.com is free, however, members can optionally pay a small fee to become "verified" for more credibility.

Couchsurfing.com offers more than just a place to stay. People often meet new real-life friends, find travelmates, join meetups, and gather information about destinations where they are traveling. The community pages come in handy for everything from asking questions about a city to buying a bicycle or getting settled into a place for an extended stay.

The groups on couchsurfing.com are operated by local volunteers known as ambassadors. Local groups often have informal meetings and gather for events and outings periodically.

Even when not traveling, you can use the groups and ambassadors to meet fellow travelers and interesting people at home!

The Benefits of Couchsurfing

Aside from the obvious benefit of finding a free place to stay, couchsurfing can enhance your trip far beyond simple accommodation. A good host will show you the sights, offer advice on where to go, and will provide you a deeper insight on a destination beyond what guide books give.

Rather than being a tourist in a horde of other tourists, your local friend will know the insider hotspots and can offer money-saving advice for sights and activities. Friends made through couchsurfing are often friends for life.

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Another often-overlooked benefit of couchsurfing is the fact that you may have access to a kitchen.

Grocery shopping and then cooking meals at "home" is cheaper and healthier than eating out in restaurants every day as travelers often do.

Is Couchsurfing Safe?

Although constant bombardment of bad news from the media makes staying with complete strangers seem inherently dangerous, couchsurfing.com's ingenious system does what it can to help weed out bad hosts and guests.

First, you can choose what type of host you with whom you wish to stay (e.g., male, female, couple, etc) and can get a feel for their personalities based on their public profiles. The more time and information put into a profile, the better. You can see reviews left by other travelers who stayed before you, and even contact those travelers to see if they had a good experience and would stay with a particular host again.

The couchsurfing.com website once made use of a vouching system to increase safety. Vouching was retired in 2014, but old vouches from members still exist.

Hosts know that acting poorly toward guests will result in negative ratings and reviews, basically eliminating their chances of hosting travelers in the future. This is usually enough to keep members in check.

As with any social network with millions of members, you are ultimately responsible for your own personal safety when making contact with strangers.

How to Be a Good CouchSurfer

Although couchsurfing is completely free, remember that your hosts do not have to offer up their homes and time -- they are doing so to meet people and to form new friendships. Be a good couchsurfer by getting to know your host; plan to spend a little time with them rather than just turning up when it is time to sleep.

Consider bringing a small gift or token from your home to give to friendly hosts, and always leave a nice referral for them on couchsurfing.com if your experience was positive.

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