I travel a lot. I hope to never book a hotel room again. I stay in people’s homes, arranged either by couchsurfing or Airbnb.
While I was traveling through Europe as a student I got tired of staying with other American travelers in hostels. I was looking for a more authentic and local experience so I began to stay in homes through Couchsurf.com. Over the years I’ve stayed in about 25 homes. Once you sign up you can search for locations and hosts with similar philosophy, interests, and traveling tendencies. There is no payment for sleeping on whatever couch/bed/futon is provided. To show my gratitude I make it a rule to cook a meal for my hosts. I’ve also reciprocated the generosity by hosting couchsurfers in my homes. CS runs on trust, interests and positive reviews. Since there is no payment, the main reason to join is to meet like-minded people who have stories and camaraderie to share. As long as you have a detailed profile, you will attract and find people with similar interests. Being a female traveler has never been an issue since I normally travel with a friend, or I choose to stay with primarily female hosts. I have met some of my best travel companions and friends through CS. You can find couchsurfing all over the world now.
Now that I am working I can also use Airbnb. Airbnb offers an elegant interface and large database of ordinary to extraordinary places to stay all around the world, at a reasonable price. The service they offer is the curation of unique places, as well as increased security. Part of why some people will stay in an Airbnb and not a couch on CS is because Airbnb treats security as its primary financial and legal liability. Airbnb offers a 24-hour hotline, secure payment platform, identity verification, verified photographers and profile reviews. They also show whether you have mutual friends with the host, which makes me more inclined to stay with them. I’ve discovered some unbelievably beautiful and unique places that I otherwise would never have had access to at a price lower than a conventional hotel, almost by two or three fold ($50 vs. $100-150).
Both CouchSurfing and Airbnb offer “local experiences” and a more affordable way to travel. However, CS requires more of a commitment to engage with your host (share stories, eat a meal together) in exchange for free board vs. Airbnb, which requires payment yet is more luxurious and less personal. Think of it as the difference between getting a ride in a taxi (Airbnb), vs. from a rideshare (Couchsurf). In the cab you sit in the back and you don’t need to talk to the driver if you don’t want to, while the rideshare is more intimate so you sit up front and chat.
When deciding which service I want to use, I always ask myself: Do I want surprise or security? CS always surprises me with interesting people and stories, while Airbnb offers local luxury at an affordable price.