I am a tightwad. This carries over to travel as well. I can be very flexible and put up with a lot for a cheap place to stay so I can have money for food and activities instead. That's why I find couchsurfing so attractive.
To couchsurf is to stay on someone's couch or in their spare room for free anywhere in the world. That's right. You could go to Shanghai, China or Buenos Aires, Argentina and find someone in the network who has a place you can flop for a couple of nights for free!
It is a two-way street though. The idea is that if you have a couch, bed, or even floor that you can let a traveler use, you should return the favor.
The best way to start is to go to couchsurfing.org and register. You don't have to put someone up right away. You could just offer to meet someone for coffee to help be a guide to your hometown/city. Or you could just be looking for a place to stay on your next trip. But if you start hosting, then it builds up credit/references for you for when you need to go somewhere.
Wait! Is it safe?
The couchsurfing network relies on references and verifications. You are expected to leave or get references for each exchange that takes place. It builds up your credibility and trustworthiness. If you get an inquiry from someone and you don't like their profile and the number of references they have, then turn down their request.
My first guest was last month and I must say, with all respect to David, his picture was on the scary side. He's a 53 year old Australian who looked like a homeless guy in his picture. But his references were long and many! With so many good reviews, I figured he must be OK.
David was great. Turns out he's traveled the world and has two grown sons from his marriage to an American. He was so easy because he had actually lived in Sacramento years ago, went out during the day, and only came back each night to sleep and shower. He gave me a good reference and I was happy to do the same for him.
This week I have a tennis player from South Carolina coming to stay. There is a tennis tournament going on and so he'll be out all day and just needs a place to crash.
Couchsurfing is not just individuals either. Turns out cities will often invade each other. For instance, the couchsurfing hosts from Portland may decide to road trip it to Sacramento for a weekend and the local couchsurfers would host them and show them the city. In return, we could all go en masse to Portland and eat food carts all weekend while staying with the Portland hosts.
There are plenty of local social events too. The local chapter often gathers for coffee at a local coffee shop or someone will host a party. These are open to local hosts as well as to any couchsurfing travelers currently in the area.
I've applied to couchsurf down in Santa Monica while I got to a blogger conference. I'm also thinking on couchsurfing the next time I visit Honolulu.
Couchsurfing is a great way to travel on the cheap and meet new friends, whether here or abroad.