How to stay for free when you travel

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The online couchsurfing community aims to provide a free place to stay for travelers on a budget (KTRK)

A life of travel is one that few can afford, but thrifty travelers have created a way to make it possible.

It's called couchsurfing, and there's an online community that makes it free to travel. Travelers go online and connect with hosts in other cities that they plan to visit. The hosts open up their homes for free.

"It's free so you don't have to pay for anything. It sounds too good to be true, but it's really not. You meet some of the most amazing people," said couchsurfer Jaimee Ratliff.

The concept has been around for years, but is gaining popularity as the online community expands. There is no shortage of homes in Houston taking part in the movement.

Houston host Zack Berriege has been a traveler for years and has lived all over the world, but now he says hosting his home in Houston is his passion.

"I get one to two guests over here every month," Berriege said. "You're gaining new friendships right on the spot, but it feels like you've known them for years."

How does it work? First, make a profile on couchsurfing.com. Then, plan your trip by choosing the cities you want to visit. Do a quick search of hosts in the area and be sure to read the reviews. Check to make sure that the website has verified the host, meaning they have confirmed the host and location. You can also read testimonials from people who have stayed in the home.

Once you find a host you think you'd like to stay with, you can email them and see if it's a match.

"Some of my best friends are from couch surfing. My girlfriend is from couchsurfing," said user Adam Smith. "You meet people that share your interest and share your passions, and you trust each other as a community."

If the idea of staying in a stranger's home is a bit frightening, users suggest giving hosting a try first.

"People will come here and they will want to cook or do something from their country or their city or whatever, and so it's interesting to have that global community exchange," said Houston area hostess Mary Frances Blatchley.

If you'd rather travel, it's a great way to make friends, experience other cultures, and have accommodations for free.

"It's given me the freedom to go and explore new places that I could never do financially. It's given me the opportunity to meet people and different languages and just learn so much. I never could have learned if I had just stayed in one place," Smith said. "It's just so rewarding and so inspiring and educational."
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