I joined couchsurfing back in 2013 and since then I’ve couchsurfed and hosted with people all over the world and still keep in touch with some of them as they have become my friends. So here is a guide to couchsurfing (CS) for newbies, things you should know before your first CS experience:
- Complete your entire profile and get as many reviews as possible:
Completing your profile is very important because most hosts will be expecting at least that much. A good way to go about getting reviews is to look up CS events in your area. Attend those events, get to know hosts and surfers in your area and ask them to write a reference on your profile. Another great way is to host and get references from surfers!
- Request a couch early but not too early:
I find that if you ask two weeks to a month earlier is usually the best time. If you ask too early, your host might not know his/her schedule, but if you ask too late, they might already have different plans.
- Read your host’s profile and write personalized requests:
This is for your safety and to ensure that you and your host will get along. I’ve had people send me request that were copied and pasted, and I know that because they also forgot to change the name to mine. You are asking a stranger to stay in their home, take 5 minutes and read their profiles, and only requests a couch if you think you’ll be able to get along, have some cultural exchange, learn something from each other, etc…
This is everyone’s biggest concern with couchsurfing, so let’s tackle it. Here are things to look for on a potential host profile:
- Check their references and if they are verified members: Read in between the lines, some people will leave “neutral” reviews instead of negative ones. Also, prioritize profiles that have been verified by CS. Personally, I’m not a verified member so I don’t practice what I preach on this one.
- Understand the cultural context: Make sure that you understand the cultural expectations in countries you’re going to. And also understand the socio-economic context of your destinations. There was a couchsurfing incident in Nepal where the host murdered his surfer for the money she had taken out of the ATM. What seemed like little money to her, was unfortunately enough for the Nepalese man to kill her.
- Talk with your host: Find out your sleeping arrangements (This should be on their profile but confirm anyways). Ask them about their expectations for the trip to make sure you’re both on the same page. Creeps are everywhere and couchsurfing is not an exception. There are people that use it to hook up so just make sure it’s not the case with your host. Also, communicating via the site is always a good idea as it leaves a trail of your plans if anything was to happen.
- Request families or women: When traveling with a friend, I usually do not mind sending requests to men but usually when traveling alone, I try to focus my request towards women or families. Couchsurfing explicitly recommends this as well for solo female traveler!
- Stalk your host on social media: If at all possible, find their facebook page, instagram account, tumblr, pinterest, linkedIn, etc… The more you know the better.
- Have a backup plan:
Look up potential hostels and hotels in the area for a place to stay in case something was to happen and you felt uncomfortable with the CS host or they might cancel last minute. Things happen and your host might have a family or work emergency, make sure you know a couple of places around town you could stay in!
- Show appreciation through gifts or acts of kindness:
Couchsurfing is absolutely free but everyone loves to feel appreciated. There are numbers of way to do this but I have three go to things I try to do/give to my host. So I usually either cook dinner to share a meal with my host, write a thank you note, or give them a small gift. I bought a couple of keychains when I was home in Kinshasa and keep them handy. It’s a small gift but it’s meaningful as it is from my country. If your host is a “super host” meaning he/she hosts as many people as he/she can, buying them toilet paper might also be much appreciated as well.
- Leave it as you found it or better:
Make sure that you leave everything the way you found it or cleaner. If you’re sleeping on a bed, make the bed before leaving, if you cook, wash your dishes, if you spill something, clean it up, etc.. Also only take with you what you brought and leave nothing behind, including your toiletries.
- Couchsurf for the right reasons:
As cheesy as it sounds, most hosts would like a cultural exchange, a friendship, story telling, etc… If you’re solely looking for free accommodation, couchsurfing might not be for you. Check out hostels because they’re fairly cheap and might be a better fit for you. Plan to make time to hang out with your host and get to know them. If they’re too busy, ask for recommendations on places to see in the city, you’ll never be disappointed getting recommendations from a local.
- Couchsurfing is about a lot more:
Couchsurfing is about a lot more than finding a place to stay, it’s a community of travelers. Even in cities where I don’t surf, I use it to meet up with people and attend local events. I remember in Miami I spent 4th of July with a dozen of CS travelers on the beach by just posting about it on the discussion group for Miami Beach! It was a lot of fun and many of us remained friends!
- Have fun!
I’ve met some of the most incredible people in the world through couchsurfing. I’ve gotten to see off the path waterfalls in Hawaii, giraffes from a bridge in downtown Amsterdam, and gone to incredible parties and events in Milan! CS can be such a great tool so use it and have fun with it!
Have you ever couchsurfed or thought about it? Feel free to ask me any questions in the comment section!