A few years ago, a friend of mine went traveling for several months one winter with her 4 year old daughter. As I watched their journey I kept wondering how she was managing for so long on her own while traveling to off the beaten path locations throughout Europe. Turns out, she survived (and thrived) in part by Couchsurfing.
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What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is where you stay with a host family for free. There is a website, couchsurfing.com, where you set up a profile to share with other travelers. Later, this is also where people can provide reviews of you as a host or a guest. In many ways, couchsurfing was the free pre-cursor to Airbnb.
Typically this type of travel tends to appeal to a younger, more carefree type of traveler looking to stretch their limited funds further. But Couchsurfing is not just for the young backpackers anymore. There are a growing number of family travelers (and hosts) getting in on the action. There are specific subsets, or groups in the Couchsurfing community catering specifically to families. Check out this Family Group with more than 2000 members.
In traveling with my son I haven’t ever thought of Couchsurfing. But it makes total sense. You are staying with locals who know the community (in case anything goes wrong), you get insider tips on what to do and where to eat and most of all you really get a valuable cultural exchange. If you are specific enough in your search criteria, your host family may also have children of their own, providing instant playmates for your child on the road.
What About Safety?
Ok, so what about safety? This was my first thought and I am sure you are thinking the same thing. Isn’t it weird staying with total strangers? How do you know you’ll get along with a host/guest?
Couchsurfing addresses the issue of safety through a system of references, friend links, testimonials and verification. It’s not fool-proof, but it creates a circle of trust that gives some level of confidence (kind of like airbnb ratings) to users. You also have plenty of opportunities to communicate with a potential guest/host prior to finalizing your stay. If you sense an incompatibility, or something is a bit off, go with your gut. There’s never any obligation to open your doors or to accept an offer to stay.
Tips on Couchsurfing with Kids
Lisa Perrine Brown, of Intentional Tourist, has Couchsurfed with her daughter in Europe and on her own throughout India, as well as hosting travelers in her home town in Michigan. She shares with us her tips on how to get started with Couchsurfing with kids.
Create an Amazing Profile
In creating your profile, make sure to give a detailed and clear description of you and your family. Give potential hosts information about your past, what your home life is like and what you are looking for in this experience. The more detailed profiles have better luck getting couchsurfing stays. Always be clear in what you want, if not in your profile, but in your mind.
Stay with Hosts Who Have Excellent Profiles and References
One of the most important aspects of Couchsurfing is deciding who you will stay with. While researching who you want to stay with, make sure to read their profiles and references carefully. Be clear what you want to get out of this experience. If you are only looking for cheap lodging, don’t couchsurf. Instead, stay in hostels. If you want an amazing cultural exchange beyond your wildest dreams, this is for you.
Create a Strong Criteria
Create a strong criteria for who you want to Couchsurf with. You will need to set your own perimeters based on your age, what you want to get out of your travels, and what your own personal comfort level is. If you need baby cots, a separate bed for your child, etc make sure to make this clear in your requests. My criteria for Couchsurfing in Europe with my daughter included the following:
- Hosts must be 35 or older
- I stayed with only women or families
- Hosts must have private room
- Hosts must be employed
- Hosts must have a fully completed, interesting profile with pictures
- Likes children and/or has their own
Host Couchsurfers at Your Home
Under an equally selective eye openly welcome Couchsurfers into your home. Share your life and location with them and treat each and every one the way you wish to be treated when you go abroad. This will help you have a better idea of what to expect when you do it as a guest as well as what you might want to look for in specific hosts.
At the end of it all, remember to be grateful for everyone who opens their doors to you. Bring a small token of appreciation and make sure to write them a review when you leave.
Have more questions about Couchsurfing? Sign up to receive email alerts so you don’t miss my interview with Lisa where I ask all the details about her experiences of Couchsurfing with her daughter.
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