NBC12 Investigates: Couch surfing around the world

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Cash strapped, but need a vacation? There's a new way people are finding cheap digs on the road, over seas, and even here in Richmond. It's called couch surfing.

This is where you crash on the couch or in the extra bedroom of a complete stranger for free. Sounds nuts...right? Is it even safe? We sat down with a Richmond couch surfer who says it's the only way she travels.

Traveling anytime soon? Move over hotel room- how about a comfy couch…at no cost.

"I'm gone back to school. I have student loans that I will die before I pay back," said Richmond couch surfer D'anne Graham.

D'anne Graham has been surfing the internet for a good place to stay for years. She's surfed her way through Canada and Ireland, even surfed at a home with an RV in the living room.

For most the idea of stepping through the door of a stranger for the night seems out there. But Graham says it's, "Adventure! Very much so! And the adventure starts when you get on the site. And you put in where you're going."

Couch surfing.org started in 2004. It connects surfers with couches around the world.

"Most people do actually have an extra room with a bed. Some of the younger ones it's probably a beer stained couch," she said.

There are more than 420 people opening up their homes in Richmond. On the site surfers create profiles, they post pictures of the place you can stay, and as a small comfort to travelers, the host even pays a fee to the website to have their home and personal information verified.

Graham only stays with females or mixed groups.

"There will be some women who say men only and I'm like... Ok... Not staying there! If they don't put up any pictures, kind of stay away from those," Graham said.

She also tells friends and family exactly where she's crashing.

"Some of them sound dodgy and you just don't go there! It's a lot of common sense," Graham added. "Something can happen in the West End of Richmond. I'm not going to stay home because of that."

She has a friend in Richmond who offered up her couch and did have a bad experience.

"Unfortunately somebody stole her very nice camera, and she reported it to couch surfing and they pulled his profile," she said.

Graham recommends reading everything in the profile, especially the references from other people who have stayed there. She says couch surfing is much more than just a cheap place to stay.

"It really is about getting to know local people. They tell you the local spots. Many of them if they have the time will take you around," said Graham.

Graham says obviously couch surfing is not for everyone. She says you have to be really open minded, and above all - use your common sense and be careful.

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