"Couch surfing" is a term that was coined by its founders—Casey Fenton, Daniel Hoffer, Sebastian Le Tuan and Leonardo Bassani da Silveira—to describe what happens when one individual or family opens their home to travelers they haven't met yet. In 2004, couchsurfing.com launched, and since then site membership has grown to more than six million members in 100,000 cities around the globe. Many other websites soon followed suit. Not only is couch surfing—and its close compadre, home swapping—a great way to vacation on the cheap, but it provides local tour guides for an equally great price—free! Learn more about how you can couch surf and home swap your way to a fun, cheap vacation with these great websites.

A word about safety

Much has been written about the topic of traveler safety while couch surfing and home swapping. However, as a whole the couch surfing and home swapping community feels very strongly about maintaining the integrity of reciprocal hospitality, which enables travelers to experience new cultures and make new friends safely without breaking anyone's bank. Having said that, it’s always good to bring a buddy when traveling—especially when visiting a new place for the first time!

Couchsurfing 101

The concept of couch surfing is defined as a simple "hospitality exchange." You offer a free couch to a traveler, along with simple sightseeing and travel services, and in return can receive the same when you travel. Couch surfing is typically free of charge.

Home swapping 101 

Home swapping, or "home exchange" as it’s sometimes termed, is just slightly more structured than couch surfing. According to USA Today, home swapping may include a true home-for-home swap (simultaneous home exchange), a stay at a host's second or vacation residence (non-simultaneous home exchange), or an in-home hosted stay (hospitality exchange). This last is the most like couch surfing. Home swapping can be free or may come with certain fees.

Best couchsurfing and home swapping websites 

These websites are considered the most reputable and trusted for couch surfing and home swapping.

1. Couchsurfing.org

Couch surfing got its start at this website. It’s free to sign up—all you need to do is log in from your Facebook profile or provide an email address, full name, gender, and birthdate. Then you can add photos, references and other trust-building information to help potential hosts get to know you before they agree to host you. Not only does the website provide information about hosts in more than 100,000 cities worldwide, but it includes listings of more 200+ events organized daily to support couch surfing enthusiasts.

2. Air BNB

Air BNB is an international home swapping site that can overlap with couch surfing opportunities. It’s free to join and search, but accommodations may not be free. You can list your space and view unique spaces all around the world, from castles to treehouses, villas to metropolitan flats. With more than 11 million stays in 192 countries booked to date, the American-founded site has been going strong since 2008. Even better, the site is extremely safety-conscious with an entire section dedicated to trust, including a system for verifying IDs.

3. Digsville 

Digsville is a very reputable international home exchange website that is completely free to use (listing your space or seeking a space)—a rarity on home exchange sites, which typically charge monthly or annual membership fees. Also, there aren’t transaction fees to use the service. One of the most popular features of Digsville is U-Rate, a "Member Generated Rating System" that permits you to objectively rate places you’ve stayed and read what other members have shared.

4. Hospitality Club

The Hospitality Club is a worldwide online gathering of self-described, "friendly people," who are willing to host and be hosted, exchange travel information and ideas, and make new friends. Membership is free and the sign-up form is a simple step-by-step process with easy-to-follow prompts. Prior to approval, a site administrator reviews each application. You can also use the chat feature for real-time dialogue.

5. Travelers for Travelers

Travelers for Travelers is a similar website to the Hospitality Club in that membership and all services are free. You can access member forums, and the focus is on comprehensive hospitality over simple accommodations. One of the best things about this site are the testimonials.

6. Global Freeloaders

Finally, Global Freeloaders is a site that encourages true reciprocal couch- and home-sharing, in that you sign up (for free) for 12 month increments and are invited to host the same number of travelers as the number you visit yourself. Global Freeloaders was founded by Adam Staines, a travel-loving Australian, who wanted to share his love of travel on a budget with others.

 

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