How to Use Couchsurfing as a Traveler {A Guide + FAQs}

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As a traveler, I had never heard of Couchsurfing until one summer I was planning a long, epic trip through Europe and couldn’t afford paying for a hotel or even a hostel for 87 straight days. Couchsurfing sounded way out there, and too good to be true – I can stay at a strangers house in the middle of Rome for free? And they won’t murder me? As it turns out – yes. Yes I could. And no – no they won’t.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you on your way to being a bad ass Couchsurfer:

#1 – Understand What Couchsurfing Is (it’s not just a free place to stay)

  • Couchsurfing is a fantastic social networking website made up of travelers and hosts. Travelers need a place to stay, and hosts offer their couches, spare rooms, tents or anything else in between. The energy behind Couchsurfing is a sort of pay it forward exchange. It's free to Couchsurf, but you’ll be better off using Couchsurfing if you’re motivation is more than just a cheap place to stay, as the focus is on true cultural exchange and relationship building. You don't necessarily have to be a host in order to surf, but Couchsurfing is built upon everyone contributing in some way at some point. Do your best to not just be a taker.

#2 – Fill out your profile!

  • So many people quickly create a username and password so they can search for places and send out requests right away before they properly fill out their profile. Fill out your entire profile first. This will make your chances of hearing back from a host much better. As a host – if I get a request from a user with a blank profile, I usually delete it. If I’m feeling patient – I’ll send them a message telling them to fill out their profile, but normally I don’t because that seems like common sense. If you’re requesting to stay in someone’s home – let them know who you are and don’t make them ask. Upload several photos. Fill out all of the fields with info about yourself. Find any of your friends that are already on couch surfing and ask them to write references for you.

#3 – Create a “Public Trip”

  • Once you have created your profile and are ready to travel, you will choose “search for host” and enter your destination city. At the top of the list of available hosts in your selected city, there will be a button to “create a public trip” – do this. It will ask you general dates and give you space to talk about why you’re traveling. This will then get posted on the general board for that city. That way local hosts can check the board and reach out travelers that they can help. It just creates another avenue to make connections that you may not have otherwise.

Like this post? You might also love: A Beginner's Guide to Hosting Airbnb Guests

#4 – Search for and Message Hosts

  • Use whatever search filters seem relevant to you and then just start reading through host’s profiles. Just as you have taken time to fill out your profile – so have the hosts. It’s best to not just send out a blanket message to a dozen hosts. Or at least – have a basic message, but be sure to add a personal touch to each message that is specific to each host. This means that you need to actually read through the profiles. Let them know why you liked their listing and why you think it would be fun to stay with them. In bigger, more popular cities like London or New York – you may send out 20 messages before you hear back from one host. The more personal and interesting your initial message is, the more likely you are to get a response. Seasoned hosts can very quickly sniff out someone just looking for a cheap place to stay, or someone who would be better off in a hotel.

#5 Be a Good Guest!

  • Let your host know what time you will be arriving, and work out any details about that ahead of time.

  • Prior to your arrival, do your best to answer questions that you have on your own. Hosts get tons of messages – make it as easy for them as you can. Be a self sufficient traveler. Don’t ask if they’re close to the airport. Google map their house to the airport. Don’t ask how to get to their house from the bus station – go to the city’s transit website and figure it out for yourself. Of course you can ask your hosts for help, or for dinner recommendations, etc. Just don’t use your host as your travel agent or expect them to be your city guide.

  • Once you arrive – be conscious and aware of your host’s home and follow their lead. Keep your bags and all of your stuff nice and tidy – it’s not a hotel room, so you don’t have the luxury of spreading out everywhere. Seriously keep that in mind – it’s not a hotel.

  • Leave everything as you found it, or better in terms of the kitchen, bathroom, your sleeping space and all of the common areas.

  • Don’t eat their food and don’t leave dishes or trash out or do anything that will have the host cleaning up after you.

