This month, Couchsurfing sent out a message to their users that their home-sharing platform between locals and travelers will no longer be free-for-use.
In the process, they’ve upset a lot of loyal users. Although Couchsurfing is only asking for donations of a measly $2.39 per month or a discounted $14.29 annually, their users are upset with how Couchsurfing has gone about doing this.
One of the issues for most users is that the donation is a compulsory fee to pay, rather than what Couchsurfing is calling a “donation”. What is upsetting users the most is that their profiles, which have been in use for years in some cases, are now locked behind a paywall. If a user wanted to delete their profile, they are unable to even do so without first paying. How many people would suddenly pay for a service that is famous for not being about money?
Users that have hosted hundreds of users in the past, and have racked up reviews and trust in the community, are now prevented from accessing their profile unless they pay their fee. Users are calling it “a slap in the face”, the final step in Couchsurfing “losing its heart”, and an inconsiderate way to roll out the message of change. The solution many people online have proposed to make it less upsetting is making the donation an actual donation – something optional, without having the profile locked. Scores of people have said that they’d happily pay this fee if that was the case. Instead, they’re now choosing to leave the platform on principle.
With that said, tens of thousands of users across platforms like Reddit are looking for alternatives to Couchsurfing – wanting to be aligned with a company that appears to care more about their users.
Here are four viable alternatives to Couchsurfing while you’re traveling:
BeWelcome is pretty much operating behind the barebones mission of Couchsurfing. If you’re a traveler, they want you to be able to find a home-away-from-home in the house of a local, anywhere in the world.
People are loving BeWelcome for the fact that they endeavor to always be free, and they even made their source code available – so if you ever think you could make a better platform, the skeleton is available for you to repurpose. That’s how committed BeWelcome is to connecting the world.
A downside of BeWelcome is that their userbase is nowhere near as large as Couchsurfing – at least, for now. As a result, you’re unlikely to get even near as many requests from travelers if you’re a local. If you’re a traveler, you’re unlikely to have an awful lot of choices available. This is pretty easy to see based on the stats on their website: 217 countries, and 218 000 members. That equates to, on average, slightly under 600 users per country. Not the most extensive community to work with, but still possible.
2. Doot Experiences, a meetup platform for travelers to make connections with locals while eating at great food spots together
With the Hangout function of Couchsurfing also being locked out, the best alternative to meeting locals and making friends abroad is Doot Experiences.
Doot Experiences is a paid-for-service which allows you to choose from a variety of eat-out environments. Once you’ve chosen one, you send out a general request to the locals to take you for an experience of that sort (e.g. Pizzeria, bar hopping, regional foods). A local sees your request, volunteers to take you to their favorite spot, you meet up, and have fun. You only make a payment once you’ve actually been matched up with a local, so it’s a low-risk process.
The main benefit of Doot is that you get to meet and connect with regular locals in the city, rather than tour guides who just show you things and don’t have fun with you. On top of that, the locals help you out with the language barriers, introduce you to the foods you’ve never heard of, and keep you away from the tourist traps.
A downside is that it is a paid-for-service. However, it’s low cost and the money paid by tourists goes right back into the local community. Doot financially supports the locals on the platform, allowing them to meetup more frequently with tourists. Another downside is that Doot is only present in Italy, Japan, and South Africa for the time being.
HospitalityClub was founded in Europe in the early 2000s, and it was one of the original hospitality exchange websites. They saw some successful early growth, but by around 2007, they had lost the battle to Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing started dominating Google searches and was fortunate enough to become the main hospitality exchange service.
Back in 2011, when Couchsurfing took their first investment and decided to approach the concept as a company, Veit, the HospitalityClub founder, was very outspoken against the decision. He wrote a full post berating the decision, saying that it goes against the principles of hospitality exchange.
In many ways, you could say that he saw this coming. He saw the direction Couchsurfing was heading, and he knew the core principles of the community would be violated at some stage. If you visit HospitalityClub these days, you will see that they are still firmly committed to free hospitality exchanges, and have a focus on community. Their website also seems firmly stuck in the mid-2000s, but it’s totally functional and has that old school Couchsurfing vibe.
I’m very fond of TalkTalkBnb, since the local gets such a tangible and worthwhile skill from it. In return for the language conversation, the local hosts you, the traveler, for free. To a large degree, Couchsurfing has facilitated this as a side-benefit without it really being intentional.
Since locals are hosting you because they want to speak with you, you end up getting a very hands-on host. They often want to show you around town, spend a lot more time around you, and it makes for a much more personal platform on average. If you’re the type of person that prefers to see your host only on the odd occasion, then this probably isn’t for you – but it’s absolutely perfect for those of you that love to connect with others!