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Mumbai's couchsurfers share tips on how you can travel for free

Planning to couchsurf this summer holiday? Keen to open up your bachelor pad to European trekkers? Experienced city couchsurfers share invaluable tips to make you a pro

City-based entrepreneur Mulchand Dedhia created a profile on Couchsurfing.com back in 2010 but became active on the social networking platform — that annually supports four million surfers — only in 2012. Since then, the avid traveller has ticked off Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Poland, Amsterdam, France and Austria from his bucket list.

For each visit, he used the help of the portal to find that perfect couch and a host who would act as his local guide. "In Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), I ended up spending a day more because of host who helped me explore the city like a resident," says 30-year-old Dedhia, who will share his experiences at a travel meet-up, Around The World In A Backpack, this Saturday.

Also read: 6 points plan to pull off a budget trip

Mulchand Dedhia with his host Zsuzsa Bakonyi at a restaurant in Budapest
Mulchand Dedhia with his host Zsuzsa Bakonyi at a restaurant in Budapest

Hosted by Dedhia and friend, Rodrigo Canelas from Portugal — who is also the founder of Tribe In Action, a community supporting long-term travellers — the event’s main attraction is a talk by Emily Zanier, a French travel blogger who has visited 65 countries and attended 100 events, including the Olympics, for free. "The idea is to inspire people to travel. Couchsurfing will be a part of it too," informs Dedhia, who has hosted 45 couchsurfers at his studio apartment in Bandra.

Why couchsurfing works
Though not a new trend, couchsurfing remains a go-to option for many travellers, even in times of cheap accommodations on portals such as Airbnb. Dedhia reasons, "You might want to book a hotel if you are looking for a three-day stay. Couch-surfing works wonders if you are keen to travel for a longer duration or if you’re on a budget because it’s completely free. Plus, you get an opportunity to make lifelong connections." He cites an instance: "Recently, Zsuzsa Bakonyi, a Hungarian lady who had hosted me during my travel to Budapest, couchsurfed at my place for 15 days.

I ended up conducting a photography workshop with her because we share a common interest, and even made money out of it."

On: March 5, 6 pm
At: Radio Bar, ground floor, Hotel New Castle, Linking Road, next to Satguru, Bandra (W).
Entry: Free and open to all

Smart tips
>> Study a host’s profile before sending the request. Read the testimonials too.
>> Do not expect five-star treatment and don’t misuse the property just because the stay is free.
>> Allow the host to show you around.
>> Avoid accepting requests from travellers with incomplete profiles. Also, crosscheck their social networking profiles via Google.
>> Often, people use couchsurfing as a pitstop when they have connecting flights. That’s not the objective of the experience.

I hosted a traveller from Curaçao. Until then I hadn’t heard of the country
Couchsurfer: Frazan Kotwal
Couch count: Hamburg, Gothenburg, Berlin, Prague, Verona, Milan, Barcelona and Vienna among others
As an Opera singer, 23-year-old Kotwal has lived out of a suitcase and has couched in most parts of Eastern Europe for the last few years.

Frazan Kotwal with Bulgarian friends in their traditional attire
Frazan Kotwal with Bulgarian friends in their traditional attire

He observes, “It’s difficult to get a couch in bigger cities during peak season but in smaller towns, people are more welcoming. A host in Bulgaria invited me to his 2,000-metre high mountain cabin, 50 kms away from the capital, Sofia. I trekked a mountain and stayed there for four nights. It was surreal.”

Having hosted surfers too, he shares, “Once I hosted a traveller from Curaçao. Until then I hadn’t even heard of the country. It was a learning experience.”

Our nudist host expected us to follow his way of life while we were there!

Couchsurfer: Priyanka Bangia
Couch count: Austin, LA, Brussels and Berlin
"As a single woman traveller, it is important to find hosts who are verified on the website, and referred by at least 10 to 15 travellers," says the 39-year-old media professional. She adds that the experience doesn’t depend on the country but the host. "Once, a man was willing to offer a couch in Amsterdam but said that he was a nudist and expected us to follow his way of life if we couchsurfed at his place! We obviously declined and ended up staying in a hotel instead," recalls Bangia, who has hosted five couchsurfers.

Smart tip
>> Avoid hosting a traveller without a reference. Also, ask questions about their interests before accepting the request to host, so that you know them a little before they come over.


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