16 alternatives to Couchsurfing: how to find free accommodation online. The best hospitality Exchange Network websites in 2018
Couchsurfing alternatives are still hard to find, we’ll try to give you a complete list of hospitality exchange networks you could try. Most of you probably already know Couchsurfing and the concept of free-hospitality networks, if you don’t I’ll explain you briefly.
Couchsurfing and its alternatives are mostly based on a simple concept: each user has a profile, where interests and personal information are listed, people can contact each other asking for a free stay. On Couchsurfing, people are expected not to just take someone else hospitality as a free hostel, but to interact, share, and always remember they are guests.
Users write each-other reviews, called references, where they can highlight the good and the bad of their interaction with other Couchsurfers, hosts write references for the guests and vice-versa. These references are public and everybody can see them in the user’s profile.
Couchsurfing worked great for many years, we used it a lot and mostly had great experiences, while some were so-so, and only one was fairly bad.
Couchsurfing is a huge global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities, there are Couchsurfers almost everywhere in the world, and it still is the best way to find free accommodation worldwide.
If you’re not already a member, you can sign up from here
So why should one be looking for alternatives to Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing has been recently criticized by many for several motifs. It passed from being a no-profit organization to a for-profit company in 2011, raising a big debate among its user, two members were basically purged from the platform for their intense criticism. Couchsurfing now charges a one-time fee of 60USD do be a verified member, without paying this fee, users are limited to 10 couch requests per week.
Although 10 requests per week may seem a lot, they are not. In our experience, it usually takes more than 10 requests to find a place to stay, and you will hardly get a week-long stay on Couchsurfing. So if you want to rely on it as your main accommodation option, you should pay the membership fee to get the unlimited messaging function.
Another critic that stroke Couchsurfing lately, pushing many users to look for alternatives, is that it is being used more and more like a dating site. A lot of Male members only accept female guests, girls are not feeling safe anymore, and being hosted as a solo male traveler is becoming really challenging. Read more here about using Couchsurfing as a solo female traveler.
As a couple with a strong online presence, and an odd way of traveling (by bicycle), we still have a good positive response rate on Couchsurfing, people look at our blog and social profiles and some are curious to meet us. But we met a guy who hosted us in Seoul who couldn’t find a couch despite having hundreds of references as a host. We’ll write a post about how to find a host on Couchsurfing soon, but in the meanwhile, why don’t give a shot to this interesting hospitality-exchange alternative networks?
Have you tried any of these? Do you know more? Please contribute to this article using the comment section!
Hospitality services requiring a small fee per night (upcoming)
The best hospitality-Exchange websites in 2018
The most active of all the networks listed here, it’s only catered towards touring cyclists. The community is no-profit and completely free to join, Warmshowers.org has given us some amazing experiences and lifetime friends. There are hosts available in each country, although some are obviously more active than others. The process works just like Couchsurfing, each member has a personal profile from where she/he can send requests and/or approve guests.
Requests are sent personally to each member and response rate is pretty high. People on Warmshower are used to the touring cyclist’s needs, making this network the top choice for the bicycle travelers.
TeachSurfing gives travelers, refugees, and locals the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with schools, nonprofit organizations, and communities, while gaining unique social and cultural experiences and creating local connections.
How does it work?
As a person who wants to share knowledge, you can indicate your skills, location and travel plans. As a member of a school, NGO, or any local community, you can post your learning needs and interests. Via TeachSurfing platform, both sides can find and contact each other to organize knowledge-sharing events. Afterwards, they can report their success stories to inspire more people.
The website is still small but the premises are very promising. Right now there are 206 No-Profit organizations ready to host travelers.
Hostwriter is an amazing project. It’s a global network for media professional, connecting journalists to easily seek and offer help, whether in the form of story collaboration, local advice or even accommodation. All journalists provide work samples by way of professional verification, you don’t need to be an official journalist, but submitting an article is mandatory to be accepted. Membership is free of charge.
Hostwriter is deeply involved in human-rights causes and supports exiled journalists.
Bewelcome (100,000 members)
Much more user-friendly than most, BeWelcome seems to most valid Couchsurfing alternative out there. The search function works pretty well, and it also has a map interface, which is by far my favorite way to look for places to stay in general.
BeWelcome is operated by BeVolunteer, a nonprofit organization organized as a voluntary association registered in Rennes, France, which is composed solely of volunteers. Since it is operated as a non-profit organization, the site has been described as a “less-capitalist alternative” to CouchSurfing. After Couchsurfing International Inc., which operates Couchsurfing.com, became a for-profit organization in 2011, some members urged others to join BeWelcome. Registration is free.
Members can contact each other for information about the offered accommodation and to request to stay. After the guest completes a stay, the host and guest have the option of leaving references for each other which are posted publicly, providing for an online reputation, just like on Couchsurfing.
Staydu (17,000 members)
Another hybrid platform, with this German website you can host or be hosted in exchange for light work, a fee, or for free, it’s up to the host to decide. It’s a good solution for longer term stays, The website looks modern and cool.
Servas (Over 14,000 hosts)
Servas made the history, it has been around since before the color TV. It was created in 1949 by Bob Luitweiler, With the aim of working actively for peace and social justice, with other peace movements they came up with the idea of a work-study travel system that made it possible for people of various nations to travel in a more thoughtful way, by visiting the homes of hosts offering hospitality.
