Couch surfing: It may be free, but is it safe?

DETROIT - Going on vacation can be costly. There's air fare, transportation, food, activities and of course your hotel costs.

One night's stay can be expensive enough, and multiple nights can add up quickly.

Millions of people all across the world have found a way to change that, including people here in Metro Detroit. But the question is: at what cost and is it safe?

They're called couch surfers.

"Couch surfing is basically just a social network of travelers and hosts all around the world, at this point with millions of members, who stay and offer their homes to people who are traveling through," said Nathan Andren.

Andren, a self-proclaimed couch surfer and host, has traveled the world staying at the homes of strangers who have invited to stay during his travels for free. He finds them on the website,

"The word stranger inherently suggests strange or I don't know this person or they're not from my tribe, or you know differences," said Andren. "But once you look past the differences, well most the people on the planet are quite nice."

So nice, Andren is returning the favor here locally, opening up his home to travelers looking to couch surf in Detroit. He's met some interesting people.

"I had one surfer who didn't like to shower very often," Andren said. "A magician and his parrot came to stay."

Andren has no problem meeting others, but what about safety? works on a reference system. You create a profile, upload a photo and choose to stay with people who have positive reviews. Andren hasn't had a problem yet.

"Nothing in life is 100 percent safe," explained Andren. "You just use your best judgment."

Erica Hobbs has couch surfed all over. Though she hasn't had a problem, the danger is still out there.

Reports of couch surfers being raped in other countries have made headlines, as well as hosts being robbed by people crashing at their home. Hobbs insists this is rare.

"If there are people who doing things that have less than pure intentions, they get weeded out very quickly," said Hobbs.

Both Hobbs and Andren are part of the Detroit couch surfing community. Andren's home serves as a guest house -- complete with couches for visitors and multiple guest rooms with beds. Andren hopes it'll allow visitors to see a different side of Detroit other than blight and bankruptcy.

"People come, have a great experience in Detroit, and they go back and, you know, literally people will trash talk Detroit and they'll say, ‘Well I've actually been there I was just there,'" said Hobbs.

Hobbs even plans weekly meet-ups in Detroit with couch surfing hosts and their guests so they can experience all the city has to offer. They believe the best way to see a city is through the eyes of a local, for free.

"Maybe think about traveling a different way next time they go on vacation," said Hobbs.

Couch surfing clearly isn't for everybody.

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