Ever heard of Couchsurfing? How about Airbnb (pronounced Air B&B)? They’re the hottest ways to find frugal lodging all over the globe with just a few clicks of your computer or smartphone. Although Couchsurfing is free and Airbnb hosts charge a fee to their guests, both services are based on worldwide social media networks. Millions of participants make these hotel alternatives click.
Couchsurfing started up in 2004 and now counts seven million participants in more than 100,000 cities in more than 230 countries around the world. The idea behind it is: “You have friends all over the world, you just haven’t met them yet.”
Airbnb began in 2008 and now has hosts in 34,000 cities in 192 countries. More than nine million people have rented rooms in private residences, for prices well below what a hotel of comparable comfort and quality would charge.
Here’s a how-to for both services:
- Create an online profile.
- Browse members in the cities you plan to visit. Send a Couchrequest for the dates you require a spare couch or bedroom.
- Use the messaging system on the website until you feel comfortable enough to exchange personal info with your host. Read reviews on the site to learn if other guests had a good experience.
- Don’t pay for Couchsurfing hospitality. It’s FREE. But do plan to do something nice for your host: Buy or make dinner, bring a gift, etc.
- Back home, consider making your couch or spare room available to your fellow Couchsurfers.
- Search on the website for accommodations in the cities you’ll be visiting. Use the site’s maps, reviews and neighborhood guides for help in narrowing down your choice. Each accommodation features its own set of photos, descriptions, maps, etc.
- Send a message through the website to the host to make a reservation. You will pay online through the website. Your personal information is kept private until the room is booked. Screening tools, including host reviews, allow you to feel comfortable about the space and the host before you book.
Don’t expect as much interaction from Airbnb hosts as from Couchsurfing hosts. For travelers who value their privacy, Airbnb may be the better choice. Couchsurfing understandably is a huge hit with the 20-something set, but the next largest group that enjoys its easy sociability is the 50-to-60-something gang.
Both Couchsurfing and Airbnb put a huge premium on safety. Although their clients are expected to use good sense in making lodging arrangements with strangers, they do add in safeguards for both guests and hosts.
Another feature of the sites is that they have created networks within networks. For example, my hometown of Portland, Oregon, has 21,901 registered members of Couchsurfing. On the local site, members are always planning new get-togethers to attend trivia night at a local bar or to take an urban hike or even join a Spanish conversation class. Already these people know that they have something in common, more than just a spare couch.