Throwing your couch into the ocean, standing on it, and riding the waves until your couch sinks is one of the most thrilling activities ever! CouchSurfing.com, while perhaps not quite as thrilling or edgy as couch-surfing, actually provides a great alternative to AirBnB and other more traditional forms of lodging.
Couchsurfing is free and is a great way to meet locals and have a true cultural experience wherever you are traveling. Instead of standing on your couch in the ocean, you’re crashing on people’s couches, futons, and air mattresses in exchanged for only your company, and the occasional local six pack.
If I haven’t confused you enough, let me start over:
Couchsurfing is one of the best ways to budget travel. You start with the website, where you create a profile, write down your interests, where you’ve been, etc., and have the choice to either be the traveler and crash at someone’s house or host someone (or both, but not at the same time!) for free.
Couchsurfing was founded as a social networking site in 2003 as a non-profit, but then was sold in 2011 to Couchsurfing International, Inc. As of 2013, there are over 5.5 million registered users (1/3 of them active) on Couchsurfing, with the greatest number of registered users in Paris.
Couchsurfing isn’t just for finding a place to sleep. There are also Couchsurfing meet-ups, where either you and one other person or a group of people meet up and go out for dinner, drinks, etc. It’s perfect if you don’t want to host, can’t travel, but still want to meet people. You don’t have to be traveling to use Couchsurfing!
Couchsurfing may seem terrifying; it may cause you so much anxiety that you never even want to hear the word again. However, I’m here to share with you how to pick a good host, how to make a sparkling profile, how to be a respectful guest, and what to do when you first meet them. Here is the traveler newbies guide to Couchsurfing.
This is what your first impression you’re going to make on your host. You don’t want to write generic, uninteresting comments in the fields in your profile, but you also don’t want to lie.
For example, one of the fields is “One amazing thing I’ve done.” Brag about yourself! Have you eaten a live octopus? Have you gone bungee jumping? Write it all down.
There’s also a section called “Why I’m on Couchsurfing.” In all honesty, I’m on Couchsurfing to save money and meet locals- which is exactly what I put, which is probably what most of you will also put.
Whether you’re a traveler or host, your profile also has a tab called “My Home.” For travelers, this is where you’d look to see how many people the host can have, where you’d be sleeping, what there is to do in the area, the preferred gender, if they smoke, etc. Pick a host that has this filled out in detail so you know what to expect when you meet them.
Imagine picking a host with an incomplete profile? I would press “NEXT” on the page! Personally, I like to know as much about where I’m staying and what the person is like as I can.
Picking a host
References, references, references. The more positive references a host has, the more likely you are to have good experience staying with them. However, I’ve also found hosts with negative references, saying anything from “they were very rude” or “they were messy” etc. I wouldn’t go out of my way to choose that person. Take care to note that some negative references on the host’s page may be a reflection on the guest, not the host. For example, one guest was unhappy they had to clean their own dishes (how awful!). When I went to the guest’s page, they had a bunch of negative reviews on their profile. Make sure to read the references carefully, these are your biggest indicator of how your experience will go!
Also, really take note of the type of references your potential host has. For example if it was a male host with only female reviews, I would be a bit skeptical- why are there only females staying there? Personally, I wouldn’t choose someone like this, but that’s just me. You are also able to view the referee’s profile and see their references, like I said above.
It’s a bit tough starting out since you don’t have any references. That’s why filling out your profile is very important. There’s also a section of Couchsurfing called “Friends” where you can add people to your friend’s list. If one of your close friends is on Couchsurfing, you can connect this way so the host has something to see.
Unfortunately, none of my friends were on Couchsurfing, so I didn’t have much to work with. I messaged quite a few people my first time before I was accepted (which would have happened regardless), but it will work out, just be persistent.
After your host accepts you, connect with them on Facebook. It’s another verification method and another step towards making sure they are who they say they are. I talked with my host a lot on Facebook and felt a lot better about my situation after seeing the amount of people he interacts with on Facebook. Although it’s not fool proof, it’s another safety measure.
First Meeting your Host
Yay! You’ve been accepted! Now, you start communicating with your host about arrival times and how to get to their apartment. I took a taxi to my host’s apartment which I would recommend doing. Especially if you’re by yourself, it’s a good idea to meet them at their home or in town before they drive you anywhere.
A lot of crazy emotions will probably be going through your mind before you meet your host- don’t worry! It’s very easy to make yourself at home with them, especially if your personalities instantly click. Let them know how much you appreciate them letting you stay there, and the rest is easy. It isn’t a job interview!
Being a Good Guest
Because my host is letting me stay at their house/ apartment for free, I like to bring them something. I brought my host beer (a lot of beer) just as a thank you. Other options of “saying thanks” are buying them dinner or bringing something from your hometown so they have a souvenir to remember you by.
Be courteous. This is their house and their rules. It’s common sense; clean up your mess, be quiet in the morning/evening, and don’t eat their food unless they offer. You will have a much more pleasant experience when the two of you get along! Remember, you are not obligated to stay there. If for some reason you and your host don’t get along, make other arrangements in the area (hostel, hotel, Airbnb).
There are so many opportunities this way to learn about a new culture and truly experience what it’s like to live as a local. Couchsurfing is such an amazing way to not only learn about a new culture, but also teach your host about your culture! There’s a reason they’re hosting you; they are interested in other cultures and travelers.
When I went Couchsurfing for the first time, I met a ton of my host’s friends who were from places other than Costa Rica, and I learned a lot about other cultures. We had in depth discussions for hours while sitting around their pool drinking beer, and I came away from each of them with a new perspective. I wouldn’t have had an experience like this if I hadn’t gone Couchsurfing. I came away with the realization that people are very similar: we have similar fears, similar reasons for happiness, and similar reasons for sadness. It’s our unique skills and creativity that makes us special. Once you open up to someone, you realize how easy it is to get along with a stranger, and how close you can become in such a short amount of time. Couchsurfing teaches you more about cultures, people, and yourself than you could get elsewhere. It’s a wonderful learning experience that paves the way to new friendships.
A few days after you leave your host, you have the opportunity to leave a reference, like I said. They are able to leave you a reference as well! Be honest here; this is how you let other travelers know what your experience was like and if you’d recommend that host.
Think about the three R’s: Research. References. Respect.
Don’t let horror stories about Couchsurfing terrify you; there will always be a negative that comes along with something positive. Do your research, trust your gut, and have the time of your life!
Have you ever gone Couchsurfing? What other tips do you have?