Couch surfing can mean a couple of different things. One is the equivalent to being a couch potato. That kind of couch surfing is bad. Very bad. Another meaning refers to someone who’s staying with different friends or family members while “between” permanent residences. That kind of couch surfing can get you classified as either desperate but resourceful or a dreadful mooch. Along the lines of that second meaning, couch surfing can also refer to low-budget travelers who choose to stay in host homes rather than in hotels. It falls into the category of “non-traditional” travel housing, similar to AirBnB or hostels. Couchsurfing is a company that offers a network of hosts in numerous cities across many countries that are willing to offer free lodging to travelers on a budget. Couch surfing can be a great way to get an insider’s look at your next travel destination for a lot less money than staying in a hotel. Below, you’ll find some of the biggest benefits to this new way of seeing the world.
First, though, let’s acknowledge the obvious first question most people have: Is it really safe? Couchsurfing (and other reputable companies that offer similar networks) works very hard to ensure that host families are on the up and up. Hosts have to submit photos and profiles that let you know who they are, what their backgrounds and interests are, and what accommodations they offer couchsurfers. All guests are asked to review their hosts and leave feedback for the next prospective guests. Choosing a host family with multiple positive reviews helps ensure that you’ll have the same awesome, and safe, experience as those who’ve gone before you. Anyone who’s “up to no good” won’t put in the time and effort required to establish a successful profile. Additionally, staying with locals can make the rest of your trip a little safer since locals can let you know what areas you might want to avoid.
Now, on to the benefits that go beyond your budget.
Staying with locals can be a much better way to learn about your destination city than any travel guide. Published guides tend to be limited to the most popular tourist attractions. Locals can take you to the restaurants they love, which are often less expensive and maybe even more authentic than those you’ll find in guides. Traveling locally with locals will expose you to much more of the real heart of a city than following the usual tourist routes.
Companies like Couchsurfing offer you the ability to choose your host based on your preferences. These preferences can include things like gender, age, smoker friendly or smoke free, and hobbies or interests. You’ll even know how many other people live in the house, so you can choose to say with a single person or couple if you want a quieter stay, or opt for a house full of roommates for a busier atmosphere. Being able to find a host that shares your interests gives you a greater chance of seeing your vacation city through eyes most like yours, meaning you’ll get to see more of the sights that mean the most to you.
Another benefit to couch surfing is that it works well even for solo travelers. It can be hard to coordinate travel plans with friends and family members, but being in a new city all by yourself can be a downer. Couch surfing allows you to travel solo without feeling alone. Instead, you’ll feel more like a houseguest with hosts who want to show you their world. At the other end of this spectrum, couch surfing can also be great for those traveling with friends or family, as interacting with your hosts can mean you and your traveling companions aren’t stuck with each other 24/7, which can get old pretty quickly sometimes.
Whether you want to travel domestically or abroad, going the nontraditional travel housing route can give you an insider’s view to your next destination without the expense of an impersonal hotel.
Or at least at a seriously reduced rate. For totally free world travel, you’ll have to find an employer that does business abroad and will cover travel and lodging expenses. Or join the military. If neither of these options is for you, there are still a few ways to see some of the amazing places in the world for far, far less than you might think.
Get a job in a foreign country
Many foreign countries love having native English speakers teaching English to children and adults alike. You’ll likely have to pay to get yourself there and secure lodging, but once you start working, you’ll be getting paid to live abroad. A teaching job also gives you great access to locals, who can help you make the most of your time by helping you find restaurants, attractions, and other local gems that you won’t find in any travel guide.
You also can sometimes find short-term jobs in foreign countries (and parts of the US) working as a camp counselor. Room and board are usually included, so you can save your paychecks to fund future travel.
Find a house-swapping program or someone who needs a house sitter
There are an increasing number of programs that allow people from various countries to arrange temporary house swaps. You want to visit their country, they want to visit yours, so you just trade places for a predetermined amount of time. In addition to saving money on hotels, you’ll likely save money on food, since your free house comes with a kitchen.
House sitting is another way to save on a hotel. Homeowners who are going to be away for an extended amount of time will allow you to stay in their home free of charge in exchange for looking after the place while they’re gone. You save money on lodging and food; they have some extra peace of mind because their home isn’t sitting empty, a possible invitation to burglars.
Leverage your current travel
If you do a significant amount of travel now involving air travel or hotel stays, make sure you’re taking full advantage of available rewards programs. Some airlines and hotel chains offer free flights or free nights as loyalty rewards. Some credit cards offer airline miles for purchases of any kind. Other credit cards offer nice cash-back programs. Taking advantage of these types of incentive programs means that a few trips paid in full can get you a free getaway.
Join the Peace Corps
This one does involve a 27-month commitment, so it’s not for the casual traveler or globe trotter, but it can be a very rewarding experience. The Peace Corps has a stated mission of promoting understanding between Americans and residents of foreign countries and “To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.” They offer a variety of programs for adult volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. While work with the Peace Corps is considered volunteer work, housing and a living stipend are provided. Additionally, the Peace Corps offers medical and dental benefits for active volunteers and an exit payment (currently $8000.00) to help with the transition back home.
Overall, there are a number of rewarding ways to see some of the world even if your bank account doesn’t afford you world-class luxury.