Your Ultimate Guide To Couchsurfing
If trekking the globe is a huge part of your life and part of that adventure involves meeting new and interesting people then Couchsurfing could well be for you. If you’re more into your own space and time alone then it’s probably time to hit the back button and find a different way to save on your adventures!
The two big costs on most trips is the airfare and the accommodation but Couchsurfing has covered the latter and made it so you can spend your hard earned cash on other things like food or Captain America Bobble-Heads… I just did some online shopping if you were wondering.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Couchsurfing or want to know more info you’ve come to the right place.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a website that’s brought together an enormous global community who are all interested in travel. The site’s main purpose is to connect people willing to host others in their houses for free. The idea is that you’ll reciprocate when you can and it keeps the entire process ticking along nicely. You use the site to find someone who’s willing to let you stay in their home for free and while there’s no expectations it’s generally known amongst Couchsurfers that this process involves a fair amount of socialising between host and guest. It’s a great opportunity for people to share experiences, perspectives, and enjoy a whole new cultural perspective.
It sounds fairly simple but like anything, there are nuances to the site and lots of things to keep in mind. It’s also worth noting that while this all started as a couch surfing idea it’s certainly not restricted to just staying on someone’s couch anymore. Often, a host will have a spare room, an extra mattress or similar to offer a traveller so don’t think this is only limited to couches!
How Do You Use Couchsurfing?
There are three main ways in which you can use the site. You can use it from the perspective of a surfer, i.e., to find a host who’ll let you stay at their home. You can use it to offer your services as a host, i.e., someone who’ll let a traveller stay in your home for a specified period of time. And you can use it to simply meet other like-minded people, whether at special events or spontaneous meetups. It really is a strong, robust community that are some of the most engaging and generous you’ll find.
How Long Do Couch Surfers Usually Stay With Their Host?
The length of time that couch surfers usually stay with their host will, quite naturally, be up to the host to decide. The stay can be overnight, a few days, or even a few months. A couch surfer naturally doesn’t want to overstay their welcome, or become a financial burden on their host. It’s fairly common to surf for a few days and up to a week so anything longer means some negotiating and good faith. Once you’ve worked out the details, you get their information and begin a really interesting journey. Tactfulness and basic consideration for others will play a large part in determining the experience you have with your host. These are people opening their homes to strangers to enable others to travel further so it stands to reason you’d be extremely grateful and certainly respectful of their house. It’s fairly common for a surfer to cook dinner at least once on a short stay to say thanks and engage in that age-old tradition of breaking bread. It’s an excellent way to kick off a great stay, and more often than not, a fantastic friendship.
How Do You Get Started On The Site?
To get started on the Couchsurfing website, you sign up for free and make a user name and profile. You include the basic information, such as age, gender, etc., along with a recent photo or two. It doesn’t hurt to put a few more photos on though. It’s always nice to get an idea of what someone’s like and photos are a fantastic, quick way to do that. You’ll have a place to fill out personal information, such as the places you’ve been to in the past, the places you’d love to journey to in the future, and the type of people you’d like to meet. You can also fill in anything else that makes you look experienced and attractive to a host, such as your personal interests, qualifications, and other pertinent details. Show your personality! Don’t make it bland and boring because that’s exactly how others will see you and who wants that person staying in their house?
There are three specific areas you fill out in detail. These areas are “Types of people I enjoy”, “How I participate in Couchsurfing” and “Teach, Learn, Share”. Filling these areas out will give people who read your profile a better idea of who you are and what you are looking to get out of the site. This is the place to make clear whether you intend to be a host, a couch surfer, or both.
Couch Descriptions Let Surfers Know What To Expect
If you are going to be a host, you will need to provide a “couch description”. This is a detailed description of the living space you will provide for the person who is couch surfing at your place. It can be a sofa, a futon, a sleeping bag, a mattress on the floor, or a full bed in a guest room. Make the description as detailed and attractive as possible so surfers will know exactly what to expect if they decide to take advantage of your hospitality. It’s worth showing off your personality here too because it can be quite daunting staying at a strangers house for the first time.
Don’t put off filling out the entire profile. Prospective hosts may receive a lot of requests from surfers each day. The more information a host or surfer has concerning your appearance, interests, opinions, and the like, the more easily they’ll be able to decide if you’re a good fit. If you really want to do couch surfing right, be upfront with all the info you can muster. You never know what you’ll have in common with a host!
