A Beginners Guide to Couchsurfing
Have you ever wanted to see the world but realised that your budget just may not cover your lofty travel ambitions? Or you think you’ve found a great deal on an airfare but are finding it hard to source decent accommodation in a central location without paying the earth? Granted, there are plenty of great hostels and budget guest houses in all the major tourist locations, but if you’re interested in keeping costs at as low as possible then couchsurfing might just be for you.
Joining the couchsurfing network is incredibly simple and by doing so you’ll have access to almost 4 million like-minded members willing to open their homes for an agreed length of time. It’ll cost you nothing – although you are expected to contribute to expenses such as food – and you’ll have the benefit of a local expert on hand to make sure you make the most of your stay.
I’ve tried couchsurfing on two occasions and the social aspect of the scheme far outweighs the financial benefits. On my first trip to South Africa, to say I was apprehensive was an understatement. I’d bombarded myself with internet searches on crime and danger and had decided couchsurfing was the way to go as I would have a local with me to steer me out of harms way. Not that I needed it really, as South Africa is a wonderful country with awesome people, but the added peace of mind was worth it.
I picked my host carefully using www.couchsurfing.org. The site gives you access to the profiles of potential hosts and will enable you to make an informed decision. As it was my first try I went for a member that had been checked and identified and had a good number of reviews from female travellers. I needn’t have worried, as my host was absolutely wonderful, picked my up from the airport, left me at peace in the house to recover from jet lag and then took me on tours and sightseeing trips that I never would have done or could have afforded alone. At the end of my trip I felt I’d made a new friend and seen a different side to a country that went further than the usual tourist sites.
Other hosts may not be as hands on, and you can use the profile details on the website to pick the host that best suits your needs. On my second trip, this time to Spain, I knew the lay of the land and the things I wanted to do, so I went for a host who was offering the couch and who would be at work all day and in bed early in the evenings. It gave me the chance to do my thing without offending anyone, and my host was happy when I did the shopping and left the place tidy. There is something for everyone in this craze and it’s a brilliant way to see the world on a budget.
Looking at it from the other side I realised that my own home could be published online and open for visit, so I decided to start accepting potential couchsurfers. There’s no obligation to accept every request, and you need to be sure to be comfortable with whom you have chosen to stay in your house. Luckily, the reference and vouching system ensures there will be a good chance you’ve picked the right person for your home. If I’m hosting a male, I’ll always have a friend stay too just to be safe, but I’ve never had a bad experience. The guests don’t cost anything and you’ll benefit in perhaps free shopping or they’ll maybe treat you to a meal out. And of course, the benefits of having someone from a different country to share experiences and different cultural views with are enormous. I’m more of a hands on host and enjoy taking tourists round my city, but if I’m busy or working then I’ll leave enough instructions or literature for them to fend by themselves.
The best part of the couchsurfing experience? I can’t decide. It might be the local knowledge I get from hosts when I’m in their country and their advice and company if I’m travelling alone. Or it might be the financial benefits over staying in a hostel or hotel. Or the opportunity to see my own city through the eyes of a tourist. Whatever it is, it’s an excellent experience and an eye opener which I highly recommended.