Couch Surfing – How Does it Work and Is it Right for You?

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Shondell of Call Me What You Want, Even Cheap. She blogs about her recent car loan and mortgage pay off and a whole bunch more. Check out her blog right here.

Last month, I wrote about house swapping, which is a fascinating way to travel and have the luxury of being in a home. There is also couch surfing, which is another great way to travel.

Couch surfing is a common expression used to refer to home stay networks, accommodation sharing, and hospitality services. These groups are essentially comprised of a network of travelers who serve as guides or hosts for people who are visiting their country.

Couch surfers are people who travel a lot. They love to see different places and meet people who share the same passion. Through the information and help that members get from the community, they get an inside look of the best places to visit and the most interesting things to do while in the city or country. The best part about couch surfing is that hosts allow travelers to stay at their homes during their visit.

How It All Began

In 1999, Casey Fenton came up with the Couch Surfing Project. The idea sprang from his experience when he found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland. He sent random emails to students from the University of Iceland looking for a place to stay and got over 50 replies with students offering him accommodations. During his flight back to Boston, he started to develop the ideas which soon materialized as the Couch Surfing Project.

During the early stages in 2004, the site had more than 6,000 members. The years that followed, he had an increasing number of members. By 2011, CouchSurfing became the most widely used free accommodation site with approximately one million active members.

The Relationship Between the Hosts and the Surfers

With couch surfing, the hosts act as the community’s backbone since they go to great lengths just to make travels easier and more convenient for the surfers. They provide a place to stay, meals, and even take the visitors out on tours. Surfers, on the other hand, are those who travel to many different places around the globe and make connections in a foreign land.

Fees and Charges

Unlike hotels that often charge exorbitant amounts, the accommodation and hospitality services offered by the hosts are absolutely free. Members who are reported charging their surfers would be eliminated from the community. Registration is also free. Members can post their pictures, the accommodations they offer and other information that would make them trustworthy.

Verification of the Security of Members

In terms of security, networking often establishes the reference. Several factors like gender, age, location and activity may also be considered by members who are looking for possible accommodations.

The couch surfing community increases trust and security through three methods and these are all visible on the profiles of the members who will be the potential hosts or the surfers. It includes the following information:

  • A Personal Vouching Method

This is where a member gets vouched by other members who had the chance to meet him or her through couch surfing. A member normally starts getting vouched from site founders. Being vouched for three times or more simply means that the person has already gained the trust of several others within the community.

  • Personal References

After using the service, both surfers and hosts are given the option to leave personal references. The user may also give negative references if deemed necessary.

  • Credit Card Verification (Optional)

Members may use credit card verification as a way of ensuring security while using the hospitality services offered by the couch surfing community. This is the primary income-generating source for the community. The verification fee may vary depending on the country of registration in order to promote economic fairness.

Who Are Qualified to Become Ambassadors

In general, any member who wants to help promote the services of the couch surfing community and volunteer for different duties on the site can become an ambassador. As ambassadors, the members are expected to act as role models and follow the group’s code of conduct. Ambassadors are delegated with certain tasks like welcoming new members, performing administrative roles, promoting the use of the site and answering questions from members.

Over the years, the couch surfing community has developed a culture that aims to make travelers feel welcome and safe, even in a city far away from home. Those who want to feel more secure while enjoying their travels abroad would surely be thankful for the existence of such a community that offers hospitality services. If you love to travel and see the beauty of the world at a lesser cost, couch surfing would be a great option for you.

How about you all? Have you ever couch surfed? If so, how did you like it? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. I've never done it but I have looked into it. Maybe in the future!

    2. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says:

      I was a big fan of Couchsurfing and have been a member for 8 years. When it was a small community, it was great, people were genuinely interested in meeting and hosting travelers. Then it started growing fast, with TV and other medias promoting it as a way for cheapskates to get free housing and it attracted the wrong people. I have had some abusive hosts, who would stay for a week and expect me to be their maid and cook. Now I carefully select who to host with the reference system, but I use it much less than before. If I stay with someone, I always bring groceries, or take them out for a drink, or clean their house, whatever, to show gratefulness for their hosting.
      My recent post Big city life, is it worth it?

      • Quite a few people have said it was better when it was a small community. I didn't know about it when it first started.

        Where have you couch surfed?
        My recent post Excuses People Make Why They Can’t Save Money

      • We host people and hope to surf later this year (am working on a post about my experiences). The problem is it just keeps growing and it must be getting harder and harder to find hosts. I have seen a lot of posts online about the eroding/lost spirit of CS as it goes mainstream and more people catch on, I get new requests every day and turn down the vast majority.

        Hosting has been really fun and rewarding, and in most cases surfers have been super cool and tried to do their bit to contribute. Sorry to hear about your bad hosts – baffles me that anyone would do that; I would never dream of it. I think its more common to hear complaints of free loading guests who dont do much to contribute (out of all our guests this only applies to one pair).
        My recent post Bad money habits: the boyfriend edition

    3. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

      I've never done it myself, but think it's a great idea! My younger brother loves to travel and has been all over the world and something like this would be perfect for him, I've suggested it in the past so we'll see if he has any luck with it.
      My recent post Why You Should Just Say No to Refund Anticipation Loans

    4. This sounds like a really cool idea! When I was reviewing this post for publishing, I checked out the Couch Surfing website, and it was really interesting to see how vested the hosts were in the whole process. Even though they don't make any money off the thing, they still are enthusiastic about taking the time to get to know the surfer and show them a good time!
      My recent post Life Insurance: At What Age Do I Need It, and How Much?

    5. Interesting topic! I think this will be a great idea for people who like to travel and know people from different culture. It will certainly make travelling to unfamiliar places more comfortable and interesting for people plus it will lessen the cost of the holiday.
      My recent post Life After Debt

    6. That would be a great way for a college kid to travel and see the world over a summer break! Cheap and exciting, sounds like fun. I just don't think that I would trust other people that I don't know to stay with, because there are some real creeps out there!
      My recent post How to Save Money on Milk

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