Is Couchsurfing a viable option when traveling on a budget?

Nishali Naik/Staff

When my friend suggested that we couch surf to help our shoestring budget bear a smaller burden, I was skeptical. Couchsurfing is like Tinder for accommodation. You search for a host in the area you would like to stay, you look at their pictures and interests, you decide they aren’t going to kidnap you and you send them a message asking to stay on their couch. A few facts to start off before I delve into the story:

Free accommodation

But you are paying for it in stories, sharing experiences and your company. Your host might want to have dinner with you or take you around the city. So bear this in mind, and factor it in when you are planning your trip (i.e. you can’t just dump your bags and fuck off sightseeing for the day).

Most hosts are men

Do not be put off by this. I’ve heard it’s because womxn don’t want to host groups of men on their own for safety reasons.

Couchsurfing has an enormous nudist community

Sometimes hosts will drop it in there among their hobbies. “I like to cook French food, share stories, get naked and drink beer.” So you must read their whole profile, otherwise you might be getting a nasty or nice surprise — depending on your leanings.

You might be sleeping with other Couchsurfers in the room

Your host should warn you in advance if this is the case, though. If this makes you uncomfortable, Couchsurfing is probably not for you.

Our experience

My friend and I had planned to do a whistle-stop tour of the East Coast, starting in Washington, D.C. and finishing in Boston for spring break. We were on an absolute shoestring budget, and we decided to try Couchsurfing. Once we had filtered through all the nudists, Alex and I found Adam. He had a plethora of great reviews, and his pictures, contact details and government ID had all been verified. He was extremely welcoming over text and we got a good vibe from him, so we decided to stay with him for two nights. Adam was a fantastic host, but the stories he told us made us think twice about Couchsurfing in the future.

The following story is one of the scarier stories Adam told us. His advice in the future: Do not ignore the red flags (names have been changed for privacy purposes).

Adam got an email from Jessica at 7 p.m. — her Couchsurfing account had been made five minutes earlier. She asked if she could stay the night at his; her tone was frantic, and the grammar was appalling. Adam reviewed her profile and saw a lovely person in the photos, smiling and having a good time. She had no reviews, however, and no Couchsurfing friends. This was the first red flag.

Adam had a good heart and agreed to let her stay, even though he knew nothing about her. When she arrived, she looked nothing like the person in the photos on Couchsurfing (second red flag), but Adam invited her in anyway, because it was just a bit too late to turn her away. Jessica put her bags down inside and sat on the sofa, exclaiming that she was starving. Adam told her that she could help herself to anything in the kitchen but that he was exhausted and needed to sleep.

“But in your profile it says you really like to cook,” Jessica said expectantly (third red flag).

Adam looked at her in disbelief.

That night Adam stayed up for three hours, cooking and listening to Jessica’s stories. It turned out that her boyfriend had broken up with her a while ago and was not returning her calls. Earlier that night, around 7 p.m., she had just seen on Facebook that he was in Washington, D.C. for a conference, and she had to find him. 

At last, it was time for bed. Adam had never locked his bedroom door to couch surfers, but that night he did. The next morning he told Jessica he had to urgently leave the country for some important business. She offered to look after his place for him while he was away. He politely declined.

Bear in mind, this is just one story, and the rest of the experiences Adam had with Couchsurfing have all been fantastic. He has learned many new skills from hosting people and has some fantastic stories. I would recommend Couchsurfing to anyone who enjoys meeting new people and doesn’t care too much about where they stay.

Contact India Clare at [email protected].