Couchsurfing in Italy

Couchsurfing, Italy, Italy (Photo courtesy of Europosters)

Couchsurfing and other hospitality networks allow you to sleep for free in other member's homes

What is CouchSurfing?

CouchSurfing networks—there are several, but Couchsurfing.com defintely came up with the best name—each consist of millions of people all around the world willing (indeed, eager) to let total strangers stay with in their spare bedroom or fold-out couch absolutely for free.

This is basically a variant on the time-tested hospitality clubs. Those have been around since the 1960s, offering free lodgings to a group like-minded travelers who join, pay a membership fee, and receive a catalog of willing hosts.

Well, the Internet has ended the days of paying annual fees for a printed catalog. (Those traditional hospitality clubs do still exist, and are profiled here.) With the new model, you just sign up, log in, fill out a Facebook-like profile, and start searching for free places to crash.

CouchSurfing networks are for people who are just looking for a spare bed or fold-out sofa for a night or two while they travel the world, making it a godsend for itinerant beach bums, neo-hippies, dirt-poor students, and other cash-strapped travelers.

Are there rules for Couchsurf stays?

Every host sets his or her own rules, but:

In general you can stay as long as you like—or at least as long as your potential hosts are willing to put up with you—but remember that old saying about fish and houseguests and be polite about the amount of freeloading you do in any one spot. Two to four days seems about average.

With some networks, you don't have to offer to be a host yourself—though that is expected; in others, you must be open to hosting (or at least offering to meet with a visitor for a coffee or something, even if you can't put them up for the night).

Of course, any host has the right to accept or decline any request.

Are there really that many Couchsurfing spots out there?

Tons.

Couchsurfing.com alone has 12 million members in 200,000 cities. 

At last check, Couchsurfing.com in Italy offered more than 573,000 hosts, including mroe than 46,800 in Rome, more than 40,000 in Milan, and more than 10,900 in Florence—just as an example.

How much does CouchSurfing cost?

CouchSurfing networks don't cost a penny to join, and you stay for free.

Though they don't require that you give your hosts a gratuity, be polite and at least offer to pay for any meals (plus phone calls and the like you might make from their home).

Also, its always nice to bring a token gift when you arrive—as you would as a guest in anyone's home. (Bottle of wine should do it.)

How safe is CouchSurfing?

You can keep much of your personal info and e-mail secret, communicating via the site to work out where and when to meet your hosts.

You do have to be comfortable with the prospect of staying with (or hosting) a perfect stranger, but these groups do tend be self-policing.

Most networks have a system of verification and then levels of trusted-ness, and the open "comments" feature is quick to pounce on anyone who turns out to be a crummy host or terrible guest,

Where can I find willing hosts?

There tends to be much more availability in cities than in smaller towns, and the clientele does tend to skew younger (nearly 3/4 are under 30), but anyone is welcome—and the personal profiles make it easier to find a better match.

(Note: these sites go out of their way to avoid being used as dating services—not that true love might not flourish on someone's spare couch.)

What is a Couchsurfing stay like?

"Would you like to go to a party?"

I had barely met my host for the evening—a 30-something producer of science programs for RAI, the Italian state radio network—and already he was inviting me to a party at a friend's house.

That's how, within two hours of arriving in Rome, I found myself up playing a key role in a surprise party subterfuge. I was the ruse for why my host had to pick up a friend on the far side of town before taking her to "dinner" at a mutual friend's house. See, the surprise party was for her, and her friends and co-workers needed time to set up.

I spent the rest of the evening in a lovely Roman apartment, eating cheese and focaccia and canapés, drinking fine wines, and hobnobbing with staffers from the Italian equivalent of NPR.

After the party wound down, my host drove me back to his apartment (conveniently located across from a Metro station a few blocks from the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura) where he quickly made up the fold-out sofa in his living room, asked what I'd like for breakfast in the morning, then showed me how to log onto his WiFi network before bidding me goodnight.

I have never, not once, checked into a hotel and been invited to a party by the desk clerk.

Oh, and did I mention that all of this was free. I spent the night in Rome—where the cheap hotels start around $100—and didn't spend a single euro cent.

Tips

Why I love alternative accommodations

First of all, I have nothing against hotels. They are reliable, widespread throughout Italy, and you know what you're going to get (or at least you will once you read all about how typical Italian hotels operate, and how they differ from American ones).

However, hotels aren't the be-all and end-all of lodging options in Italy.They are usually among the more expensive options available, and yet are rarely the most fun or remarkable.

In fact, to ensure the most memorable trip, you might want to make them your fallback choice when it comes to looking for a place to stay for the night.

Put it this way:

  • I've parked my RV in a campground with a million-dollar view over Florence and camped in a tent by the beach in Venice.
  • I've rented an ancient damusso house on the island of Pantelleria where I made friends with the neighbors.
  • I've rented apartments in Venice around the corner from St. Mark's Cathedral where I was soon recognized as a local at the area shops.
  • I set up housekeeping in a rented prehistoric trullo in Apulia where I became the "local color" that the other tourists were taking pictures of.
  • At an agriturismo (farm stay) in Piemonte I sat on a patio overlooking moonlit grape vines, sipping wine that had came from them and chatting with the vintner about the life of an Italian winemaker.
  • At a B&B in Ferrara the owner lent me a free bike and told me about recently discovered frescoes in a nearby palazzo, a hidden garden I could bike to, and a convent where the nuns made delicious cookies—none of them mentioned in any guidebook or by the local tourist office.
  • At the medeival monastery in Tuscany built on the site where St. Francis received the stigmata, I shared a dinner table with pilgrims and transcendental spiritualists, attended vespers with the monks, and tossed back shots of their homemade herbal liqueur alongside one of the friars at the monastery bar (no, really).
  • Within an hour of meeting my Couchsurfing host in Rome, I was riding in his car to pick up a friend and take her to her surprise party at a Roman home (my arrival was an integral part of the ruse).
  • At a rental room on a Sicilian island I was regaled with stories of the tuna fishing industry by the widow of the former tuna factory foreman.
  • And at a residence hotel in Rome in 1993 I met my wife.

None of that ever happens at a hotel, no matter how friendly the staff.

And every single one of those experiences cost less than the local hotels.(Heck, the Couchsurfing was free).

Even if you follow my own standard advice and consider your lodging to be just the cheapest comfortable place you can find to lay your weary head for the night, if you could get a bed that's both cheaper and in a more interesting setting, why not go for it?

I'll leave that decision up to you. But to help you make it, on the pages in thsi section, you'll find more than two dozen of the most popular alternative accommodations in Italy, including resources on how to find them and book them.

About the lodging star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgingds (as well as sights and restaurants) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these accommodations offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official Italian hotel ratings—which have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier place to stay has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels or B&Bs that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just (★★☆).

About the lodging price brackets (€–€€€)

Accommodations rates vary wildly—even at the same hotel or B&B—depending on type of room, number of people in it, and the season.

That's why here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provde a general price range indicating the rough rate you should expect to pay for a standard double room in mid-season.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which lodgings are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €100
€€ €100–€200
€€€ over €200
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for lodging

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
     
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah


 

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).