CouchSurfing vs Hostelling: How to get the most out of traveling

by Dan Fey on March 29, 2012

When it comes to traveling, which will give you a better experience, CouchSurfing or Hostelling? How do you choose? Read on and find out.

CouchSurfing vs Hostelling

CouchSurfing vs Hostelling, which will give you a better experience?

While in Tel Aviv, I received a message through CouchSurfing from a girl writing her thesis on CouchSurfing in Israel. She wanted to interview me and share my stories and experiences about CouchSurfing in Israel. A week later after crossing paths in Eilat and Jordan, we finally met up at the Florentine Hostel in Tel Aviv. It was perfect timing because I CouchSurfed for seven days in Tel Aviv before living in hostels for a week in Eilat. The interview got me thinking about what CouchSurfing offers vs staying in hostels and how to create the best traveling experience. Both offer different experiences and perspectives on where you are staying.


Shakshouka CouchSurfing

Eating shakshouka after my Israeli CouchSurfing host, Shira, taught me how to cook it

What is CouchSurfing?

CouchSurfing is a volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travelers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice. CouchSurfing has almost four million members in over 240 countries and territories living in over 79,000 different cities. With CouchSurfing, you can either host travelers on your couch or crash on someone else’s couch while traveling. Each member has a profile with reviews from prior surfers or hosts, allowing you to review the member before accepting or declining a surfing or hosting request.

What is the value of CouchSurfing?

CouchSurfing is a great way to understand the cultures and perspectives of a local while traveling. You have the opportunity to stay their home, ask them their views about their country, see how they live, and share stories. Many hosts will also cook for their surfers or show them a local restaurant that’s not listed in any guidebook. One of my Israeli hosts taught me how to make shakshouka, a delicious dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions. These are all great ways to really expose yourself to the culture in ways you cannot as a traditional tourist.

Purim in Tel Aviv

Attending the Jewish holiday of Purim while CouchSurfing in Tel Aviv

If you stay a few days with a local host, you may have some very interesting adventures together. The host gets to learn more about how foreigners view their country and regain an appreciation for where they live. They also get to experience things they wouldn’t normally do like visiting a local museum, park, or university. As a traveler, you almost have a personal guide and friend who can show you around, telling you the local history and stories. This type of cultural exchange and experience can quickly create deep friendships. Many surfers invite their hosts to visit their homes.


Hostel outside

One of my hostel rooms in Eilat, I chose to sleep outside because the weather was beautiful

How is hostelling different than CouchSurfing?

Staying in hostels provides a much different perspective than CouchSurfing. Hostels cater to backpackers who are there to explore the local sites and attractions. Hostels benefit from the experiences, knowledge, and questions from many backpackers before you and are proficient at setting up tours or suggesting activities for the area. You will also find travelers from around the world at hostels that are either coming or going. It’s easy to make friends and ask your fellow travelers about what was good, bad, fun, or boring. You may also find someone with the same travel goals and book a trip together.

In a hostel, you can also have more flexibility. You can come and go as you please, staying as many days as you want. Booking is usually very easy and doesn’t require much planning. I took a six hour bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat, arriving at 10pm without a place to stay. Within one hour, I found a hostel, booked a room, and setup a tour to Petra, Jordan the next morning. You can book a cheap dorm with many people or book a single room and have some alone time to unwind.

The Treasury at Petra

The Treasury at Petra the morning after booking a hostel and this tour at 10pm

Creating the best travel experience

Ok, so CouchSurfing and hostelling both offer different perspectives and experiences, but which will provide the best experience?

The answer is a combination of CouchSurfing and Hostelling will provide the best experience. CouchSurfing is a great way to save money, learn about the local culture, find experiences you won’t find in a guidebook or at a hostel, and make friends with locals. Hostelling may or may not provide more comfort, but it will likely provide more flexibility. It will also cater to you as a backpacker, making it easy to find and book the major sights and give you ideas on where to go and what to do. You will have to opportunity to speak with other travelers from around the world about their experiences. CouchSurfing and hostelling together will create a well-rounded balance of hitting the major sights while also experiencing the local perspectives and culture.

I fly from San Francisco to Santiago, Chile April 3rd. I’m excited to continue combining CouchSurfing and hostelling as I travel through Patagonia then north through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

How do you create your best travel experiences? What other insights do you have about CouchSurfing vs hostelling? Leave a comment here.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Arja Hendrikx April 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Love it Dan! So great to read that I inspired you and the otherway around I can use your article again for my thesis. Keep going, keep travelling and whenever you need place to crash in holland, my couch is there! 🙂


Daniel Keller May 2, 2012 at 4:20 am

Eilat is the HOTSPOT of Israel abd a nst see for every toursit. There is no sea in the world like the Red Sea.


Andy August 20, 2013 at 9:49 pm

I definitely agree. I think that using both in combination to travel is the way to maximize the benefit.


Kristine May 10, 2015 at 3:09 pm


I really like your blog! I’m writing a project about couchsurfing and the sharing economy at my university in Denmark. Would you have time to answer a few questions about your experience, and may I use your blog in my research?

Thank you in advance,

Kristine Sofie


Hitesh Kumar . J September 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm


As a Hosteller and newbie to Couchsurfing,it was very interesting to read your comparison.Thanks for the perspective.


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