If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and a good internet connection, you can stay for free, safely, in the houses of kind people all around the world! How? Couchsurfing.org.
For some of you, this article will be a review of a global trick you already know well. For others, however, this may be a thrilling new insight into budget travel!
As we proceed through the steps of how to use Couchsurfing, I will explain my personal experience with it this past weekend in Accra, Ghana. Let’s get started!
1. Pop over to Couchsurfing.org and create a Profile page for yourself.
2. Browse to the “Groups” section of the site and join all the groups which pertain to your current and future travel plans. When you join each group, you have the option to post an introductory message. Do it!
In my case, I posted a hello message on the “Ghana” CS Group, and within a week had about seven return messages with volunteer opportunities– one of which I’m happily serving in right now!
(Note: “Huh?” you might be saying, “I though Couchsurfing is only about free accommodations!” No no no, my fine feathered friend– CS is an amazing and giant community which you may use to share and obtain tips, work opportunities, events, and more!)
3. It’s surfing time!
a) In a country with a small community of foreigners (aka, Ghana) you will soon be corresponding with various members of the group, which will logically lead to them inviting you either to a group dinner/meet-up or free accommodations for an upcoming weekend.
About three months ago, I struck up a conversation on CS with a Turkish woman named Belgin to ask for advice about Ghana visas. Last weekend, Belgin and her housemate Abena kindly offered to host me in their empty spare room in Accra!
b) In a country with a giant CS Group population (ex: any European country or other backpacker haunt), you are advised by CS staff to really browse through the country profiles through the site’s “Find a Couch” search engines to select a few potential CS hosts who you think you’d get along with well, and send them individual messages to explore the possibility of surfing with them.
Safety Note: Many solo female travelers I’ve met, myself included, usually opt to Couchsurf with other women or with couples rather than single men.
Indeed, there are numerous safety features embedded into Couchsurfing.org (from “Testimonials” and “Vouching” to speedy reporting and prosecution of negative incidents), but it’s wise to err on the side of caution.
4. Once you’ve found a person with whom to search, clearly communicate about the time you wish to stay with them and clarify any expectations or limitations on the part of either party.
Belgin kindly met my Accra-intimidated self at the Accra mall to escort me personally to her apartment, and she and Abena hosted me for a lovely two days, acting as insider guides around Accra throughout.
We were also able to coordinate an all-CS-Ghana Meetup Dinner which allowed us to meet other foreigners and Ghanaians involved in the CS Ghana community. It was great!
On the Sunday before my tro tro back to Sogakope, Belgin had the bright idea to hop a taxi the hour drive West of Accra to Bojo Beach, where all these photos were taken.
(Cost of taxi: about $10 U.S. Dollars for the whole day. Cost of entrance to Bojo Beach, including a classy ferry across the lagoon to the soft sand and oceanfront: 5 Ghana Cedis or $3.75 U.S. Dollars.)
If you’re looking for a nice reprieve from the intense bustle, dust, and confusion of Accra, consider Bojo!
Now for some general Couchsurfing tips:
In fact, the main purpose of Couchsurfing is NOT free accommodation.
Rather, it is about creating connections and friendships across countries and cultures. You will have the joy of conversations and insider tours that you never could access in the standard tourist trail.
Given this, assess your situation well: if you really are exhausted and just want to sleep, do everyone a favor and just get a hotel rather than being antisocial and offending your host.
Especially in very inexpensive regions (ex: Southeast Asia) a beautiful hotel room may cost less than $10 U.S. Dollars a night, which is a small price to pay if you just need a little “me” time.
Moreover (though your mother taught you this already) be as good a guest as possible! Be kind and accommodating and flexible and communicative, pay for a meal or two out of thanks, and offer to do dishes if your hosts cook for you.
I am sending a giant hug of thanks to Couchsurfing.org for the many was it has made me happy: from connecting me with this wonderful NGO for three months in Ghana, to providing me with a bevvy of new and fascinating international friends, to allowing me into the lives and extra bedroom of wonderful Belgin and Abena last weekend.
May CS continue to expand its great work, and may it one day put a smile on your face, too!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!