Write A Reference For Your Surfer Or Host
You’ll also have the chance to write a reference for your surfer or host. This is exactly what it sounds like. For surfers, it’s a chance to write a detailed description of their host’s accommodations, personality, friendliness, cleanliness, etc. It’s a place where surfers write up their experiences with their hosts, and whether or not they would recommend that other surfers stay with that particular person in that particular place. This is what makes any system like this really work. Honest feedback and reviews are crucial to make sure everyone does the right thing.
Hosts can write a description of the people who have stayed with them. The criteria is mainly the same. Were they clean? Friendly? Drug and alcohol-free? (if that’s what they’re after!) Easy to talk to? These references will appear on the profiles of both host and surfer so that readers can quickly access them and form their own opinions regarding both individuals. A few good references from users will make you far more approachable as a host or surfer.
Is The Couchsurfing Site Really Free To Use?
There are no charges associated with creating a profile at the site or using its services. If you’re a surfer, your host will not charge you money to stay with them. That being said, it’s a good idea to be prepared to offer something to your host in return for their hospitality. As previously mentioned, cooking dinner is often a great start. If that’s not possible, knowing what they like comes in very handy and you may end up leaving them a bottle of wine or a hand carved Captain America bobble-head.
If you do cook, make them one of your area’s finest dishes, and help wash the dishes afterwards. It’s always nice to eat something a little different and gives you all a great way to kick off conversation. You could bring them some movies or books from your neck of the woods, especially if you’re staying with a host in a foreign country. Don’t just mooch off your host and expect them to put up with it. Remember that you are representing not only yourself but where you come from too. If you’re a host, make sure your surfer’s area is neat, clean, private, and comfortable. The entire process should be an exchange of information, culture, and friendship, with no hard feelings after the fact. It’s all common sense really!
Why Should You Want To Host A Couch Surfer?
From the perspective of a host, there are a number of reasons why you might wish to host someone in your home. For one, you might simply welcome the temporary addition of an interesting stranger in your home. It’s a way to gain friendship, conversation, and news of the world from a new and exciting perspective that you would never have been able to gain on your own. It’s also a chance to show your visitor the sights and sounds of your own city and experience them from a completely different point of view. If you ever intend to surf yourself it’s also the best way to make sure the system continues to work. Without hosts, none of this happens so give back when you can.
Is It Okay To Couch Surf With A Pet Or Support Animal?
Some hosts are glad to welcome a pet or support animal along with their couch surfer. Others will have reasons for preferring you leave them at home. Check with the person you’re thinking of asking to host you to see what they think. This simple question will save you a great deal of embarrassment and expense.
You’ll Need To Exercise A Little Caution And Judgment
Of course, couch surfing is a not a 100 percent foolproof experience. While the site does everything it can to ensure that the people who use it are safe to deal with, there will always be the potential of a mismatch. Always make proper use of your street smarts and common sense when considering the offer of a couch or a request from a surfer. If something in their profile or their message doesn’t seem right, send them a polite note declining their invitation. There’s no need to be rude, but there’s no need to risk your health or safety, either. It always pays to be safe rather than pushing on.
No References? No Experiences? No Deal?
If a person has absolutely no references and has been on the site for quite some time, something may be wrong. Check their profile thoroughly for any clues toward the reason this may be so. For example, a person who is just starting out on the site will make it clear that they are looking for their first experience with surfing or hosting. But if they’re veterans of the site and have no references of any sort, it may be better to move on to a new candidate. The person you passed on won’t be any the wiser, and there’s no need to inform them. There are legitimate reasons for someone who’s been on the site for a long time with no references though. Perhaps they signed up a while ago with the intention of couch surfing on their trip but it never happened. There are lots of reasons but the surfer should make it clear to make sure everyone is comfortable.
So How Can You Get Your Very First Reference?
By now, you may well be wondering just how you go abut getting your first reference on the Couchsurfing site. If you’ve never surfed or hosted, you won’t have any references. But if you don’t have any references, many people won’t consider you. How do you break out of this loop?
As noted above, if you have never participated in the lifestyle, the best thing to do is to clearly note this. Make sure your profile is completely filled out and that you have jotted down every conceivable detail that might make you more attractive and desirable as a host or guest. If you have any friends who are fellow members, have them “friend” you on the site and write you a good personal reference.
It’s also an excellent idea to attend sponsored events and join groups on the site itself. Join one of the “location groups” that cover the area where you live or where you most desire to travel to. You’ll quickly learn about forums, special events, and real life meetup opportunities. This is also an excellent place to make new friends on the site who you can also exchange personal references with.
How Can You Find The Best Possible Host?
It’s important for a surfer to find the best possible host. This is certainly an area where you don’t want to settle for second best, or “just what’s available.” As far as the mechanics are concerned, it’s a simple enough procedure. Just click on “surf” and type in your preferred destination and the date you’ll be making your journey on. When you get to the city page, your “itinerary” will be there. When a prospective host sees your itinerary, they’ll have the opportunity to offer you a place to stay on that date.
