I recently wrote a post on Hotels Vs Hostels. In my conclusion I decided that it really depends on what suits your own personal preferences, but overall hostels still remained on top for the budget backpacking style of travelling. It did however get me thinking… Are there any other types of accommodation which can compete with hostels when it comes to budget travel? Of course, price always wins when it comes to hostels Vs hotels, but what about services like Couchsurfing? How do they compare when put up against hostels, and which is better?
Without a doubt, when it comes to price couch surfing wins hands down because…there is no price! It’s completely free to sign up to and use. The whole idea behind it was that locals would let you stay for free, and see another part of a place you maybe wouldn’t otherwise. There are some costs however, that although avoidable, shouldn’t be forgotten about when using Couchsurfing. For instance, if you want to increase your chances of the amount of hosts who accept your proposals, then you’ll probably want to get verified. This involves paying a minimum donation to Couch Surfing of $25. You don’t need to pay this in order to use Couchsurfing; however you will probably find your chances of finding a host who accepts your request goes up because they can verify who you are. The same goes for being able to verify who they are if they are verified, so it’s a worthwhile investment in my mind. You also should really buy/cook your host dinner while you are there, or buy them some chocolates or wine etc. You don’t have to, but they are letting you stay in their home for free, and also if you want good feedback then it will help. Even with these add on costs however, couch surfing is still cheaper than staying in a hostel. This is particularly so when staying in hostels in Western Europe, where you can pay as much as 35 Euro’s per night on a weekend when in one of the more popular cities.
One main downside to Couchsurfing is that you can never guarantee you will get somewhere to stay. With a hostel you can go on to a booking website, see where’s available, for what price, and book there and then. With Couchsurfing however, you first have to check what hosts there are in the area, send a message off to them all, and then wait on a reply. Depending on who gets back to you (as they don’t always get back to you), you can then see whether anybody has accepted your request. If you are somewhere that isn’t a big city, or somewhere which doesn’t have a lot of hosts, then you are kind of putting all your eggs in one basket, because they could just say no. Also, even if the host may like the sound of you and be happy for you to stay, they may just be busy, or already have people staying. Of course, if you can’t find a host on Couchsurfing in time then you can always just go book a hostel anyway, but it means that you can’t rely on Couchsurfing like you can with hostels, and therefore you can’t budget for using Couchsurfing alone too. For that reason, I think hostels win when it comes to availability.
This one will really depend on what host you are staying with, how much space they have available, what type of accommodation they live in, and where you are sleeping e.g. couch, bed, floor, etc. In a hostel you know you will get a bed. Everything will be pretty basic, but you know you will be sleeping in a bed. While Couchsurfing you may get lucky and get a host who has a spare room, but in most instances you will be sleeping on a couch or on the floor in somebody’s flat. Personally I could sleep anywhere, especially if it’s free, but because you are paying for a hostel you get certain basics that you may or may not get with Couchsurfing, and as a result you can usually guarantee a certain degree of comfort. This therefore means that for the consistency of comfort, hostels win in my opinion.
Off the beaten track
The whole ethos and idea behind Couchsurfing was that it would connect locals with travellers, and provide travellers with an insight into a place from a local’s perspective. I know from staying in hostels, that although you meet many people, they do mostly tend to be all backpackers or travellers. With Couchsurfing you are connected with locals immediately with the people you are staying with, plus they can show you parts of the city where they hangout i.e. where locals would go rather than just tourist spots. You also usually meet their friends, flat mates, or family, and overall have an experience you just wouldn’t have in a hostel. For that reason Couchsurfing definitely wins when prompting you to get off the beaten track.
It’s hard to compare Couchsurfing with hostels as far as service goes, because with Couchsurfing you are not paying for a service, therefore you can’t really expect any. That being said, many Couchsurfing hosts offer such good hospitality it does really feel like you are getting a great service. Equally, some Couchsurfing hosts are very low key and you are really just there at night as a place to sleep. Either way, you can’t really judge it as service because they are letting you stay for free, and are under no obligation to provide you with anything. A hostel on the other hand, is somewhere where you are paying for basic services. In most hostels I have stayed at the service has been fine. It really depends on what hostel you are staying at, and where in the world you are. For that reason I am going to remain impartial on this one, and say you simply can not compare the two on service because they are just too different.
Couchsurfing is a great service for budget backpackers, and RTW travellers. It connects you with locals in a way you simply could not do at a hostel, and is also completely free. That being said, it is not a service you can reply completely on because there will be times when you may not be able to get a host who is either available, or agrees to let you stay. It’s also not a long term option, if you plan on staying in a location for more than a few days or a week, because you can’t really expect someone to let you stay for free in their house for longer than that. I think Couchsurfing is a service best used in conjunction with other forms of accommodation, and where budget backpackers are concerned; hostels work really well with it.