Couchsurfing is a tool that many travelers use. I have to admit that the first time I read about CSing I thought it had to be too good to be true, that there’s no way it could be safe, or that it even worked. Let me tell you, I stand corrected. CSing has enhanced my travels on many occasions, friendships have been forged from stays and being completely real, thousands of dollars have been saved. If you’re wondering how this whole Couchsurfing thing works, I’ve put together a guide starting with the basics and offering tips to make CSing a well-utilized tool for you.
Create Your Profile by Introducing Yourself as Best as You Can:
- Fill Out As Much of Your Profile as Possible. Those prompts are in-depth for a reason. It’s nice to know if potential hosts or surfers have anything in common with you.
- Upload Photos From Your Travels. Pictures are worth a thousand words. While you shouldn’t judge a book by their cover (sorry for all the cliché sayings) but when you see someone has been a place you’ve always wanted to visit, you know you can pick their brain. Did they do the Inca Trail the same year as you? Another thing to bond over. It’s just an extra level of getting to know a person via Couchsurfing Porfiles.
- Connect With Your Friends on Couchsurfing. If you know a friend is on CS, let them know that you’ve joined. Write them a review and ask them write you one too, but be real about your experiences with them.
- Most Importantly, Be Genuine. I think when people try to be something they’re not, it comes across as phony. Plus, if people don’t pick up on it while viewing your profile, they’ll figure it out very quickly in person. Don’t say you love something you hate, know something you don’t or have been somewhere you haven’t. Just be you and know that’s good enough!
Caywood and Felix were my hosts when I went to Memphis. You better believe we took the chance to meet up when they were passing through Asheville. Couchsurfing can lead to real friendships!
How to Look For the Right Host:
- Take the Time to Read Through Their Profile. You definitely want to see if you have a common interest with the person you’re staying with. Would you want to stay with someone who has the complete opposite views on everything from you? I know that I wouldn’t. (Not that differences don’t make for interesting conversations, but you know the type of people I’m talking about…)
- Look at Their Reviews. I mean, that’s what they’re there for. I found a host one time that his profile didn’t seem odd at all, but when I got to his reviews I read from at least 5 people that he had asked them to buy him groceries in exchange for a place to stay. (Coming out ahead is not the point of Couchsurfing.) However, I have stayed with a person who had about a dozen great reviews and one bad one. I stayed with her anyway, and she was amazing, so don’t let one negative experience (unless it’s really bad) turn you off to sending a request.
- Plan Ahead. I would recommend looking for your host no later than 5 days before you’re planning on being in that city if at all possible. Also, send multiple requests. If you’re staying in a bigger, more popular city send more than if you’re staying in a mid-sized or small city.
General Tips Whether You’re Hosting & Surfing:
- Trust Your Gut. I’ve never had any bad experiences that made me want to not stay with or host someone, nor have I met anyone who has. I’m not saying that scary or creepy situations haven’t happened while CSing, but I don’t think it’s nearly as common as people may initially think. It comes down to taking care of yourself. If you get a bad vibe from a surfer or a host don’t stay there, or don’t invite them stay with you.
- Communication is Key. If something comes up, it’s okay, but be honest. Also, be available. Just in case someone driving to stay with you gets lost, if plans change, or you get held up somewhere.
- Get to Know Each Other. Have conversations, exchange travel tales & tips and build friendships.
Me with my bike I rode into Boston on – it was generously lent to me by my host
How to Be a Good Hostess / Host:
- Know Your City. Educate yourself on places to eat, museums to see, the best local brewery, natural sites or whatever it is that makes your city unique.
- Be Accommodating, Not Smothering. I’ve had the pleasure of surfing with really great hosts, but sometimes a surfer just needs some sleep. Pick up on cues. If your surfer is talking about what a long journey it has been and looks exhausted, don’t make them stay up all night, but show them the bathroom, where they’re staying, what they’re welcome to and tell them to get some rest. You can talk over coffee the next morning.
- Clean Your Place Up. I’ve only had one experience staying somewhere that wasn’t clean, but let me tell you, it’s a story I still tell. It. Was. Disgusting. All of it. Every room. Even the bed we slept in. No one wants to sleep like that. If you’re not in a place that you can offer a clean place to stay it’s totally acceptable to just surf.
- Think Back to Amazing Surfing Experiences You’ve Had. I love to try to do something extra for my surfers because those are the moments that have really stood out to me and enhanced my travel experience. Anything from offering someone coffee, picking them up from the bus station, buying a beer for your surfer, fixing them a meal (big or small) or even just having a little sheet made up of your favorite things in town to take with them. It’s the little things that make travel easier, or help your budget – even if it’s just by a few bucks, most travelers have been in the situation where every penny counts.
This antique shop in Savannah was like a museum & I never would’ve found it without my host’s suggestion
How to Be a Good Surfer:
- Be Respectful. Follow the house rules (taking off shoes at the door, etc.), respect their property (don’t make messes or break things) and respect the people themselves (Are there kids in the house? Do they have to be up early for work?) Basically be courteous.
- Don’t Mooch. This is a community to meet like-minded people, support a passion for travel and to make travel more affordable. Hosts don’t always have the time or money to make you meals, provide transportation all over town.
- Be Grateful. This is the other side of that. When a host does go above and beyond, be grateful and perhaps return the favor. My hosts that have gone above and beyond I’ve bought a beer for, or sometimes if I’ve bought something in the town before, I’ll pass a treat along. (For instance, I gave a host in Alabama a Chocolate Frog from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.)
- Be Open. Part of CSing is meeting the people and getting a local’s perspective. Be open to going to a BBQ, going to a bar and having a Bushwhacker, or learning a new craft. I love these opportunities to learn, grow and have fun!
Try Couchsurfing on your next adventure and it just might open up a whole new element to your travels. I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever Couchsurfed? Do you have any tips that I’ve left out? Have you had a negative experience?
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