Over the last five years, couchsurfing has hit the mainstream. However, many people still don't fully understand what it is or how it works. Here we clear up some of the myths and answer some of your frequently asked questions.
What is couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a network of people from right across the globe who can offer free accommodation (in a spare room, on a mattress, inflatable bed, couch etc.) to travellers.
How can I find a host?
Couchsurfing websites alow you to search all available hosts in a given area. So, for example, you can search the site for hosts in 'Barcelona' on a particular date and you'll be presented with a list of all the people who are offering free accommodation in the city.
Then you can look into each host in more detail and choose one that you think would work well for you. You'll find a description of the accommodation available, whether they accept groups or couples, the type of host they are, plus anything they expect from you (for example, most hosts will have a job and won't appreciate their guests being noisy late into the night). Once you find a host that you think is a good match, simply contact them through the site and await their response.
Is it really free?
Yes, the vast majority of hosts will offer free accommodation. However, a few do state that they would appreciate a small contribution, especially if you will be eating their food. It's been suggested that half the price of a typical hostel bed in the city is a reasonable contribution to make towards food and bills. You could also bring a useful gift, cook a meal or give them a lesson in your native language or another skill you may have (painting, a musical instrument etc.). You should be in the position to reciprocate if the host visits your home town.