#920 Travel Savings: Sleep On Someone’s Couch

4 Mar

The couchsurfing host's cat greets the author in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The Couchsurfing host’s cat greets the author in Reykjavik, Iceland.

I have a weakness for plane tickets. Not the type of purchase I should make regularly, especially when I’m a student. At the same time, wanderlust is in my blood and most of the time, the expensive part of travel is not the plane ticket itself. The part that adds up is the nights of hotels and hostels and eating out in restaurants. My philosophy has become: If I can get myself there, I’ll live on bread and water and sleep on someone’s couch. What matters is that I’m there.

Couch? Who’s couch? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone in Budapest and that’s not going to make it easy to find a willing couch. The good news is that it is easy to find a couch, anywhere you go in the world.

A Couchsurf turns into a birthday picnic in Rome.

A Couchsurf turns into a birthday picnic in Rome.

I started using Couchsurfing.org in 2009 when I was studying abroad in Paris. Since my first stay with a Couchsurfing host in Rome, I have become a convert. I have Couchsurfed in six countries with ten different hosts with an estimated total of over fifty days of traveling over several years. However, most people raise an eyebrow when they find out that I, a single female, have traveled alone and stayed in “unknown” people’s homes in foreign countries… The thought is sketchy, and if you let your imagination run away with you, it’s enough to dissuade you from trying it.

Fear not! I am here to explain the concept, give some tips, dispel some myths and tell some stories about Couchsurfing.

Couch-Finding Strategies or How to Get Hosted!

Additional naps may occur when out touring the Roman countryside with your Couchsurf host.

Additional naps may occur when out touring the Roman countryside with your Couchsurf host.

The Honor System: Couchsurfing operates on an honor system. Once you create a profile, you need to get people to write you a recommendation verifying that you are a real and good person. No one will host you if you do not have recommendations. In addition, recommendations cannot be deleted, so if you ever get a negative review, you can kiss your Couchsurfing career goodbye. Only the person who wrote it can change that recommendation. It is in your best interest to be a good guest and in your host’s best interest to be a good host in order for everyone to continue to participate in the community.

Finding a good host entails reading profiles extensively and thoroughly. It takes much more time than booking a hotel to sift through profiles, reading them and writing personalized messages to hosts, but it is well worth the time. Hosts are in high demand and do not like receiving generic messages that show you clearly did not take the time to read their profile. If you do take the time, you can find some gems of people!

You also have to trust your instinct. If you ever get a bad feeling from a profile, move on. There are plenty of great hosts out there that you don’t need to risk staying with someone from whom you get a weird feeling. For women looking at profiles of male hosts, read their recommendation section carefully and see if there are other females traveling alone who have written them a recommendation and see what they said. A lot of times this is very telling about who is safe and trustworthy. Watch out for profiles that do not have recommendations from surfers and only from close friends of that person. Fellow surfers are the best people to rely on in terms of how good a host is.

Traveling with friends or in a couple? No problem. A lot of hosts take multiple people. You can enter in your search criteria how many people are traveling with you and hosts who take multiples will show up. Three surfers at a time staying with one host is the most I’ve seen in my surfing days. It’s best if everyone traveling with you has a profile and recommendations.

Rules and Etiquette

Want to meet locals? Couchsurf. Here the host and his daughter take the author to Icelandic National day celebrations.

Want to meet locals? Couchsurf. Here the host and his daughter take the author to Icelandic National day celebrations.

Couchsurfing hosts are not hotels. Treat a host’s home like they are just a money-saving technique, and you will quickly get booted from the community. The spirit of Couchsurfing relies on cultural exchange, meeting new people and friendship. From my travels, I have met up with three of my hosts again in other countries, maintained contact with eight of them and consider two of them life-long friends. I would not have experienced such good outcomes if I had waltzed in and acted entitled. That’s not the spirit. It’s about respecting the generosity of your host and embracing the opportunity to meet someone new. What you put into it is what you get out of it.

That being said, it is important to treat your host to a meal or bring a gift. Depending on my financial circumstances at the time, I try to always bring my hosts a gift (a bottle of wine or chocolate) or treat them to dinner one night that I am staying with them. With two hosts who then became good friends, I did not have much to share at the time so I left them each with a handwritten poem. It doesn’t have to cost money, but it should show that you care and appreciate them opening their home to you.

Couchsurfing is a great way to save money but more importantly, it is a way to find friends in every country and every city you visit. You will meet welcoming, kind and interesting people if you play your cards right, and of course, you’ll be able to travel on a very slim budget!

This guest post is brought to you by Caroline Fish who has traveled the world on a budget since she was 12 including on travel awards in high school and college for her outstanding community service and social justice work. She is a grad student studying social work and law and blogs about travel and life at carolinashleyabroad.wordpress.com.

All photos are the author’s.

One Response to “#920 Travel Savings: Sleep On Someone’s Couch”

  1. Kate June 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    OH MY GOODNESS! I am so happy you sent me the link to this post and your AWWWWEEEEESOMEEEEEE blog! I ADORE the idea and title. I actually have thought of doing some posts on how I live thrifty lol if I do I will send them your way. Thanks again for the comment! Good to connect!

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