Most people think I'm crazy when I tell them that I'm staying with a stranger in Trinidad. I haven't found myself in any freezers as of lately, so I think I'm safe...but really who knows. My host's name is Phyllis, but I like to call her Philly and she is quite possibly the warmest individual I have met throughout any of my travels.
Now, I'm sure you have a ton of questions. Are you crazy? (Yes.) Why are you staying with this woman? (Because I can.) What are you doing? (Couchsurfing.) What the hell is that? (Read on...)
Welcome to Couchsurfing. An online community of travelers who love to travel, but don't have much to spend. Let's say for example, you're going to Greece. You've paid for your ticket (which I hope you got a good deal on) and now you're looking at accommodation. Couchsurfing allows you to stay with different hosts from across the globe for free. Did you guys catch that? FOR FREE.
I know you're like "WHATTT??!?!?!!" "How do I do that??!?!?!!?" Well...let me explain.
You begin by creating an online profile here, where you let people know a little bit about yourself: what you like, what you love to do, places you've been, etc. You then search for hosts who are accepting guests and send them requests to stay with them for a duration of time. So, going back to the Greece example, I would find a couple hosts in Greece who are accepting guests, send each of them a small blurb about when I want to stay with them, what I'm coming for, and when I'll be leaving and wait for a reply. Hearing back from the hosts could take a while depending on how often they visit the site, so make sure you reach out to a couple different hosts.
When choosing which hosts you'll reach out to, I always suggest that you stay with an individual who has many references. Make sure to read these references and see what others are saying about the individual, the space, the location of the home etc. If you would feel uncomfortable in the setting described, do yourself a favor and find another host.
Once you finally find a host who is willing to welcome you into your home, you coordinate with them accordingly to accommodate your arrival and your stay. You are now not only touring, but seeing the country/city/state from a native's perspective, and for me, that's what traveling is all about. Instead of the touristy places, you'll get to see all the "hole-in-the-wall" eats and locations. Instead of being a visitor in your new destination, you transform into a traveler. That's what I love about couchsurfing, it opens you up to a world of possibilities, and the whole damn thing is free.
Once you've created your online profile, you become a host as well. This doesn't mean that you have to host guests, but it's how the community works, so I would strongly suggest that you open your home to a stranger, just like someone is willing to do (or did) for you. If you still don't feel comfortable with the idea of staying with a stranger, you can still utilize couchsurfing. If you're visiting a country and want to meet up with some locals, you can contact some hosts and see if they're free to show you around. You can post discussion questions about your area, and some people even use it to find others who are willing to travel with them.
I'm not saying you'll stay in the nicest places, but you'll have a roof over your head, and you're guaranteed a couch if nothing else. Philly, my couchsurfing host, has given me a whole room to myself, so it all depends on what your host has available. As you're staying with strangers, and don't want to be locked up in any freezers, I've given you some pro-tips.
- Make sure your host has a good amount of references, you can even go so far as to check your reference's references.
- Be brave and be open
- If you don't feel comfortable, then LEAVE, no one is forcing you to stay
- Be clear of the house rules so that you and your host don't have any issues
- Stay tidy and neat, especially if you're staying in a common area
- Let someone know where you are and who you're staying with
- Try to arrive in the day, foreign places can be scary at night
- If you see something that you can help with, do so, it's the least you can do (i.e. dishes, cleaning etc.)
The essence of couchsurfing is that you shouldn't have to spend loads of money to see the world. If you find a cheap flight (read here to see how), the next largest expense is always accommodation, and couchsurfing handles that for you. For all of the people who have wondered what it would mean to be able to see the world on a budget, your time is now. Couchsurfing allows you to stay with, connect, and experience genuinely amazing places and individuals who love to travel, not cheaply, but absolutely for free.