Backpacking around Europe can get expensive. To help cut the cost, many travelers are turning to couch surfing: A free place to stay on a stranger's couch. Travelers are using a website called couchsurfing.org to connect with people around the world as a host or couch surfer.
"I stayed with prostitutes," couch surfer Ashley Peel said about the surprise she got during a trip to Australia. "That was an experience in its own because since it was legal, it wasn't a taboo as much as it is in America."
Aside from their day job, Peels says her hosts were very welcoming and showed her the local flavor.
"They took me to all the local bars," she said. "Hole-in-the-wall places that you wouldn't really know about in your guide book because it's not in there."
The website connects people across oceans with a free place to crash. A billing address and credit card help verify people are who they say they are. The site has 4.2 million members. Two-hundred of them live in the greater Wilmington area.
"My experience went well," Peel said, "so I needed to return the favor."
So Peel let Australian exchange student Michael King stay on her couch before the UNCW dorms opened.
"To have someone welcome you into their house even half way across the world, it opens your mind as kind of a different experience that changes you," King said.
Couch surfing is a great way to save a lot of money and meet new people. But remember, you are staying on a stranger's couch so do your research beforehand. The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office offers these tips:
-Do extensive research on the person.
-Don't give out personal information.
-Try to travel with a partner.
"It'd definitely be a lot easier for a guy to do this kind of thing," King said.
"It's all about being smart and trusting your instincts" Peel said. "If you feel like it's not a good idea, then don't do it. And if you're really uncomfortable and you're a female, stay with females."
Both Peel and King say they plan to use couchsurfing.org for future travels.
"You don't really get to see the country if you're staying in a hotel," King said. "You've got to stay with the people, because they can show you the real thing."
Couchsurfing.org reports 99 percent of their members have had positive experiences couch surfing. If you're wary about opening your home to a stranger, the site offers the option of meeting for a cup of coffee or a tour of the town.