What is Couchsurfing you ask? Well, only the greatest thing to happen to spare rooms and couches. It is actually a website that matches you with a host anywhere in the world. They give you a couch to sleep on, and maybe a tour of their city. According to the website, "Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect."
I tested this out last weekend in Brussels. I spent one night in an apartment owned by a lovely girl named Klara. She gave me a spare mattress to sleep on and couldn't have been a more gracious host. Here are seven reasons I highly recommend this to you.
Yes, totally free. No hotel fees, no tipping the concierge. The site was started in the U.S. by people who found a cheap flight to Iceland and wanted a free place to stay. Although it is free, it is nice if you buy your host dinner or bring a small gift as a token of appreciation. After all, they are trusting you as a guest in their home.
I would host Klara in a heartbeat should she come to New York. She was not obligated to show me any of the city, but she gave me a two-hour walking tour so I could get my bearings and then let me explore for a while. We met for dinner later. After traveling alone for the last few weeks, it was nice to talk to someone about life.
In many places, this is crucial. They can tell you the "good" areas and direct you away from danger. They can recommend the best place to eat, drink and avoid tons of tourists. They are your insider guide to the city.
I love food. Finding a delicious meal is high on my list of things that make me extremely happy. Klara and I went to an amazing restaurant (you could tell not only from the food but also from the long lines). She introduced me to a local dish that I actually went back and got the next day. She also showed me where to get the best frites and waffles in town; her recommendation was right.
Couchsurfing can be done with others, but if you were a host would you want to be outnumbered by strangers? There are people with multiple spare couches or couples inviting other couples to stay. This site might sound frightening to some, but it's a bit like online dating. You get an idea of who the person is from their profile and who has recommended them, and they see if they would get along with you based on your profile. You send a message requesting a certain day, and then you message a bit to see if it works. I lucked out with a super-friendly person who had time to show me around.
Come on, how many of your friends are going to stay at a total stranger's house in a place far from home? Life is an adventure and sometimes you need to take the risk (and save a little money). Remember this can be done inside the U.S., and you don't have to be single; many hosts will take couples or even families.
This is the added bonus to the site. You can meet people in real life from other places and attend organized events like a gathering at a bar to watch a World Cup game, playing Frisbee in the park or having a potluck dinner.
This was not only a money-saving experience, it was a way to meet someone new and have an adventure that was outside of my normal comfort zone. You should check it out at couchsurfing.org.
Note: This was not paid for by the site, I just really liked saving money on a hotel.
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