Another way to find a potential host is to do a search for your intended destination, at which point a list of available hosts will pop up. You can filter the results by age, race, gender, and so on. When you find someone who seems like a good fit, you can send them a “couch request.”
Always Send A Personalised Message With Your Couch Request
It’s an excellent idea to attach a personalised message to your couch request. Tell the potential host what interested you about them. Give them a good idea of what you would be like in person to hang out with. After all, you’re going to be doing a great deal of socialising when you get there. Let your host know about the interests and activities that you have in common. Offer to cook them a fantastic meal or go bowling with them if they’re into that.
Above all, it’s important to let your prospective host know that you have taken the trouble to read their entire profile in order to learn about them. If you can demonstrate that you are really interested in getting to know them as a person, they’re bound to be a great deal more receptive to the idea of hosting you at their place. Don’t leave this to the last minute either. Give it some time to make sure you find the right host and get a chance to have a brief chat before you set out.
Can You Meet A Host Without Surfing?
Another great way to meet a potential host without couch surfing is to join a location group discussion forum. This is the perfect way to meet and interact with people in the area you’d like to visit. You can post straight away about all of your interests and favourite activities, and get a host of replies and comments on a completely no-strings basis. Even if you don’t meet a prospective host right off the bat, it’s still a great way to meet someone new.
How Can A Host Find The Best Possible Surfer?
If you’re a host, you’ll want to peruse every couch request and the profiles of the people who send them in order to make sure you’re dealing with someone who is on the up and up. Check to see if they have any references and, if so, check them thoroughly. This is a habit you’ll want to get into in order to preserve your safety and also prevent any potential mishaps or mismatches once your guest arrives.
You can also use the search function to find the itineraries of surfers who are looking for hosts. You can send them a personalised message as well. Of course, the same basic safety and common sense considerations should apply, no matter who is making the initial contact.
Don’t Always Expect An Immediate Reply
Keep in mind that the person you send a message to may be offsite for whatever reason, or may have other requests to sift through and consider ahead of yours. And they may have read your request and deleted it without bothering to inform you. Perhaps you didn’t interest them all that much and they simply didn’t wish to be rude about it. Not every message sent will get a reply, and this is something you simply need to be prepared for. Travelling and having a thick skin can be a very handy combination. Don’t take it personally!
Make Sure You Know What Conditions You’ll Be Sleeping In
It’s a good idea to make absolutely sure that you know what sort of accommodations your host is prepared to provide. If you have a bad back and need a firm mattress, it’s a lifesaver to note this explicitly in your profile. Your prospective host should likewise always list the conditions they can offer to a guest, such as private bathroom, clean sheets, toiletries, and the like. The fewer misunderstandings you have in the beginning, the fewer nasty surprises you’ll face when you get there.
Don’t Expect To Monopolise Your Host’s Time And Attention
Another thing to avoid is the expectation that your host will have unlimited time and attention to lavish upon you. As a surfer, you’ll be expected to spend some time socialising with your host, as this is the main point of couch surfing. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your host may have other obligations to attend to, such as a girlfriend/boyfriend or a full-time job carving hand crafted Captain America bobblehead figurines.
You can’t expect your host to spend every minute of every day with you, and you should especially not demand that they wait on you hand and foot. After all, it’s their home you’re staying in, and it’s on you to make yourself as friendly and welcome a guest as possible. You don’t want to risk getting a bad personal reference that will automatically attach itself to your profile and follow you everywhere you go in the couch surfing community. It’s fairly simple, don’t be a jerk and make your host happy.
Once A Date Is Confirmed, Make Sure To Stay In Touch
Once a date for a couch surfing experience has been confirmed, make sure to stay in touch. Exchange emails, phone numbers, Twitter or Facebook pages, and whatever other information you feel is relevant to establish continuous communication leading up to the actual day. This way, you won’t be left wondering for days where the other person is, or if the date has been cancelled, etc. The more communication you have before the date, the better idea you’ll have of who you’re dealing with and their reliability (or lack of it) as a guest or host.
Couch Surfing Is A Safe, Exciting, And Eye-Opening Adventure
Couch surfing isn’t for everyone. But for those who are open to it, it can be a rich and rewarding experience. Remember to observe all of the usual safety and etiquette rules, and you’re bound to have an excellent time. You’ll see places and meet people that can give you a fantastic new perspective on the world. All in all, couch surfing is an excellent way to interact with humanity and experience the world in a different, exciting way.