How do you feel about couch surfing in London? It’s certainly an unusual way to see the city, but there is no better option if you want to see the capital on a shoestring budget. Couch surfing is essentially free accommodation in London, which understandably is hard to come by in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
This guide will lay out where to find hosts, couch surfing etiquette and what you can expect from couch surfing. It’s a great way to meet people in London when backpacking or travelling. And, of course, it can seriously reduce the cost of visiting London.
How does couch surfing work?
Couch surfing is the idea that you stay at a stranger’s house for free for a night or two at a time. You’ll sleep on their couch (but this could also extend to an inflatable air mattress or spare room). The ‘surfing’ aspect works on the basis that you are unlikely to stay in one location for more than one or two days.
It is understood that couch surfing is free. The host will provide basic accommodation at no cost. But, it is recommended that in exchange for their hospitality, a couch surfer will offer help with chores, skill swap, or help teach the host another language. In London you can really impress your host by offering to make a cup of tea! Ultimately, it is important to treat the home that you stay in, and the host that you stay with, with respect and care.
Where to find couch surfing hosts in London
You may be surprised to hear that couch surfing is a pretty popular way to visit London on a budget among travellers and backpackers. Many Londoners may have benefited from couch surfing in Europe themselves, and so now offer to host couch surfers in their homes.
Couchsurfing.com is the original and most popular couch surfing website. It will be your first port of call when it comes to finding a couch surfing host in London. As the name of the website suggests, it was set up with the aim of being a global travel network- connecting like minded people all over the world.
There are more than 12 million users worldwide. Unsurprisingly, there are a multitude of hosts in London. In fact, there are more than 210,000 couch surfing hosts in London. You might actually be spoilt for choice!
Although couch surfing in London itself is free, Couchsurfing.com has a small annual membership fee of £13. However, this is worth the price considering the number of hosts you have access to, and the safety precautions put in place by the platform.
To get started on couchsurfing.com, you need to set up a profile. Your profile should include information about yourself, your values, and your lifestyle. Completing your profile is the best way to connect with others on the platform. Be sure to include photographs of yourself on your travels so that people can get to know you a little better.
London Couchsurfing (3k+ members) is a dedicated Facebook group for free (or cheap) accommodation in London. Most members will post to the page asking for a couch to stay on for a night or two, and hosts within the group can respond on their post.
The benefit of using a Facebook group is that you can usually see the profile of the person who is posting and commenting. However there are no reviews or safety features in place like there is on couchsurfing.com.
Gumtree is essentially the UK equivalent to Craigslist. There are much less options on Gumtree for hosts, and many require payment. Gumtree is not regulated in the same way that couchsurfing.com is, and it is not recommended to use Gumtree for safe, reliable couch surfing in London.
Couch surfing etiquette
As you can imagine, when you stay at someone else’s home for free, you need to leave the home as you found it. That means cleaning and tidying up after yourself, and also helping out your host with any chores and housekeeping.
It’s a good idea to ask your host if there is anything that you can do while you are staying at their home to thank them for their hospitality. Offer up any skills that you have to see whether a skill swap could be a way to repay them for staying with them for free. For example, if you have a trade you may offer to do odd jobs around the house like fixing a tap or putting up a curtain rail.
Alternatively you might take your host out for a meal, drinks, or offer to cook for them for the duration of your stay. Be generous, courteous, and respectful of their home at all times.
Couch surfing safety tips
Couch surfing involves staying in a stranger’s home, which means that you must make your safety a priority when travelling, stay vigilant, and trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t be afraid to move on.
If you’re just starting out with couch surfing, or you’d prefer not to stay with a member alone, you may limit your search to families or couples.
Make sure that you always have a back up plan in case something doesn’t work out. When couch surfing you run the risk of cancellations or a stay not working out in the way you hoped. Research the area in which you are staying. Look up transport links, and identify the nearest affordable hotel or hostel that you could switch to if you need to. Make sure that you always have enough spare cash to accommodate this.
Couchsurfing.com has a dedicated safety team. Again, this makes it a great platform to search for a couch surfing host. When using the platform, review profiles and references from other users carefully. If something doesn’t seem right? Look for a different option. Negative experiences can be reported confidentially on the platform. If you have a negative interaction with someone, report it immediately.
When using couchsurfing.com, they recommend that you use the platform for most of the communication with your host. Don’t give out personal details such as an email address or phone number until you meet them or feel comfortable with them. After your stay, you can leave a reference for your host which will be displayed to other members.
Become a couch surfing host
If you’ve had a good experience of couch surfing yourself, you may wish to become a host. Again, one of the best and safest ways to advertise your home to other couch surfers is through a profile on couchsurfing.com.
When you open your home to couch surfers, you don’t have to be available to constantly host. In fact, you can change your status on your profile to No, Maybe/Yes, or Not Right Now (but I can hang out). It’s highly flexible.
Couchsurfing.com also hosts regular community events in London and other cities all over the world. This means that couch surfers and couch surfing hosts can get together to exchange stories, tips, and chat about all things couch surfing and travel.
Is couch surfing free?
Couch surfing in London is free. Hosts will offer you accommodation at no cost. Helping out around the home or skill swapping is a great way to say thank you for their generosity.
That said, you will pay a fee of £13 per year for registration to the popular couch surfing website, couchsurfing.com.
Why do people do couch surfing?
People couch surf because it is a way to stay in a city for free (which seriously reduces the most expensive part of travelling), and make new friends. Not only can you see a new side to the city, and experience London as a local, but you can also form meaningful and lasting connections with likeminded people.
What is the difference between Airbnb and couch surfing?
The main difference between Airbnb and couch surfing is that you will pay for any accommodation that you book through Airbnb. You will also usually have a room to yourself when you stay with an Airbnb host. There is also generally not the expectation to help out with household chores or skill swap. You may not see much of your host at all when you book an Airbnb. Therefore, it’s not a great way to meet people if that is your aim.