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Couches, Couches Everywhere and Now a Place to Sleep!

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Sofa, so good: hospitality exchange schemes go from strength to strength.

Some may already know about this increasingly popular phenomenon - but for those as yet unaware of this fantastic arrangement, allow me to share with you an exciting prospect this Cheapskate Friday.


What is a hospitality exchange scheme?

Essentially, it is, and does, exactly what it says on the tin. You offer someone a place to stay when they visit your area and in return you get offered a short term stay – also free of charge – when you go abroad.

Now, if I were mercenary I’d say this was simply a way of getting free digs all across the globe but, although I do admit it’s a rather major draw card into the sites offering this service, a hospitality exchange is much, much more. It’s a way of meeting new people and making new friends (whether you are a host or guest), and seeing life in another country from a local’s point of view and learning about an area from someone who knows the place inside out – in fact, saving 10 bucks on a room is really just pleasant aside.

How does it work?

In short, it’s a glorified matchmaking database. You sign up for free with one of many websites offering this service and put yourself down as a host, then, as an when the need arises, you can search for possible hosts offering free lodging during your time away.

Which sites organise hospitality exchanges?

Well, there are 3 main players: www.couchsurfing.com, www.hospitalityclub.org, and www.globalfreeloaders.com. And although still the newbie (started in 2004), couchsurfing.com is the largest of the 3 networks with around 370,000 members. Hospitalityclub.org comes in second with around 50,000 members and globalfreeloaders third with around 40,000 members.

Now, membership declarations aren’t the be all and end all – so, to give you a better idea of their popularity I’ve put my geeking skills to good use and have come up with the following Alexa graph to give you an idea of their relative size and usage.

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You can see that Couchsurfing.com is clearly the daddy of them all, and you could be forgiven for wanting to leap straight for the couchsurfing jugular. But despite more members generally meaning more opportunities (and therefore the greater chance of take up when you enquire about spare couches), they’re not mutually exclusive - so why not join them all? If you combine them, that’s one shed-load of sofas! Remember though, potentially it could mean that you will be putting up more people so make sure you can accomodate (if you wish to maintain your couch karma then it’s better to honour you’re noble offers where possible!)

With a service like this there will of course many questions that need answering before going ahead and inviting a stranger into your home (or before staying at someone else’s, for that matter) – such as potential safety and security issues – but rather than me repeat all the site blurbs parrot fashion, check out their FAQ pages and testimonials for more information.