Budget travel: A guide to Couchsurfing
There’s nothing quite like seeing a place through the eyes of a local. Check out this quick guide to Couchsurfing and discover how this popular social network provides a ready-made circle of friends to stay with on your visit – a great way to get a behind-the-scenes look at everyday life in the cities you visit with your Eurail pass.
I started using Couchsurfing six years ago on a solo trip around Spain. I was using a Eurail pass and loved the idea of travelling freely from city to city, improving my Spanish and meeting locals along the way. It was wonderfully exciting, but also slightly daunting. I remember meeting my first host, Sergio, and being nervous about how we’d get along. Six years later and he’s still a great friend. In fact, I’ve met many of my favourite people through Couchsurfing, and I continue to use the site today, both surfing and hosting around the world.
Needless to say, I’m a massive fan of the site, so here’s a little guide for how to use Couchsurfing to find accommodation on your Eurail trip.
How does Couchsurfing work?
Couchsurfing is a network of people around the world who are either offering a place to stay or looking for one. It’s also possible to bypass the hosting and surfing, and simply meet up with people from the community.
Each member has a profile on the website that includes details about who they are and where they live. To look for a couch, simply browse through the profiles until you find someone you think you would like to stay with during your travels. You then need to send a request to the host, who will read your message and profile, check availability and let you know what’s possible. The website is free and very easy to use.
If your aim is to meet people, and not to host or stay with anyone, you can search for people who have set their status to ‘No couch available, but I’d like to hang out’. Members can also create groups in their cities – anything from weekly picnics to vegetarian and language exchange groups. These groups act as forum where you can ask questions or set up group meet-ups, and they serve as a great shortcut to meeting people in new places.
Safety is something I often get asked about, and the Couchsurfing reference system is great for this. Once you’ve stayed with, hosted, or met someone, you can leave a reference on their profile describing how the experience went. This helps future hosts and surfers get a better idea of what the person is like. Experienced users can also vouch for people to say they are trustworthy, which shows up on their profile. Once you have been vouched for three times, you can then vouch for others.
- Make a profile on Couchsurfing.org.
- Set your profile to say whether you are: available for hosting other travellers, don’t have a couch but want to hang out with other people from the community, or are currently travelling and looking for places to stay.
- If you’ve set your status to being a host, then wait for the requests to roll in.
- If you’re a traveller, start searching for hosts in the places you’d like to visit, and send a request for your required dates.
- If you want to hang out with people with similar interests, search the groups that your home, or the place you’re visiting, has to offer.
Besides the basics, there are lots of useful tips for how to get the most out of Couchsurfing. In a future post, I’ll share my own top ten Couchsurfing tips, learned over six years of surfing.