Do you ever find that you are more likely to choose a travel destination because you know someone in the area you can stay with, and help reduce your accommodation costs? Well, what if you could apply that idea no matter where you wanted to go.
That's the principle behind Couchsurfing. It's the latest thing in "budget accommodations", and it's catching on fast.
The basic idea is that you log on to the Couchsurfing website. Find someone in the area you are travelling to and ask if you can stay with them during your trip. That's all there is to it. The site is free, as are the accommodations. Some people literally have a couch to offer, but many actually have spare bedrooms.
You can stay for just one night, or several days. Some people have taken month-long vacations and used Couchsurfing for the entire trip, though not at one host the whole time.
Now, if you're not all that crazy about the idea of sleeping at the home of a complete stranger, there are features to the website that should help make you a bit more comfortable. There is a verification system in place, where a person registered on the site can have their name and address officially verified.
Each person also acquires recommendations from those who have stayed with them, so you can see who else has had a positive experience with a member. Members are linked together by friend lists as well, also dispelling the sense of anonymity. There is a large circle of trust involved and you can quickly get a sense of which members are worthwhile hosts. At the time of this writing, there are 207,220 successful experiences registered on the Couchsurfing website.
This goes both for host as well as surfers. You can see if someone has been a pesty or rude guest, by the feedback left by hosts.
Besides the obvious cost benefit of having a free place to stay, you get a chance to meet new friends all over the world and get an "insider" look at your destination. Don't rely on guidebooks to tell you which restaurants are best, get some opinions from someone who lives there.
And if you are not really interested in staying with someone this way, you can still use the Couchsurfing site to locate people who would like to meet up with travellers for coffee. Still gives you the chance to learn about a city first-hand. Or just visit the website and check out the forums and chat rooms.
I am hoping to travel to the UK sometime next year, and I think I just might give Couchsurfing a try in order to really experience the country. It will certainly help my travel budget too.