Couch surfing & Air BNB – Explained
Couch surfing & Airbnb
Ok so it seems to me that there is quite a lot of interest in couch surfing, Airbnb and other similar money saving, social and travel accommodation options.
Both Couch surfing & Airbnb basically involve organising and staying with someone or in someone else’s home.
I have to be honest with you I have never tried either other than heading off to visit a long distance friend who is usually more than accommodating and happy to have me there.
Ignoring that fact there is plenty out there to read on these subjects and a number of sites out there that provide you with this kind of service.
If I was you I would do a fair bit of research myself before I decided to join one of these sites (either as a host or as a guest) and think seriously about whether this is something I could be comfortable with before I got too involved.
I will explain what couch surfing and AirBNB are and then compare the similarities and the main differences further below:
What is Couch Surfing?
Couch surfing is the more common name used to describe someone who moves from one house to another, usually staying for a few days (or until their friend has had enough) before moving on to the next house.
In more modern day terms it is the practice of traveling around using other people’s accommodation whether that be by sleeping on the floor, couch or spare room.
Couch surfing is often used by backpackers to help them backpack around the world, find a travel partner or can be used by people wanting to attend organised events such a sporting events, parties meetings etc in another town, state or country
As a member of a couch surfing site you are able to become part of the community and it makes it very easy to interact with and meet like-minded people. Some groups organise activities such as hiking and camping trips for example and this means couch surfing can be highly sociable IF you read the profiles properly to see who you are likely to be meeting.
Home stay arrangements agreed and organised between the host and guest directly. Usually people decide ahead of time the duration, nature, and terms of the guest’s stay.
A couch surfer and host should expect that there is no exchange of money unless mutual expenses are shared for essentials such as food and drink.
While the above is true guests would normally show their appreciation by bringing a gift, cooking a meal or teaching a skill to the host and you know what I think that’s a great way to do things when someone is going out of their way to help you out.
The couch surfing travelling network is becoming more and more popular and is really a form of social media with added benefits.
What is AirBNB?
AIrBNB (Airbed & Breakfast) in its basic form is a website used to connect a traveller / backpacker or holiday maker searching for accommodation with a host offering a room, apartment, boat, tree houses, islands (I think you get the picture) or other form of accommodation available to rent.
The original concept came about when an industrial design conference was held in San Francisco in 2007.
The demand for hotel rooms was so high that without AirBNB some attendees would not have been able to attend.
AirBNB gave guests a unique networking opportunity in that they were able to link to hosts also attending the conference. In exchange for a reasonable fee Hosts offered short term accommodation and breakfast to their “guests”.
Homestay arrangements are all organised and pre agreed between the host and guest via the AirBNB website. Guests search for accommodation and make an application confirming the duration and nature of the stay and add any special requirements they may have.
Airbnb makes its money by charging a booking fee of between 6% and 12% as well as charging the host 3% from each guest booking for credit card processing.
Due to the monetary transactional nature of the site Airbnb facilitates a secure online payments system. This allows guests to pay for their accommodation in advance safe in the knowledge that payment would not be debited to their account until 24 hours after check in.
This acts as a guarantee to the guests and upholds cancellations policy agreed with the hosts. Airbnb also facilitates security deposits along with cleaning fees for the host.
Airbnb hosts are able to request Verified IDs before agreeing a booking. If they ask for this then they will also have to be verified (It is only fair you know…)
General similarities between couch surfing & AirBNB
For both Couch surfing & Airbnb security is taken very seriously by the owners of the website. It makes sense that websites that are more used and well know are likely to provide the better security measures and user vetting processes as they will have more the experience.
That said you can’t really guarantee that it would be safe for everyone all of the time which is why I think it is important for you to review the concept before you get involved with the sites.
Website owners help you to ascertain whether you would want to stay with a host or receive a guest by the use of member profiles. These profiles are covered off in more detail below:
Couch surfing guests and hosts can take their time, get to know each other and negotiate terms over a longer period.
AirBNB users are able to send each other private messages before an offer is made and the host has 24 hours to accept or decline a guest offer.
User profiles (Host & Guest)
When you sign up to a couch surfing website or AirBNB you are encouraged to provide information and photos via a user profile. This profile will also include details of any accommodation that the user has to offer other users, if any.
With AirBNB the host will also display listing details including price per night, photos, confirm amenities, information about the neighbourhood and house rules alongside their personal profile.
The more information that you can provide within your profile the better as this information can be seen by the other users whether you are looking to be a host or a guest.
A well completed and good profile will help users build up a picture about you in their mind and this will help them to decide if you are trustworthy enough to be their host or guest.
As you become a more frequent user you will begin to build a bigger profile which will include reviews and references left by other users and it is because of this that the network builds trust and therefore safety. The theory “safety in numbers” comes to mind.
While the membership profiling, reviews, references and verification go a long way to ensuring users are safe ultimately it is down to both YOU as the guest and the HOST to make sure you thoroughly review each other’s profiles.
A thorough review of online user profiles should not only help to eliminate the risks of these services but to also ensure the host and guest have similar interests and compatibility.
A poor review could mean that you will both find it much more difficult to use the service in the future if you wanted to use it again.
The last thing you want to do is look forward to your trip, arrive and find that you have to stay with someone you don’t like or can’t get on with especially when you will need to review your stay on the website afterwards.
Couch Surfing and AirBNB sites offer a user verification service which usually involves confirmation of name, address, credit card details etc so will charge a fee for the service and some will be included for free as it helps to promote safety among the users.
Become a Host or a Guest?
The Host is the person that has joined the site, created a profile and have accommodation available to the right guest such as room or couch.
Each host profile acts as like an advertising listing and will explain a bit about the host, the accommodation available, what they are looking for from their guest and cover off any special or specific requirements ie non-smoker or works on night shifts for example.