  • Most Couchsurfing hosts are active hosts, meaning they have travelers on a regular basis so don’t be offended if they don’t seem to be going “out of their way” for you. They may very well have full time jobs, families, and their own personal situations going on at any given time. Remember – they’re not traveling – you are, so they are not going to be in the same mental space as you because they’re just living their normal life. Don’t expect them to be Susie Sunshine host robots. They’re human, just like you. Be grateful that they’ve opened up their home to you, and stay humble.

  • If you really want to go the extra mile, do some cleaning, help with any chores around the house, cook your host a meal or leave them a small gift.

#6 – Leave a Review

  • Couchsurfing is built on travelers and hosts leaving each other reviews – the whole system is built on this series of checks and balances. If you have negative feedback, consider privately messaging the host, unless it’s something outlandish that you really want to “warn” future travelers about. When writing your review – think about what you’d want to know as a traveler. Things like – was the sleeping situation comfy, was the location convenient, did you feel comfortable with the host, etc.

FAQs

What if my Couchsurfing host is a serial killer?

  • Obviously I cannot confirm whether or not your host will be a serial killer. But just use some common sense. Does the host have photos? Does looking at them make you feel happy, comfortable, or another positive emotion? What about their profile? Do they list interests similar to yours? Do they sound like people you’d hang out with? What about their reviews? Have other travelers had a good time? Just use common sense and do your homework – every host and every situation is different, but I assure you – Couch Surfing is definitely not full of monsters with fake profiles trying to lure you in to kill you.

I’m a single woman/man – is Couchsurfing safe?

  • You just have to use your best judgment. If this is something you’re truly worried about – stick to profiles of older couples, or families. Obviously steer clear of hosts that are men living alone who only want to host women, or vice versa. Hosts are generally very transparent so just have a look at their profile and their reviews and see what kind of feeling you get. As a woman – I have couch surfed with single men living alone and had a wonderful, non-sexual time. I have also Couchsurfed with single men and had awesome naked time together. Neither of these instances were a surprise.

Another great article: How Hosting Travelers has Enriched my Life

I have little kids so I can’t use Couchsurfing…..right?

  • WRONG. Of course you can Couch Surf with kids! Obviously be up front that you have kids, and make sure the accommodations seem suitable to kids. There are plenty of families with children on Couch Surfing so I’m sure you’ll find somewhere you would fit right in.

What if my host cancels on me?

  • Another thing I can’t predict for you, but yes – this is a possibility. As a host and a traveler for 4+ years, I’ve never been cancelled on nor have I cancelled on anyone. But it could happen. Couchsurfing hosts are just human, and sometimes shit happens. Actually – I take that back. I was technically cancelled on one time, but the host communicated right away, and arranged an alternate place for me to stay. So by no means did this affect my trip. That’s the thing about Couchsurfing – it’s such a personal experience that more often than not, you’re treating people like you would family or close friends – you’re most likely not going to be left high and dry. If you are truly worried about this – either have a back up host, or use Airbnb. With Airbnb you make an actual reservation, and if a host does cancel on you – you can call Airbnb and they’ll either find you another host or put you up in a hotel.

What if my host isn’t home when I arrive?

  • Your arrival time and the host’s check in procedure is something you need to be proactive about before you get there. Even if you can roughly approximate the time you’ll arrive – this is helpful. Find out if the host will be at work, if they want to leave you a key (some do and some don’t) or what would be a convenient time to arrive. Make sure you have their address, phone number, and know how to get to their house.

What if the house is loud or the bathroom is gross?

  • The house could be loud, or the bathroom could be gross. However, these are easy things to discern from profiles. Again – just use your common sense. If you’re concerned about cleanliness – don’t stay with college-age kids or in a house full of young guys. If you’re worried about noise – steer clear of hosts that have kids or lots of animals. In general – if you have particulars that are deal breakers or will really bother you – communicate this ahead of time to your host. If you need to be asleep by 10 in a quiet house – see if that meshes with your host’s schedule. If you need to get up early and make a smoothie before you head out the door – make sure morning kitchen activity is ok with your host. In general – the more flexible you are, the less let down or bothered you will be. And if you have a lot of particulars – you’re probably better off in a hotel.


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