Luckily, I stumbled across an online community known as 'Couchsurfers', and took some time to explore the site and people involved in the global travel community.
So what is Couchsurfing? In a nutshell, people who are willing to give up their couch for a night (sometimes a few nights) can advertise this on the website via their profile – absolutely free! Users create their profile and then set their location and the availability of their couch. People who are looking for a place to stay can put their feelers out with a notification. For example, 'I'm going to be in Santiago between 5th Feb-10th Feb, can anyone help me out?'
But is it safe? Obviously, it always pays to be aware of your surroundings. If you're feeling uncomfortable, pack your things and leave. However, the site uses a vouching and referencing system to let other users know that people are who they say they are. As a general rule, I wouldn't stay with someone unless they had at least a couple of references, or I had the opportunity to meet them in a safe location.
Users in certain areas promote Couchsurfing meets, where groups of travellers meet each other in a public bar or restaurant and get to know each other first. You can then vouch for people you meet on their profile, and hopefully they choose to return the favour to you!
I have already been in touch with a number of students from Santiago, so ill keep you posted on what will soon be my very first Couchsurfing experience!
[Photo credits: Featured image by theogeo, www.couchsurfing.org Flickr]
What experiences have you had staying overseas? Share your recommendations below!