Over the last nine years, we have been lucky enough to have Couchsurfed with amazing hosts all over the world. Couchsurfing is a website that connects travellers with locals, and is like a global travelling community. Members can ‘surf’ as a guest in someone’s home, attend Couchsurfing events or simply catch up for a chat.
Our experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to learn more about ‘real’ life in a particular country without the tourist brochure gloss. We have made wonderful friends and found hidden gems in cities that we otherwise would have missed thanks to the advice of our hosts.
Here are our tips on how to have your own great Couchsurfing experience on your next trip!
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Complete your Couchsurfing profile
The first step is to sign up to Couchsurfing and complete your profile. You can provide information about your age, occupation, languages spoken, hobbies, countries visited, life philosophy – almost anything! We also suggest uploading a couple of photos.
You can provide as much or as little information as you want, but you will probably get more offers from hosts if you have a complete profile with a picture. Your profile also allows hosts to get to know you at little before offering you a place to stay. This will hopefully increase the chances that you and your host will have at least some similar interests.
We also suggest verifying your profile, which is encouraged by Couchsurfing.
Get Some References
Couchsurfing allows members to leave positive (or negative) references for other members. The reference system is not only important for safety, but also helps hosts to decide whether you will be a good fit in their home.
Hosts are really taking a gamble when offering to host someone with no references. You will find it much easier to find a host if you have a couple of references.
When you sign up to Couchsurfing via Facebook, the website will tell you which of your Facebook friends are signed up to Couchsurfing. Reach out to them to ask for a nice personal reference about how awesome you are to help you get started.
Finding The Perfect Couchsurfing Host
Couchsurfing now has over 10 million members in more than 200,000 cities. With so many options, it is difficult to know where to begin looking for a host! Here are a few tips to get you started.
– Creating A Public Trip
You can create a ‘public trip’ on Couchsurfing, which means hosts from that city can see your trip. They can then choose to send you offers to stay or catch up.
When creating a public trip, include information about why you are visiting, who you are and the kind of hosts you would like to meet. We have had varying degrees of success with this approach. In some countries (like Iran), we received a lot of spam from taxi drivers, guides and guesthouses. In other countries we had plenty offers from genuine hosts.
You can always remove your public trip if you’re not happy with the offers you’re receiving.
– Sending Direct Requests
You can also search for hosts and send them direct requests. You should definitely personalise your couch request. Use the host’s name, and explain why you want to stay with them. Include some information about yourself and why you make a great guest. Perhaps even mention a few things you might have in common.
Do not copy and paste your requests. It is really obvious to hosts! Some hosts even ask a question in their profile for you to answer in your application, so keep your eyes peeled.
Your request doesn’t need to be lengthy – a couple of paragraphs is plenty.
Deciding Whether To Accept An Offer
When deciding whether to accept an offer from a host, read the host’s profile and reference in detail. Do you have things in common? Is smoking or drinking allowed? Are there pets or children? Are you expected to leave the house while the host is at work?
Everyone is different, so think about whether you will be a good fit in the host’s home. You should also check what the sleeping arrangements are. We don’t carry sleeping gear with us, so we always check there is a mattress and linen before we arrive. Some hosts also offer ‘shared’ rooms – this can mean actually sharing a bed with your host so it pays to check!
We travel as a couple, and from personal experience we find that we have the best Couchsurfing experiences when staying with other couples and females. We have found that we tend to have more in common, and feel more at home when staying with them. However, there are plenty of Couchsurfers who have great experiences staying with single male hosts. Everyone is different!
We only accept offers when we think we will genuinely get along with the host. If we don’t find a good match, we simply stay in a hostel. Don’t accept suspicious or poorly matched hosts just for the free bed. It’s not worth it!
Organising Your Arrival
Once you have accepted an offer from your host, it is a good idea to swap phone numbers or What’s App numbers. Contact your host around one week before you arrive to organise your arrival. Try to provide an approximate arrival time. Some hosts may be able to meet you at the airport or bus station, while others may expect you to make your own way to their house. Don’t forget to ask for directions and an address.
On the day of your arrival, keep your phone turned on! Let your host know if you’re running late or lost. If your host is not at the meeting point at the agreed time, it’s fine to send them a polite message or call to see where they are.
There are a few golden rules of etiquette when Couchsurfing, which will not only keep your host happy but will hopefully make your stay more rewarding.
Firstly, do not treat your host’s home like a free hotel. There is nothing worse than a Couchsurfer who simply drops their bags, grabs a map and heads out the door without even having a conversation with their host. Couchsurfing is all about forming friendships and learning about the places you are visiting. Spend some time getting to know your host.
You are a guest in someone’s home, and you should be respectful of that. This means no returning drunk at 3am or bringing home additional ‘guests’. Try to work around your host’s schedule if possible.
You should also always ask before using ingredients or utensils in the kitchen. While most hosts have absolutely no problem with you doing so, it is still polite to ask. Keep your area of the house tidy and clean up after yourself.
Couchsurfers should also bring a small gift from home, or perhaps a bottle of wine, to thank the host for their hospitality. You shouldn’t offer to pay for your stay, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch in for shared expenses.
For example, our Couchsurfing host in Russia drove us to the Great Baikal Trail so we shared the fuel costs. We also usually try to cook a meal for our hosts.
When leaving, don’t forget to thank your host and offer to reciprocate if they ever visit your country. Assuming you have had a positive experience, you should also make sure you leave your host a nice reference on Couchsurfing.
What If It All Goes Wrong?
While you can try your best to find great host, sometimes it simply won’t work out. You might not get along, or you may have completely different expectations for your stay. You can grin and bear it, or simply leave early. You can politely explain that perhaps it is better if you stay elsewhere. If this will be way too awkward a little white lie about a change of plans is probably the best option.
While it is rare, there are reports of Couchsurfers feeling unsafe (or worse). If you feel unsafe, you should tell someone where you are and attempt to leave immediately if possible. You should also report the experience to Couchsurfing. Your report will not be shared with your host. You should also leave a negative reference for the member for other surfers.
It is no secret that Couchsurfing is used by some single hosts and surfers as a way to hook up (sometimes referred to as ‘Sexsurfing’). This seems to mainly occur when single women stay with single men, and vice versa. If this is not something you’re into, it pays to be upfront on your profile or when communicating with your host.