Verification adds another level of peace of mind, and involves having the service check that the name and address on a profile is the same as the one on the member's credit card, and then sending that person a special code via postal mail that must be then entered into the website. Short of individually investigating members, which would be impossible given the more than 1,000 average weekly registrations lately, these verification measures provide a decent level of security. Of course the ultimate question of whether it's safe depends on your personal judgment. Make sure to thoroughly research anyone who is going to stay with you, or on whose couch you'll be crashing.
More free-accommodations services
The focus here has been on CouchSurfing, but it's not the only service of its kind out there. Other online networks that can help travelers find free beds include The Hospitality Club and GlobalFreeloaders.com. Despite the wildly different connotations of their names, both of these websites offer free services that make it possible for travelers seeking an affordable night's rest to connect with hosts offering free lodging. The Hospitality Club is the larger of the two, with more than 100,000 members; GlobalFreeloaders has about one-third that many.
If you'd like to try out one of these services, but feel uneasy about meeting a potential host or guest through the Internet, there are two well-established organizations that may be more suitable. Servas was founded just after World War II and is the oldest of the free-accommodations services, though it presents some obstacles not found with the Web-based outfits. Prospective Servas members must interview with a contact person and then wait to find out whether they have been accepted. Servas also charges a fee of $50 for unlimited domestic travel or $85 for unlimited international travel. However, with these drawbacks comes the added benefit of security, knowing the person you may be hosting or staying with has been screened by a representative of the organization.
Hospitality Exchange dates to 1965 and also publishes printed directories, which it sends to members who have paid the $20 annual fee. However, its scope is limited, having members in just "20 countries and territories." Whatever its limitations, the Hospitality Exchange website does present one amusing saying about visitor relations it's wise to keep in mind no matter which of these services you use: "Fish and guests begin to smell in three days."