Couch Surfing

My husband and I are headed to Germany/France/Austria in late April 2013 for a month. We will be searching for relatives of his and visiting my birthplace, both in Germany, as well as touring. I have looked into the Couch Surfing network but would like anyone who has experienced actually using it in Europe to let us know: How well did it work for you? Did you find the system easy/hard to use? Recommendations? Thanks so much.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I've been both a host and a surfer with CouchSurfing. All my experiences has been positive, but I've discovered I don't really like staying in strangers' homes, no matter how nice they are. It's a personal preference. (I'd be more inclined to do so if I traveled alone, for the companionship aspect of it). It also depends on what city you're going to - some cities will have hosts right in the center of town with plenty of availability, but more pouplar tourist spots you may have a really hard time finding a host who actually lives in the city and not a suburb, so that's important to be aware of unless you want to spend all your time in transit to the place you actually want to visit. One thing to really remember is that it's supposed to be an interpersonal experience, not just a free place to stay. If you're down with that, it's great, but there is usually some degree of cost involved, such as taking your hosts out to dinner, helping around the house, or bringing them a gift. It's a more time-consuming process than just checking into a hotel and heading out to sightsee. But you can get an invaluable perspective from your hosts, and that can be great. I plan on using CS in the future for meet locals when traveling for coffee or drinks (CS offers this option for hosts who don't necessarily want houseguests) which for me provides some of the benefits of CS without the drawbacks.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

yikes - just tried to post a big long message and no go - I'll send you a private mssg in a bit about my hosting and surfing exp!

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

It sounds like my idea of hell, but others obviously love it. I suppose it all depends on how you value different things. I'm happy to pay for a place that I'm confident will be nice, to stay in an area I choose, and to be free to spend my time as I see fit. I value those things a lot. Other folks prefer saving money, and that's fine. But you couldn't pay me enough to go crash on some stranger's sofa, take all the risks that entails, and deal with the other things that go along with the experience (as described above). If you're OK with that sort of thing, maybe it would be fine for you. Not my thing. At. All. YMMV.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

Swan: We stayed with this guy using airbnb in London...he was right at the cricket oval and maybe about 7 min walk to subway...it is even very close to one of those Barclay bike rental stations...
https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/315658 $66 Canadian a night, I think we walked to 'Oval' subway stop, but I know it wasn't...nice room, and he pretty much disappeared in the morning...I would use him again...

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I would say that "risk" isn't really a huge factor. The way the CouchSurfing community works, people rate others based on their experiences with them, so if you choose someone who has a lot of positive ratings, the stranger danger is pretty much nil. I think in the entire history of CouchSurfing there's been only one or two incidents, which is amazing when you consider how large the community is. But yeah, it entails a lot of other hassles, which may not be for everyone.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3404 posts

I'm with David on this one. Just the idea of couch surfing gives me the creeps. I'd sooner stay in a crappy hotel than in a stranger's house and then have to take that stranger out for dinner and do some chores for him. There's no such thing as a free lunch or a free couch, I guess. I'll take a bed (even a lumpy one!) that I pay for in a 2 star hotel, and I only have to be polite to the desk clerk, not take him to dinner.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1519 posts

It all reminds me of the "European Vacation" scene when the family stays with people they think are relatives, but aren't. would not, could not couch surf. In fact, as I get older, (and have a little more money) I'm not that crazy about staying with friends and family!

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

Let me clear up a few misconceptions - you DO NOT have to take your host out for a meal...we have had a few people take us out, and we have taken out 1 or 2 of our hosts, but it certainly is not expected - truth be told - I usually cook a home cooked meal for our surfers (which I am not obligated to do, but I like to cook) and plenty of our hosts have cooked us wonderful meals...actually, I think only 1 out of about 3 doz people we hosted took us out, and we maybe went out for meals with 2 of the 15 or so we've stayed with, and I think we only paid for one, but they may have paid - can't rem. And no, I don't expect anyone to do chores - where are you people getting this? I actually will wash our surfers dirty clothes if I'm doing laundry - all I ask is they keep the bedroom neat and put the dishes in the sink...one surfer (who ended up staying an extra day because of weather) helped me vacuum - more out of boredom because it was raining, but that was it...some of our best memories were made while couchsurfing - as hosts, we know you want to do your own thing, we don't expect you to sit around all day keeping us company. And there are a few people we've surfed with multiple times (in London and Maine) who are now like friends - and we feel like we have really made a connection...and you say crappy hotels vs staying with a stranger - the place we stayed at in Amblie, France - an old converted mill that was so beautiful, the room was gorgeous, the yard was amazing and the people were one of the best...cost to us - $0 - other then having to 'force down' 2 wonderful meals and 2 amazing breakfasts and sit in the evening and chat with our wonderful hosts...they even took us to where we had to drop off our car rental, THEN drove us to the ferry terminal...so not worth it...don't knock it til you try it...

