One of the most important parts of planning a trip is finding a place to sleep at night. Depending on where you are traveling to and the size of your budget, there are many options to choose from.

On the cheap end you can go the outdoors route and rough it in a tent, which will cost you anywhere from $15-40 a night at a campground. Another option is to choose an Airbnb or hotel that fits your budget, ranging anywhere from $50-120+ per night.

But why pay for accommodation if people are willing to host you for free? Couchsurfing boasts a network of “10 million interesting locals in over 230 countries and territories across the world,” many of which are looking to host travelers for FREE. To be honest, I am surprised that we never used Couchsurfing before, considering we have used Airbnb eight times and that Couchsurfing is basically a free version of Airbnb.

Looking to try something new (and save a few bucks), I decided to create a Couchsurfing profile and look for a place to stay when planning our trip to Burlington, Vermont. When the time came to leave for Burlington, I was able to lineup a 3-night stay for our first ever Couchsurfing experience (I ended up booking an Airbnb for two nights as well).

While we plan to use Couchsurfing more in the future, we will still use Airbnb often. If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, click this link¬†and create your free profile. Not only will you get $20 off your first stay but we will also get $20 credit to use on our next stay!

FINDING A HOST ON COUCHSURFING

The first step was to create a free profile on Couchsurfing. You have two options when it comes to making your profile – sign up with your email or use your Facebook account. From there you can add photos and answer a few questions to give potential hosts/guests an idea of who you are. Some questions include: Why I’m on Couchsurfing, One Amazing Thing I’ve Done, What I Can Share with Hosts, Where I’ve Visited, and Where I’ve Lived.

Unlike Airbnb, you do not need to upload a photo ID/passport to verify who you are. In fact, you don’t need any verification to use Couchsurfing. However, Couchsurfing offers three types of verification: payment, phone, and address. Each helps to give other couchsurfers peace of mind that you are who you say you are.

First, is the payment verification, which is a yearly subscription for $20. According to Couchsurfing, this helps to build trust with potential guests/hosts and supports the couchsurfing community (believe it or not, running a website with millions of members is not free…or cheap for that matter). After that you can confirm your phone through an SMS message and your address through a postcard. Since I hope to use Couchsurfing as often as possible during our Gap Year, I decided to use all three verification methods for our profile.

We made and verified our Couchsurfing profile before our first Couchsurfing experience

Here is what our Couchsurfing profile looks like with all three verifications

Once our profile was filled out and verified I began looking for hosts in Burlington. I started by setting up a public trip, which lets hosts in the area know we are traveling their way and gives them the opportunity to message us if they would like to host us. After that I perused the list of hosts in Burlington and ended up messaging 12 hosts I was interested in staying with.

Of the 12 hosts I messaged, 5 never responded, 3 responded respectfully declining the request, 2 declined us without explanation, and 2 gave us a maybe. This is exactly what I expected as some people hadn’t logged in or updated their profile for some time. Luckily, one of the maybes turned into an offer! We also received a message from our public trip listing, but by that point we had already accepted the other offer.

OUR FIRST COUCHSURFING EXPERIENCE(S)

A week before we were set to leave for Burlington, we received our Couchsurfing offer from a University of Vermont student named Emily. Emily and her roommates offered to host us for the first three nights of our trip, even though they were still settling into their new apartment for the school year. On top of that, Emily generously offered us her bedroom during our stay as they had another couchsurfer using the couch for part of our stay.

a message from our Burlington Couchsurfing host for our first Couchsurfing experience

Our host even offered us her bedroom during our stay at their apartment!

The apartment ended up being the perfect place to spend our first few days in Vermont, as it was conveniently located to downtown Burlington, included a parking spot for our car, and included a pet Ball Python to play with in our spare time!

Our Couchsurfing bedroom in Burlington Vermont for our first Couchsurfing experience

We ended up having a full bed during our first Couchsurfing experience

The desk at our first Couchsurfing experience in Burlington Vermont

The kitchen at our first Couchsurfing experience in Burlington Vermont

While Emily was at class when we first arrived at the apartment, we were able to meet up with her and her boyfriend at Muddy Waters, a local coffee shop, later that evening. We spent half an hour getting to know each other over coffee and discussed some things to do in the local area. Once we were finished our coffees, we headed our separate ways and didn’t see Emily again until the final day at their apartment when we decided to do some hiking.

One of the benefits of using a platform like Airbnb and Couchsurfing is the instant connection you make with a local. Beyond enhanced hospitality and local recommendations, some hosts want to spend time getting to know you. Whether it’s conversation over a meal or showing you around town, the added interaction can really make a trip special. This time around we ended up hiking Snake Mountain with Emily and her roommate.

Hiking Snake Mountain with our Couchsurfing host during our first Couchsurfing experience

Taking in the view from the top of Snake Mountain

LOOKING FORWARD TO COUCHSURFING AGAIN

We had an amazing first Couchsurfing experience while in Burlington. Emily and her roommates were wonderful hosts, who not only made us feel at home, but also made sure we experienced as much of the local area as possible. We enjoyed our stay so much that we are already looking for hosts for our upcoming trip to Acadia National Park in Maine!

Have you used Couchsurfing before? If so, tell us about your first Couchsurfing experience in the comment section below!