Who's that guy sleeping on our sofa?

CouchSurfing is a bit like a slacker version of an hospitality network, only without a formalized in a charter or fee to join

Though there are several networks out there, the one called CouchSurfing.com definitely came up with the best name, so by the power vested in me as a travel journalist, I am hereby promoting the term to become the official title for this form of travel.

Sleeping for Free
Overnight trains
Sleeping in Airports
Crewing a Boat
Home Swapping
Hospitality Exchanges

Really, this is just a free variant on the old Hospitality Exchange idea, but since those guys charge fees and CouchSurfer networks don't, the greedy ones go on a separate page.

CouchSurfers, on the other hand, are networks for people who just want a couch to crash on for the night while they travel the world, making it a godsend for itinerant beach bums, neo-hippies, dirt-poor students, and other cash-strapped travelers.

For example, I went CouchSurfing.com and clicked on Italy, and on the first page of 10 results (out of 229) of which included everything from a 20-year-old undergrad in Padova to a 35-year-old lawyer in Rome (the median age was definitely early to mid 20s).

These networks are much less formalized and much more easy-going than Servas—the home page for CouchSurfing.com has a photo of one of its founders in full surfer-dude mode, flashing a Colgate grin under long hair, his shirt hanging open to show off perfect abs.

CouchSurfing networks don't cost a penny to join, and in general you can stay as long as you like—or at least as long as your potential hosts are willing to put up with you—but remember that old saying about fish and houseguests and be polite about the amount of freeloading you do in any one spot.

Also, though they don't require that you give your hosts a gratuity, be polite and at least offer to pay for any meals (plus phone calls and the like you might make from their home). It's also polite to show up with a small gift—I usually come bearing a bottle of wine, which has the added benefit that you will probably get to share it.

How to find that Couch

Couch Surfing (www.couchsurfing.com) - 9,956 members in 130 countries (661 in the UK, 609 in France, 229 in Italy). Median age is low to mid-20s.
Global Freeloaders (www.globalfreeloaders.com) - 23,529 members (1,962 in the UK, 482 in France, 238 in Italy). Must be ready to host others within 6 months of signing up.
Hospitality Exchange (www.hospitalityclub.org) - 46,978 members (1,833 in the UK, 1,836 in France, 1,560 in Italy).


This article was last updated in January 2008 . All information was accurate at the time.

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