I am an avid fan of Couchsurfing.org. By searching profiles, you can stay with strangers (for free!) all over the world. I have made long-lasting friends from crashing on their couches. I have seen small towns and huge cities from a local’s view. I rarely have a bad experience with Couchsurfing (CS), but I’m going to tell you the good, bad, and ugly as well as 9 tips for safe Couchsurfing (click to jump to the bottom of the post).
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surfing in New Mexico, taking shots of whiskey & pickle juice with our hosts
The porch of a home in Minnesota
Couchsurfing isn’t only for backpackers
I have surfed all over the world, half of the places I have been alone! I find it to be safe, convenient, and fun. Couchsurf requests aren’t the only helpful thing, sometimes a CS message can be very beneficial. I used CS messaging to make friends when I moved to Charlotte and didn’t know anyone. I know it sounds creepy, and the one that lied about his age (16) was creepy. But the rock climber dude and silk aerial chick are still my friends today!
Tim, John “chip”, Vanessa, and Lauren
One Direction Posters. I chose to stay with this family in a small town because they seemed nice and had never had anyone stop to surf.
Some of my all-time favorites were in small towns that I would’ve have seen without the organization. I used Couchsurfing on my Route 66 Road trip, as well as my drive back East across the North of the U.S.
Here is my Couchsurfing search hint: If you are looking to see the ulture and aren’t particularly worried about which town it’s in, search by who the person is first when you search by area/country then Google their city to see if It’s somewhere you’d like to go. In Fergus Falls I stayed at a hippie chic home on a beautiful lake (below). I hope that I have a chance to meet the mom of the family, Devora, as I missed her.
Ahh a nice room after a long day of driving cross-country
What if you don’t find anyone good on search?
Don’t just stay with someone because it’s free. If you can’t find a good match, then you shouldn’t use CS for that town. You can find cheap hostels all over the world, sometimes under $10. Even in London, I found one for $9. For cheap hostels, guesthouses, cute bnbs, or great deals on hotels I use Agoda.
If you want that experience of staying with someone but want it a little more safe or legit, you can try airbnb which is amazing and has reviews as well. I have a discount code for you: $40 off your stay if you use this airbnb link to book. I found great places in India and Hawaii on here!
Why should you couchsurf?
There are definite perks to CS’ing! Especially that time my host picked me up from the police station. Some places have wifi passwords and information to the house written out for you because they have CS’ers come by so often. I’ve CS’ed in Arkansas, Montana, Minnesota, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Delhi, Agra, Bombay, multiple cities in Spain and Holland, Switzerland, Albania, Czech Republic, Greece, and so many more! I’ve hosted as well while living in Charlotte and like taking foreigners out to bars and showing them how Americans party.
Anuar’s place in crazy Barcelona after he kindly got me from the police station
Goofing around with French surfers that stayed at my apartment in Charlotte, NC
CS place in Mumbai with Elise, who was my first friend in India!
Because of CS I have made great friends, had the best tapas Barcelona has to offer, Scuba-dived with a Greek god in Santorini, gotten into fancy parties at top clubs, local festivals, made new friends, and had a free place to stay and tour guide.
No one likes to say they use CS to save money, but I love saving money. It’s how I get to keep traveling. As long as you surf with someone you think you’ll get on with, you are getting a bonus of keeping some extra money in your pocket.
The dark side of couchsurfing
That was the good, but there are downsides to CS. You may dislike your host. Not because they are creepy, but maybe you just don’t have a thing in common or they are rude. Strangely this happens. I’ve had hosts not show up, or just give me a key and never show their faces again. I’ve had the creepy guys that were looking for a girlfriend. There are the ones that want to take you on a 10-hour tour of things they have memorized for everyone that stops by. This is why you MUST not settle just for a free place to stay. That’s not what CS is about. You need to find someone you think you’ll click with and message them multiple times before you go to see them.
I made a mistake in Delhi of staying with and Indian guy that I didn’t do enough research on. I was sick, tired, and just wanted someone local to show me through the chaos of the city. He had plenty of positive reviews but had I messaged him back and forth I would have seen something was off. He took advantage that I was sick and lied about having a bed for me. There was an incident where he made me uncomfortable. I left and he has since deleted his page. Below is my “bed”.Bad things can happen in general while you travel, but the less risk you take the better your chances are of staying safe. For example, if you stay at a 5-star hotel and they pick you up in a Mercedes!
If that’s not your style and you like to wing it or are a bit of a risk taker then you really should be traveling with insurance. I used World Nomads Journey Insurance. when I backpacked India (now that I live here, it’s a different type of plan). I highly suggest them. Lonely Planet chose them as the best, and most travel bloggers are fans as well. Check a quote and you’ll see it’s very affordable!
- SIGN UP EARLY. People won’t let you stay unless you have been on there a while or you won’t seem safe to them.
- Read all the reviews. Look for subtle hints from a reviewer who doesn’t want to just call the person out on being weird, but instead hints that they had problems.
- Message back and forth with the person about what they have planned while you’re there and make sure you like the same activities or you’ll feel trapped.
- Make sure they are not promoting something. The scams are starting to get annoying especially in India, where so many hosts are actually guesthouses.
- If they ask for gifts of money report them.
- If you get the 30 messages I get a week from creepo boys, just ignore them. If they send it as a CS request and it will make your answering percentage go down; just explain that in your information.
- Meet in a public place.
- Get their phone number ahead of time for if (when) you get lost.
- Tell friends where you’re staying.
- Tell your host what you want to do in their city so there isn’t confusion when you go out for a beer, but they have to work in the AM.
Getting ready for a big trip around the world? Read my guide to planning a trip from scratch to see how to get good deals on flights, see where you need a visa, packing tips, and literally everything else you need to know. You can also see my article on how to fly around Europe to 9 cities in 7 different countries for just $355 with my favorite booking site.
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