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The notion of crashing on a friend of a friend’s couch is an age-old concept. However, Couchsurfing has run with this idea, giving its network of 15 million users access to finding locals with available space around the world. Joining Couchsurfing is completely free. Once you’ve made a profile, you can connect with hosts living where you’re headed. Past guests and hosts can also leave reviews for new Couchsurfing members to ease any trepidation about staying with complete strangers. Many seasoned travelers and hosts have dozens — and in some cases, hundreds — of reviews.

Before reaching out to a host, do your homework and investigate that he or she has a clear photo, profile, and description of the couch or bedroom being provided. When getting in touch with potential hosts, send a personalized message reflecting the information they’ve shared on their profile. It’s a much more thoughtful approach — these people are offering to house you for free, after all. After your trip, consider returning the favor by offering up your own space for fellow travelers.

Also, local Couchsurfing communities often organize events, such as language exchange classes, trying international cuisine, and group hikes. Plus, beyond stretching your travel budget, using Couchsurfing allows you to connect with locals, who may have more insight into a destination than your guidebook.

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