With inflation through the roof in Argentina and prices steadily on the rise across most other countries in South America, spending months backpacking across this beautiful continent is no longer as cheap as it used to be. Before you write it off entirely, there are a number of creative ways you can find accommodation down south for free without having to clean hostel rooms.
Staying with complete strangers you’ve never met before in a new town that you’ve never been to before may sound a bit crazy at first, but this is exactly the premise of couchsurfing. Dreamed up in 2004 by a group of four young guys looking for accommodation on a trip to Iceland, couchsurfing.org is now a community of 7 million people in 100,000 cities around the world.
Below are my five top tips for tapping this incredible community, getting some free nights on your journey and most importantly making new friends along the way:
- Sign up – it’s easy, free and only takes a few minutes. Do add a cool profile picture and be detailed in your profile description to paint a clear picture of who you are, what you’re interested in and the places you’ll be travelling to. If you’re looking to host, be sure to add as much information about what you’re able to offer – a couch in the living room, a spare bedroom, space for a tent out back. Pictures of the space are always an added bonus as well.
- Be upfront and honest – don’t want to stay with smokers or have them stay with you? Then state it in your profile. Highly allergic to cats? Be sure to ask if the host has any pets. It’s much better to be clear in any email correspondence before finding yourself in a possibly uncomfortable situation.
- Go with your gut – so far we’ve stayed with six amazing hosts in different cities across Argentina, Peru and Chile. Everyone we’ve met has been warm and welcoming and has taken us into their homes as if we were old friends. Couchsurfing has an extensive review system where both surfers and hosts can leave reviews (good or bad) based on their experiences. If you’re just getting into couchsurfing, staying with someone who has a lot of positive review and has been “vouched” for will help to put your mind at ease. While there is certainly a lot of trust needed both on the part of the host and the guests staying, it’s important to remember that most people are good and honest, but if something feels amiss, book it to the nearest hostel.
- Leave recommendations – if you’ve had an amazing stay, be sure to leave your host a great review. They may be looking for a couch in the future and will need the recommendations to help them land it.
- Be a gracious guest/good host – hopefully this goes without saying. Clean up after yourself, keep the noise down if your host has gone to bed and leave behind a small thank you gift if possible. As a host, give the surfer a tour of the house and let them know what’s ok aka where they can store groceries, what bathroom to use and what your schedule is during their stay.
While we’ve been fortunate to enjoy many free nights’ accommodation with couchsurfing on our South American journey, the bigger benefit has been the connections we’ve made with some truly amazing people along the way. From enjoying home cooked local dishes with our hosts to learning about the culture and city first hand, the experiences we’ve had with our through couchsurfing are priceless.
Have you couchsurfed before or thinking about joining for the first time? Leave your comments and feedback below: