Couchsurfing has been around since 2004, and reviews of the popular cheap travel alternative website have been mixed since it’s inception. Perhaps it’s time for a fresh look at some new options available to digital nomads in 2017.
When I first set off to head overseas as a digital nomad 4 years ago, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to do it alone. I did what many nomads do –I did a little research and tried to find people to share my journey with, show me around Chiang Mai, and point me in the direction of all the best coworking spaces, night spots, and cultural attractions.
It wasn’t long before I’d decided to give Couchsurfing a try, and it took weeks to get any good dialogue going with Couchsurfing hosts.
I was looking for foreigners to host me in the beginning. I know I needed to submerse myself into Thai culture, but not until I had gotten the lay of the land from a few expats. In hindsight, this would have been a smart move had any reliable hosts actually accepted me as a guest.
Hosts themselves were often on the move it seemed, and prioritizing female Couchsurfers over males. I had a few very candid discussions about their female preference with my prospective male hosts, and the only local (Thai) female hosts who responded with lightning speed were probably hell bent on finding a farang husband.
International Men Have a Hard Time with Couchsurfing
Like many men just starting out on Couchsurfing, it’s hard to crack that first barrier –getting ratings so hosts know that one isn’t a creep. That is, unless you’re willing to give Couchsurfing.com money simply to verify you and make you seem like less of a boogey man to hosts. Female hosts prefer females, and too few male hosts will take in another man. And then when one does, there’s the possibility of male personality conflicts.
That isn’t to say nomad ladies, families, or couples have it any easier; Couchsurfing can be a dangerous (or strange) place for women and children, but that’s not my area of expertise.
When I mentioned this to a group of male nomads I’d gotten to know on Facebook, I discovered it was much harder yet for non-white men to find hosts and build much-needed Couchsurfer ratings than it was for myself. They explained to me that people aren’t racist, they’re just more likely to open their doors to a white guy, if a male at all. Or at least that was their assumption, I can’t personally relate to those challenges either but they don’t seem unrealistic.
Chalk it up to cultural familiarity, media bias, whatever. Non-white male hosts run into the same problems.
So that’s more or less what prompted this blog post. I haven’t written a genuine post on Hobo with a Laptop for over a year or so, since I launched Digital Nomad Escape Plan. And after hearing a steady stream of negative Couchsurfer experiences, I thought I’d explore some Couchsurfing alternatives that were relevant in 2017.
Couchsurfing Alternatives in 2017
The landscape for Couchsurfing alternatives in 2017 seemed pretty bleak initially, with most of them being so old, I wondered if anyone was even using them anymore.
Here’s what I came up with: My top Couchsurfing alternatives in 2017 –I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Cultree – Great for Flashpackers, Families, and Women
The concept behind Cultree addresses all of the concerns in my personal experience above, and I assume it’s a lot safer for female Couchsurfers, too.
- It’s a safe Couchsurfing alternative for women, digital nomad families, couples
- It’s easier for men to find hosts, and be hosts, no matter where they’re from
- It matches personalities much better than Couchsurfing
- Approves and verifies hosts, guides, and drivers a lot like Uber and Airbnb do
Cultree uses machine-learning algorithms to match up hosts and Cultree users, sort of like OK Cupid does. This removes a huge headache, because personality conflicts are one of the biggest complaints of Couchsurfing.
Cultree isn’t free, but it’s very reasonable and pricing is based on what you’re looking for. And if you’re a regular couch-hopper with a decent income interested in a safe alternative to Couchsurfing –and meeting hosts that better suit your personality, age, needs, and interests– Cultree is the best Couchsurfing alternative.
The service combines the best qualities of Couchsurfing and other features people love about Uber, local travel tours, and the quality accommodations one can find on Airbnb. Except it’s cheaper across the board.
On Couchsurfing, beggars can’t be choosers. But by being willing to pay a little to be specific about what it is exactly that you’re looking for; like getting someone to pick you up at the airport, bringing you to dinner, getting a private apartment, and allowing you to dictate how many hours per day you’d like to go sightseeing –Cultree is worth it.
Currently they’re covering a limited number of cities, but everything about their service is curated and it’s a new digital nomad startup. Give it time.
Right now they’re your best option if you’re travelling to a city in Czech, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Montenegro, Romania, or Bulgaria.
BeWelcome – Great for backpackers
BeWelcome is a not-for-profit, which is great if you’re bootstrapping, but it’s also just as unpredictable as Couchsurfing.com in that anyone can sign up, and profiles are not matched by an algorithm.
- Just as “safe” as Couchsurfing.com
- Most users of all Couchsurfing alternatives
- Not-for-profit also means little customer service, if any
Reviews I’ve found online state that they remove users for illegitimate reasons, offer little to no customer service, and “promote democracy” among users –meaning it isn’t carefully curated, you’re on your own and left to wonderful surprises like “oh, hey. I’m a 56 year-old male nudist –sorry I didn’t mention that in my profile”.
Other complaints include it not having enough hosts and fewer users in general, unlike Couchsurfing.com. Cultree probably has the least amount of users at this time with it being so new, so if you’re looking for more flexibility in where you travel to with a Couchsurfer alternative, I’d probably opt for BeWelcome.
Trustroots – Great for Hitchhikers
Trustroots started in 2014 and sells itself as a hospitality website for hitchhikers. This is probably very ideal for digital nomads and expats who are completely willing to go with the flow, and have a nice passive income or some money in the bank.
Because of Trustroots’ focus on hitchhikers and hobos, it’s probably the least useful for digital nomads, however it’s got a very slick website and the maps displaying where all its users are is very helpful.
- Dynamic map to see where users and hosts are
- It’s all open-source, and truly a not-for-profit
- Not ideal for digital nomads if you rely on reliable working conditions
- Trust is everything
Trustroots reviews are sparse on the web, which is why I gave it the third rank out of this top Couchsurfing alternatives list. I’d really like to hear from readers in the comments on this one, as it’s the only one I haven’t tried myself (yet).
MovingWorlds – Great for Volunteers
Moving Worlds is a platform for professionals to use their skills abroad in exchange for accommodation or other benefits (some projects also offer stipends).
In a nut shell; “MovingWorlds connects professionals wanting to donate their skills to startups and social enterprises around the world that meet their skills & preferences”.
- Make a social impact with your professional skills, do more than simply volunteer
- Extensive resources to ensure you have a high impact, safe trip
- All organizations are verified by MovingWorlds
- Accommodation included, just ask
The reviews for MovingWorlds are impeccable; you can watch video interviews of “experteers” here, or you can visit any one of these third-party websites to get a better idea of what they’re all about.
- Go Overseas MovingWorlds Reviews
- MovingWorlds: Where Peace Corps meets Match.com
- MovingWorlds on GlassDoor
No matter what you’re after, there’s something on this list for everyone. Cultree is great for people who need a little more predictability to their travel, and MovingWorlds is an ideal solution for those wanting to make a difference abroad while getting free accommodation.
We updated this article in May 2017 to add MovingWorlds and remove the digits beside each suggestion. We hope our readers don’t look at these suggestions in order of “best to worst”, but look at each suggestion individually based on their own unique needs.
What do you think of these 2017 Couchsurfing alternatives? Let everyone know in the comments.
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