Alternatives to CouchSurfing
May 16th, 2020 by Niko Lipsanen | Updated: May 18th, 2020
As of May 15th, 2020, CouchSurfing is no more free. You have to pay either a monthly a yearly fee, EUR 2.39 or 14.29, respectively, to use the service. That applies to existing users too unless they have paid for verification in the past. In that case, they can continue using the site for free for one more year. After that, they have to pay too.
While I understand the need for funding in order to run and develop the community, and find the fees rather modest, I cannot really appreciate the way how the change was implemented. Existing members cannot even log in to see their profile, contacts and inbox without paying. That's not how to do it, and it has been responded with harsh criticism by many, and for a reason. Also, it may violate the GDPR laws in the EU as users are not able to reach their data.
Update: There seems to be a way to access your profile even if you get the message for payment after logging in. Log in and go to couchsurfing.com/users/me which takes you to your own profile. I am not sure which functions are available (as a verified member I still have full access myself) but at least you can copy your profile description and take screenshots of your references, if you wish. You should also be able to download all your data at couchsurfing.com/preferences/privacy.
Even if I am not happy for the development, personally I have intention to stay in CouchSurfing, and continue hosting. After my free period ends in May, 2021, I most probably will pay the fee. I also recommend that for others.
However, it is not bad to look for some alternatives too.
BeWelcome is probably what can be considered the main current competitor to CS. The basic idea is the same: host people and stay with people. It is run by a volunteer organization. Unfortunately it still lacks a mobile app and its website leaves a lot to hope in terms of usability, particularly with mobile devices. Its user base of 125 thousand is modest compared to over 10 million in CS but still a considerable amount compared to many other alternatives. Update: The BeWelcome forum has gained some activity, it seems that there are some CS members now moving there.
My profile in BeWelcome: bewelcome.org/members/lipsanen
TrustRoots is another volunteer-run hospitality network. I have to admit that I am not very familiar with it; I just joined there yesterday. But it looks promising: the website is well-designed and they have a mobile app. It was initially created as a hospitality network for hitchhikers but is now open for all. You can join a "tribe" like hitchhikers, nomads, ecoliving, families, or several others, to find like-minded people. The main disadvantages in TrustRoots are, in my opinion, the very small userbase (34000 members) and lack of a reference system for hosts and guests (Update: I was told that a reference system is under construction.).
My profile in TrustRoots: trustroots.org/profile/nli
If one of the other hospitality networks ever will be a CouchSurfing killer, my bet is that it will be either BeWelcome or TrustRoots. Even if they are lagging far behind CS in terms of number of users, or particulary in the case of BeWelcome, in usability, they seem to have some active volunteers who run the site and develop it as much as they can with their limited resources. But let's look some other alternatives too.
Hospitality Club used to be the number one network in the past, before most people moved to CS. It still exists, and some people continue to use it, but it hasn't really been developed for years and its usability is even worse than that of BeWelcome. I used to be an active member there before moving to CS but even if I still have my profile there I haven't had any requests for six years. I don't have high hopes for its revival.
My profile in Hospitality Club: secure.hospitalityclub.org/hc/travel.php?cid=nli
If you are a cyclist, maybe Warm Showers could be something for you? It is a hospitality network for those travelling by bicycle. However, they recently made the same thing as CouchSurfing: you now have to pay to use it. New users should pay a one time fee of USD 30 to join. The website seems rather well-designed and they have over 150 thousand members. They are also developing a mobile app but they are going to charge a "nominal fee" for its use. I have a hosting only account there and will keep it unless I have to pay at some point.
My profile in Warm Showers: warmshowers.org/user/248171
One more hospitality network is Servas International which has existed since 1949. Their motto is: "Peace and understanding through travel and hosting." New members will be interviewed before they can join, and they also have a membership fee. It doesn't suit to ad hoc kind of travelling where you go to a city and look for hosts but more for kind of travelling where you prepare your routes and schedules well beforehand. I am not a member of Servas myself so I don't have any personal experience from it.
Nevertheless, I am not asking anyone to leave CouchSurfing and, to be honest, I don't believe any of the other networks can compete with it anytime soon – at least in the number of users. Most probably CouchSurfing will stay as the main player in hospitality exchange field for quite some time. But looking for other alternatives is not bad. Sometimes smaller number of users also means smaller number of competing requests. Hence the opportunity to find a host can in some cases be even better in some smaller network.
CouchSurfing may not the only network to find a free place to stay overnight and meet new people in different parts of the world but at least it still is the biggest and the most active one.
My profile in CouchSurfing: couchsurfing.com/people/nli
See also: CouchSurfing blog post about the changes
Below is the "We will all come together again" video from CouchSurfing members all around the world, including 11 guests of mine, and myself.