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Your Couchsurfing Survival Guide

Written by Adrienne Wolter, Community Blogger | May 5, 2014 8:21 AM

You want to travel the world, but there has been a tight lock around your available funds. With the rising cost of flights, gas and hotels, it's hard to make ends meet. What "fun" money are you left with to actually enjoy your vacation after all your savings has been spent on your budget necessities?

Think back to a time when you were strapped for cash in grade school or college. What did you do to get by? How did you still manage to see your friends and make unforgettable memories? We couldn't reserve a hotel room as teenagers or even think about affording one. So, what did we do? We crashed on our friends' (or often, their parents') couches.

Whether watching TV, gossiping about our friend circle, ordering pizza or having a game night, we sat on couches. We hid behind couch pillows during scary movies. If we came home late from a dance or a concert, we crashed for the night on a couch. If we wanted to watch the big game, we sprawled out on a couch. Let's face it, our youth was spent travelling from couch to couch.

Today, couchsurfing has become one of the most popular boarding means for travelers. Like our younger years, we are going back to the idea of freedom with a price tag of "free." Below you will find some of the essentials to survive couchsurfing around the globe.

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Photo by Dave Austria

What is couchsurfing?

Since 1999, Couchsurfing, a global online community, has flourished. Like-minded travelers and users go online to share their space or request a couch to stay for the night. Through this free service, over 2.5 million couchsurfers have had the opportunity to explore the world, make memories and build friendships everywhere they go.

You can join Couchsurfing for free and try experiencing a new language or learn a new culture behind the tourist attractions. Your couch host can inform you about the ins and outs of touring in their neighborhood and give you the scoop on local information and fun places to eat and visit. You can see the world without spending your life savings.

How do you couchsurf?

Through the easy-to-navigate platform, you can create an account and view pictures of hosts available spaces to stay. Then, if you see something you like, you can send a message proposing a date you'd like to visit and wait for an approval to make arrangements for your stay. Or, if you want to be a host, you can post pictures of your empty space for others to come see you.

Just remember that when you surf, make sure you are upholding the communities' core values of tolerance, respect and cultural understanding and appreciation. Together, this community strives to appreciate one another and make connections and friendships along the way.

What is proper couchsurfing etiquette?

Every host is different, but no matter what, understand that staying as someone's guest is nothing like having a free night's stay in a hotel. The site discusses how you should leave the space even better than it was before to show your consideration and demonstrate responsibility. Also, never overstay your welcome, as couchsurfing is about sharing and not taking advantage of one another.

You may feel like you should tip or provide cash to your host as a token of your appreciation. However, this will baffle your veteran hosts as money is not the object of the couchsurfing community. Instead, since hosts do not have to feed you, offer to make dinner, run errands or help them with some chores like performing some air conditioning repair. The goal of couchsurfing is to give back and help a fellow couchsurfer. As that is expected is that you offer up your available space for another traveler as someone once did for you.

Is couchsurfing safe?

As with any encounter with strangers, there is always an element of risk. The couchsurfing community is run by moderators to help screen hosts, but you really have to trust your instincts. There are verification processes where a member pays a small fee and a code gets sent to their house to enter on the site. This proves the host's dwelling exists, but it doesn't always determine what kind of person lives there. Always make sure to communicate though the platform and when in doubt, surf with a friend for extra security.

How do you get to know good couchsurfers?

Know your couch hosts before you agree to stay by checking their references and reading their feedback. Look for positive feedback and try to meet them in a public place face-to-face first. You can ensure good hosts by being a good guest yourself. Respect the host and their property. Hopefully, by the end of the experience, you have made a new friend and keep connected with one another.

What should I look out for when couchsurfing?

Read your potential hosts' profile carefully for some common warning signs. Avoid surfers with few reports. At no time should you ever feel uncomfortable. If you begin to, it's okay to leave and reconsider your stay. Listen to your instincts and do your research on your host. Women have to be extra careful to avoid men seeking "females only" or requesting to Skype. Looks aren't important, the journey is, so stay away from those curious about your appearance. To be safest, women should seek other females or surf with a friend. Just watch out for stranger danger.

What should I do if something doesn't work out with my couch host?

Always have a backup plan and have a friend text you as soon as you arrive to see how you are. Make sure you have alternative accommodations if you feel uncomfortable or your host falls through. A good rule-of-thumb is to look for active profiles as they will be the most reliable.

If you want a cheaper alternative to travel, try couchsurfing. It will give you a great opportunity to be immersed in a new culture and experience. Just don't become a couch potato, make sure you leave the couch behind.

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