The Guest is a person who has joined the appropriate website and completed a personal profile which will tell the host a bit about them, what they like and don’t like, what they are looking for from a host and any special requirements ie I have a back problem and need a decent bed.
What are the key differences?
What are the key differences?
Getting straight to the point main difference between Couch Surfing and AirBNB are as follows:
- • Couch surfing is relatively free (other than minimum outlay for a gift and some food etc) whereas AirBNB guests pay AirBNB, take their percentage and then pay the host.
• Guests and Hosts agree the details directly when couch surfing, guests and hosts agree terms through AirBNB and are sent each-others personal contact details once the booking is made.
• There is likely to be more clarity around where you will be staying and what you will be staying in through AirBNB but if you research properly before you go you could find that you are able to find this out for a couch surf or 2…
If you are looking for something a little different to the run of the mill, Hostel, B&B, Hotel or Holiday home Couch Surfing and AirBNB can offer you a unique experience.
Summary Couch Surfing
Couch surfing offers a more sociable approach to travelling. It gives you the opportunity to meet people, join in with organised events and is a great way to save money.
Safety could be a concern as you may feel like you have the same guarantees as you would with AirBNB but if you stick to verified user profiles I don’t see why this couldn’t be a great alternative to traditional backpacking methods such as hostelling, B&C and hotel use.
These are all great advantages but it is worth considering the what if’s,
- • What if I don’t get on with the host or guest?
- • What if the profile isn’t real?
- • What if I want to stay longer?
Generally these concerns can be mitigated by doing your homework and using some common sense…
- • Inspect the host / guest profile thoroughly
- • Get verified (host & Guest) for improved safety
- • Take some time to chat before you agree terms
- • Tell someone where you will be, how long for and give them the contact details
- • If you want to stay longer ask (don’t be offended if the answer is NO!)
- • If you don’t get on leave or ask your guest to leave
- • If you feel unsafe leave or ask your guest to leave
- • If the profile is not false or misleading let people know in your review
- • Trust goes a long way, ask other people about their experiences
For me many of the worries can be easily considered and moved to the back of your mind, I would make sure I did a bit of research, got to know the host or guest, had a backup plan and spoke to other couch surfers if I felt comfortable I would just go for it! Don’t be shy give it a try….
AirBNB also has its advantages and seems to me to be a legitimate alternative option to travelling using hostels, hotels and B&B.
I am not sure it is aimed at backpacker types (although I have not used the service so could be completely wrong)
While you may have the added cost and may not have as many social opportunities (compared to couch surfing) I feel that you have more guarantees and reassurance
- • You know what price you are paying
- • You know what accommodation you have paid for
- • You know what the local area is like
- • You have added security options by using the verification options
- • You have guarantees around the booking and cancellation
Many of the what if questions from the couch surfing summary are already answered for you but it is still important to thoroughly consider the user profiles, use the same common sense approach and Tell someone where you will be, how long for and give them the contact details. If you want to stay on a bit longer that may not be an option….
If you are happy with the price of the deal then why not give it a try!
Unwritten rules for the would be traveller…
- 1. Build and Interesting Profile. As I mentioned earlier add as much info to your user profile as you can. Make sure you cover off who you are what you like and dislike, what your interests are, what you are looking for and why.
Don’t be afraid to be you and make sure you sound interesting as you should find more success. Don’t forget you will be reviewed afterwards so don’t exaggerate the truth too much.
2. Have you Profile properly Verified. Remember that verified profiles build trust and with that added security for guests and hosts people are more likely to feel it is safer to host you or to stay with you.
3. Take time to thoroughly review user profiles to find a Compatible Host. If you look for a host or guest that has similar interests, goals hobbies etc that match yours you are much more likely to get on and this is very important for you both to enjoy the experience.
4. Ask your host what they expect of you. If the host hasn’t already told you what it expected within their user profile ask.
You don’t want to turn up and find out they want you in bed by 9pm and also you never know if you get on well enough they may want to join you on your trip for a while.
5. Before you book ask some questions. If you have a question ask it remember it is unlikely you will know the host or guest in advance so if you have a burning question as it.
Is there a curfew? Can you hang out with them? Do you need to fit around their lives? If you are running a little late will it affect them?
Don’t forget if you are late or don’t turn up they could be waiting in for you and be inconvenienced they may even be picking you up…
6. Couch Surfers – You are staying for free so offer token of appreciation. How many complete strangers would let you stay for free? NONE!
This is a very important unwritten rule, make the host feel appreciated, offer a gift related to the hobby or interest (you thoroughly studied their profile remember), offer to teach them something, grab a takeaway or cook them a meal.
Don’t be tight, if you eat at a hosts pay your way or get some groceries in at least make the offer.
7. Be friends and return the favour. Its not always possible to get on with everyone but make the effort to get along.
If you manage to get along with your host then you will both cherish the experience, don’t forget if you have the means you could have an opportunity to return the favour.
Let them know if they are welcome and you never know they may even come to visit some day…
8. Clean up after yourself and help out with the household chores – Your mum isn’t staying with you is she so make sure you behave yourself, clean up after yourself.
If you get a chance why not help out a little, chuck out the bins, get the hoover out or clean the loo when you’re done. Your host will appreciate this a lot more than you think, will give you a better review and are likely to welcome you back again.
9. Rate your stay – Once you have done and left don’t forget to rate your host remember this is your opportunity to tell the next couch surfer how great your experience was. On the flip side your review could help someone avoid an awful experience.
10. Stay active on your couch surfing site – Don’t forget that this can be a social experience for you and the other users on the website.
If you are in regular contact with other users they are more likely to recommend you and this enhances trust and your reputation meaning you can offer advice and the community can greatly benefit from this.