Are you bitten by the travel bug and want to travel the world? Well, unless you are well-heeled and make enough of dough, travelling the world could remain a distant dream. The steep airfares and then the cost of accommodation keep most of us at bay. But what if you were told that you don’t have to pay for your stay? That will leave you only with the cost of travel. It sounds too good to be true, but there are several thousands of people around the globe who are doing just that—enjoying hospitality courtesy the host, who has opened up his house to accommodate travellers. Referred to as couchsurfing, homestays or even hospitality exchange, it’s a unique way of travelling that offers far enriching experiences than the usual sightseeing. It essentially means like-minded people who love to travel, open up their house to fellow travellers, host them and introduce them to their city and its culture. Not only is it a cost-effective way of travelling, but it also helps you truly discover the place. 

But you need to have an adventurous streak. If you were to surf the web for couchsurfing, then you will come across both positive and negative aspects. While there are many who swear by it and have travelled the world, you will also hear instances about people who have had bad experiences whilst couchsurfing. It's unlike crashing at a friends place, as the hosts are still strangers. That said, the platforms that facilitate couchsurfing do exercise a degree of precaution when allowing people to become a part of the community, and each have their own rules of admission. And don’t just look at it as a free stay, it’s more than that.

So if you are planning your vacation this December and think you are game for couchsurfing, then the possibilities are limitless. Featured here are some of the sites that you can look at.

CouchSurfingOne of the first sites to be established, it's also the most popular

 One of the first sites to be established, it's also the most popular

Established in 2004, CouchSurfing was one of the earliest portals to have introduced the concept of social travelling. Since then, it has established itself in over 200 countries around the globe and has a huge thriving community of travellers. How it works is you can sign-up with CouchSurfing, create your profile by uploading your pictures and provide information about yourself—this will provide others insights into your personality. If you have extra room in your house or another place where you can allow travellers visiting your city to stay, then you can become a host. There are also other ways in which you can help out. You don’t necessarily have to be a host in order for someone to host you at their accommodation. You can also offer your services as a guide, to show people around your city, even generally meet-up with them to offer any kind of guidance they may need or be a part of the gathering organised by CouchSurfing community members. Before approaching, read through the profile and read what people have to say about them. If you plan to be a host, then you can also get your profile verified at a small cost, which will ensure that your profile shows up at top of the list and you have more people approaching you.   

BeWelcome BeWelcome is like social network for travlers

BeWelcome is like social network for travellers

Another option to look at is BeWelcome. You can become a part of the BeWelcome community if you love meeting people from different cultures and, of course, love travelling. You can offer to meet-up with travellers in your town, show them around the place, invite them to be a part of your festivities and much more. And if you want to travel, then you can tap into the community resources. BeWelcome has a feature that will help you plan your trip and add more experiences than what you would have managed. Once you decide on your trip route, it will be visible to the community members who can then suggest, invite or agree to host you. BeWelcome plans to enhance it further by providing further information like local festivals, activities, events etc. so that you can amend your itinerary if something interests you. Apart from this, BeWelcome is also a great source of information that is shared and created by the community members around the globe. This includes maps and information about the local traditions and culture; you can even ask specific questions to the community members. These sites are built on trust and safety is of prime importance. And to ensure the same, BeWelcome has a unique verification process in place. The members are verified by people who are linked to them or have hosted them, or by a BeWelcome volunteer.       

Airbnb With Airbnb you can rent out spaces at lesser cost

With Airbnb you can rent out spaces at lesser cost

Another popular couchsurfing portal is Airbnb. However, unlike other portals, Airbnb is a for-profit portal and you will have to rent out the accommodations featured on the site. Why then will you opt for Airbnb over hotels? Well, for one thing, it’s cheaper. Secondly, the choices of accommodations are varied and the locations are as offbeat as one can imagine. It’s also good for those looking for a place just for the night. If you have a holiday home or if you are going to be travelling, then you might want to consider renting out your place. It’s a good way to earn a quick buck. On the other hand, if you are travelling, you may find yourself a beach front villa complete with a private beach and that too at a fraction of the cost. It also recently introduced the Neighborhoods feature that will take you off the tourist map and introduce you to a unique locale of a popular destinations, waiting to be discovered. Airbnb will charge a fee from both the host as well as the person who has rented the property. However, in the recent past, several instances of properties being damaged and other such cases have come forward, raising concern about the Airbnb services. After all, you will be leaving your place in the hands of a virtual stranger, and that’s a potential risk. To tackle this, the company has launched several measures like liability guarantee, verification systems etc. 

Tripping It features homestays as well as rentals

It features homestays as well as rentals

Of all the featured sites, Tripping brings you the best of both worlds. It’s a social travel site that connects you with local people for free homestays; you can even browse for places to rent. Additionally, it also has a ‘Deals’ section that, as the name suggests, brings you deals that the property owner has to offer. The site has partnered with several rental sites around the globe in over 175 countries, giving you plenty of options to choose from. As with, even with Tripping you do not necessarily need to have a couch to offer; you can be a part of the community by meeting travellers, offering to show them around the city etc. Tripping also takes care of interest-based travelling and has focussed groups based on the same. For instance, if you are a foodie and like to visit destinations to explore the local cuisine, then you can be a part of the food lovers group and approach the members from that group when you plan to visit their country. You will benefit from their knowledge of their local cuisine and discover a lot more than what you would have managed on your own. To be a part of the Tripping community, you will have to validate your identity by providing your passport details. It also has several other measures to ensure safety of travellers like anonymous reviews, references, validations, support line etc.       

The Hospitality Club Not a fancy website, but a rich community of travelers

Not a fancy website, but a rich community of travellers

Another website you can look at is The HospitalityClub. Here you don’t have to host to be a part of the community. You can meet people and spend time with them. For verification of your identity, you need to provide your passport details. Established in 2000, the HospitalityClub has its presence in over 200 countries. It happens to be the second largest hospitality exchange network in the world. It also has a forum, which is a rich source of travel information shared by intrepid travellers.

GlobalFreeloaders is another option. Although it doesn’t have a fancy site as the rest of those featured here, it’s nonetheless a great site to connect with like-minded travellers from across the globe. Unlike other sites, you need to be a host to other travellers for becoming a member here. This is so, because they believe in creating a balance; if you have enjoyed homestay in another country, then you have to host travellers at your house too. You can use the calendar to mark the months when you are willing to host people and even mention your preferences. Your email ID and address will remain invisible and only you can reveal the same to those whom you are willing to host.   

Are you a couchsurfer? If so, share your experiences here.

Cover Image: Getty Images

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