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3404 posts

Nicole says, "Where are you people getting this?" re doing chores for couch surfing host. See Sarah's very first post above.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

Well, I don't know who Sarah's been staying with...but it certainly hasn't been my experience after over 50 hosting and surfing experiences...

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

This discussion reminds me of the airbnb experience. With airbnb you pay to stay in someone's home, but meals out, gifts and chores are not expected. My impression from my first experience in Honolulu was that it was a very good idea to be neat, considerate of my host and his schedule, and clean up after myself. He was paid thru airbnb so we didn't have to discuss business at all. I've been shopping the airbnb site for London lodgings. Many call their places "central," but I know from the location it is not my idea of central at all. I would not stay with a couple because it would feel too much like an imposition on them. And a couple might be home a lot. I guess I like to stay where I see the host a little, but not a lot. As far as Couch Surfing goes, I rarely have ever couch-surfed with relatives even. I like my own space and my own schedule.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2172 posts

I know some friends who are very active in Couchsurfing, and even met some friends from their network. What I can say, without implying this is your motivation or not, is that those who go Couchsurfing just because it is cheap will probably be a bit dissatisfied.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I'm "getting this" from the numerous CouchSurfing FAQs that lay out in strict terms that CS is NOT about getting a free place to stay, and you're seen as a bad surfer/guest if you do not attempt to do SOMETHING nice for your hosts. This can be bringing a gift, or taking them out to dinner, or sharing a skill, or yes, doing a chore. But from all the CS literature it's considered VERY poor form to just show up at a host's house, empty handed, expecting a place to sleep and nothing else.

Posted by Lynn
Leesburg, FL, USA
23 posts

Even though the system is set up to stay for "free", we would not consider NOT doing something to show our appreciation for the courtesy and opportunity to stay with someone in their home. Yes, we are hoping to save a bit by using this network (we have also signed up to be hosts but that will be a bit down the road as we have been having quite a few relatives of our own staying with us since we signed up...lots of folks from up north love the Florida living!) One of the main reasons was to hopefully meet some folks that could give us insight into the history of the areas that we plan to visit and maybe even point us in the right direction to do some searching for relatives of my husband's. His ancestors emigrated from the Palatinate area of Germany in the early 1700's. Our family history book gives us the ship they sailed on and the port that they sailed out of to come to America but we are hoping to find some of the family that stayed behind in the old country. Even if we don't find relatives, we do hope to make some new friends this way and host them if they come to the USA. We enjoy staying in B&B's here in the States for the same reason and have helped out around our stays there, if we can, just to be a bit more involved with our hosts. Thank you for the comments and insights. We do realize that this is not for everyone and we may not find any surfing locations that would work for us. Just want to try if we can. Sarah, are you still hosting? Stuttgart is one of the cities that we were looking at to visit. Thank you.

Posted by Alexander
Manhattan, KS
277 posts

I've couchsurfed twice:
Once in Crete and once in Corsica. Overall the experiences were great. We were college students and the people we stayed with were also college students. It was great to share the experience with these people and they really enhanced our trip. While I prefer the comfort of nicer hotels, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. But all in all, it is weird staying at someone's house.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Look at AirBnB.com for rooms often in individuals' homes, but at very reasonable prices. And you'll actually sleep on a bed. It's a really up and coming website worldwide.

Posted by Lynn
Leesburg, FL, USA
23 posts

Thank you, David. I have heard about and looked into the airbnb site. We will consider everything. I will have planned itinerary up in the next week or so for critique/assistance as well. You all are terrific. Thank you so much.