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.