We’ve all done it – crashed on a friend’s couch after a memorable night of chatting, laughing, and drinking cheap wine. Now some travelers have taken this universal custom a step further and founded the CouchSurfing Project—a worldwide network of people offering free accommodations (in the form of comfy couches) to travelers looking to cut costs and make new friends.
Here’s how it works: Set up a profile on CouchSurfing.com. Once you have travel plans, you can search for couches in the cities you’re planning to visit. You’ll then receive a list of hosts in the areas you’ve specified whom you can go ahead and contact. The hosts will get back to you if they have a couch available on the dates you need. And after you decide which couch suits you best—voila!—you’ve got a free place to stay and a new friend who most likely knows the city better than any hotel concierge.
This idea was formed a few years ago by New Hampshire native Casey Fenton, who e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking them if he could crash on their couches. The responses he received were overwhelming. After spending an amazing weekend exploring Reykjavik with his Icelandic rhythm-and-blues-singing host, Fenton decided he would never stay in a hotel again.
While not everyone feels comfortable crashing at a stranger’s house, Fenton and company have devised ways to put travelers at ease when searching for hosts. For instance, CouchSurfing has a vouching system that allows surfers to vouch for their hosts. There is also a verification process to ensure that a host’s information (such as name and address) is correct and up-to-date.
The nonprofit CouchSurfing Project has more than 300,000 registered CouchSurfers in 220 regions (including Antarctica) and 31,731+ cities around the world. The average age of CouchSurfing members is 26, but there are 53 members over the age of 80; so no matter what type of hospitality you’re looking for, or where you’re looking for it, you’re bound to find a couch somewhere.
IT can’t think of a better way to save money, meet new friends, and find the comforts of home while traveling. Not to mention the fact that opting for couches over hotels ultimately reduces your carbon footprint, and who can argue with that?
- Nat Geo Expeditions