Servas recommends that guest apply at least 4 weeks in advance of travel. To be accepted in Servas, two letters of reference, a personal interview with a local Servas coordinator, and a membership fee are required, (the fee varies by country). After the interview, the traveler gets a “letter of introduction” that’s good for one year of travel, and a list of hosts in the countries he or she is visiting.
Travellers contact prospective hosts in advance (lead time varies as defined by each host), giving estimated dates of travel, and they may be asked to reconfirm one or two days in advance. They can stay with hosts for up to 3 days and 2 nights. Hosts provide sleeping space. Meals may be provided as well as assistance in visiting the city or area. At the end of their trip, Servas travellers are expected to provide a report to the local coordinator with any information that might be useful.
The process involved is pretty complex and time-consuming, but this is a very serious network which will surely provide some great experiences.
GoCambio is another great alternative to Couchsurfing, based upon a pretty cool concept. You offer your time and knowledge and receive a free place to stay. In exchange for a couple of hours a day helping your host getting better at what you do well, you’ll get a place to stay and a warm welcome, while the host gets to improve a skill they are trying to master. Skills can be of every kind, from languages to music lessons, from cooking to PHP programming.
GoCambio is completely free, it has about 6,000 members at the moment.
Another innovative concept is that of Horizon App. It basically helps you get in touch with people you’re already connected to somehow. It scans your social network profiles to see if some friend of friend or member of a group you’re in is available to host you. That almost completely solves the problem of trust involved in the most popular hospitality networks like Couchsurfing. At the moment Horizon requires a mandatory Login-With-Facebook, so all those who don’t use Zuckerberg’s platform are excluded. They claim this will change shortly.
People are invited to donate an amount of choice to charity for each night of free stay they get.
Trampolinn (hybrid house swapping, fee accommodation, aAirbnb style) – Discontinued in 2016
Trampolinn uses a point exchange system, basically you earn points by providing free accommodation to people, and then spend this points to stay for free yourself.
Trampolinn looks good, but it’s not completely free, there are some slightly hidden fees involved, in the form of booking costs which are not clearly displayed to the user. It’s also possible to purchase points. It has 30,000 members in 4,500 cities, claiming to be active in 169 countries.
This service has been discontinued
Working Traveller (hybrid between volunteering, job opportunities, and free hospitality)
Working Traveller allows travelers to negotiate what they would get in exchange for their skills from hosts. The site allows hosts to set what they are willing to pay, in terms of a bed, food, or money using a barter point system, while a traveler can set what barter points they want to charge.
This sets this platform on a different level from more classic volunteering or hospitality sites, being more appealing to skilled travelers looking for references and pocket money, and hosts in need for a certain professionality. There are 1,700 members on this platform at the moment.
HandyTravelers is an online hospitality exchange organization that offers homestay for travelers. Hosts can offer their homes and show Travelers how Locals live. Not much information about it, since the about page returns a “404 page not found”, and the facebook page is seldom updated. It might as well be a dead network.
Belodged.com is a basic free accommodation site run by an accessible team of staff members. Registration is anonymous and free, no personal data except e-mail address and geographic information is needed.
Unlike various open social networks, belodged.com does not try to set up a large mass of groups who are working for free for belodged.com. There is a professional team behind the platform that guarantees the ongoing development of the website and its services.
Hospitality Club was the first of the current hospitality exchange sites to launch in 2000. There had been other sites offering hospitality exchange before, but none of which were purely hospitality exchange focused as the current sites are. Very basic and old-fashioned website, Hospitality Club claims to be the biggest free hospitality exchange network in the world. The homepage says there are more than 380,000 members, and some reviews around the web claim the response rate is similar to Couchsurfing, it might be worth a shot.
The club is supported by volunteers who believe in one idea: by bringing travelers in touch with people in the place they visit, and by giving “locals” a chance to meet people from other cultures we can increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet.
Global Freeloaders (115,000 members)
GlobalFreeloaders was the second hospitality exchange site to launch after Hospitality Club in 2001. Pretty straightforward, no cultural exchange blablabla, just a free place to crash. It’s possible to send a public request to all the members in a certain area, and wait for them to reply. Really un-personal, hideous design and low response rate. Despite so, quite a few have had nice experiences with it, worth trying, as it’s also really easy and time-saving.
LGBT specific alternatives to Couchsurfing
Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International is a growing network of lesbians and gay men from around the world who offer their hospitality to other members at no charge. These hosts, in turn, are received when they travel. There are currently more than 500 listings in over 30 countries.
It was founded in 1991 and registered as a non-profit organization designed to provide a service to the LGBT community. An online directory is available year round. Members who wish to travel use the website to contact the members they would like to be received by. Members are expected to give their prospective hosts some advance notice before making their visit. Last minute requests for accommodation are not appreciated and can simply be denied. Members are expected to answer all requests for accommodation, whether in the affirmative or the negative.
Members are expected to limit requests for hospitality to two nights. This protects hosts from being stuck with a guest with whom they are incompatible and protects the traveler from outright refusals of hospitality because of the hosts’ fear of that possibility. However, hosts are free to offer longer stays at their discretion.
As the name might suggest, Cocksurfing is a hospitality exchange network for gay travelers. Besides being a pretty straight-forward dating site, you will also get some interesting touristic information and a list of activities & gay-friendly locations in every city.
CockSurfing connects the Gay Travelers to Gay-Friendly local business and offers the possibility to discover the gay side from every city. Although there are already plenty of gay groups on Couchsurfing this website is the first Gay-only hospitality website.
Have you tried any of these? Do you know more? Please contribute to this article using the comment section!