A global community of over 10 million travelers, Couchsurfing.com gives members the opportunity to immerse themselves in an entirely unique, cultural experience: staying in a complete stranger’s home for free while traveling.
If the idea excites you, here are some tips you should keep in mind when you decide to go Couchsurfing on your next trip.
1. Make an effort to build a great profile
The key is to simply be honest about who you are. Your profile is your host’s only window to you, so if you want to be welcomed as their guest, be as detailed as possible in your personal description. Tell them about your hobbies, interests, and adventures. And, above everything else, upload a profile photo that won’t make them think you’re some creep.
2. Attend a Couchsurfing event near you
Once you sign up for an account at Couchsurfing, you will be receiving emails about upcoming meet-ups of fellow Couchsurfers happening in your area. If you’ve got time on your hands, it would be a good idea to attend at least one event so you can familiarize yourself with Couchsurfing culture, make new friends, and learn more about the process.
3. Take time to read and review potential hosts’ profiles and references
Just like how hosts look at your profile, you, too, should take the time to thoroughly read through your potential hosts’ profiles. Carefully read what they say about themselves and compare it to what other Couchsurfers have said about them in the “references” section. It would be smart to choose a host who shares your interests. That way, you’ll find it easier to get along. If a profile makes you feel even the least bit uncomfortable, move on and keep searching.
4. Write a good Couch Request
Now that you’ve picked a host, it’s time to write a Couch Request. It’s your cover letter to your chosen host, so it would be best to be polite, first and foremost. A host will really appreciate it if your letter is personalized, so incorporate the things that you’ve read in their profile into your request to express how much you want to be in their company. Don’t forget to introduce yourself and give them a description of your trip and possibly an outline of your itinerary. Make sure to send in your request at least a week before your arrival.
5. Trust your instincts and have a plan B
Nothing beats human instinct. If a host, or a situation they placed you in, makes you feel unsafe for any reason at all, don’t hesitate to tell them straight up and leave. This is where your backup plan will kick in. Prepare a list of nearby hostels (if you’re that much of a cheapskate) or hotels where you can stay in an emergency or time of distress.
6. Keep an open mind
While you can Google about the culture of the place you’re traveling to, the internet will only offer you so much information and you can never be too prepared for culture shock. Even the most seasoned travelers will need some getting used to when faced with the new and the strange. So respect cultural differences and be open to new experiences with your host that will make your trip memorable. If something your host said directly offends you, call them out in the politest way possible to clear up any misunderstanding. But if things don’t straighten up between you two and matters just go awry from there, you’ve already got a backup plan, don’t you?
7. Don’t expect much and be considerate
It’s called Couchsurfing for a reason. You won’t be sleeping in a five-star hotel and you won’t be getting the special treatment, either. Your host is already kind enough to take you in for a night or a few days, so be grateful for even the littlest things. Also, be considerate. Don’t be that guest from hell. Be neat, don’t make a noise while your host is asleep or working, let them know your itinerary so they have an idea of where you are at the moment. Generally, be the kind of guest you yourself would love to have over at your place.
8. Brush up on your own culture
Hosts on Couchsurfing take in guests mainly because they want to learn more about other cultures, so expect them to be really curious about the customs and traditions in your home country. They usually ask about the language (they’ll most likely ask for translations), so you’ll get to exercise your mother tongue plenty.
9. Give back
In your profile, you will be asked about what you can share with your hosts. Let them know what you can share with them, but also leave some out for an element of surprise. Giving them presents from your country is a great idea, but also see to it that you leave them with something lasting to remember you by. Prepare a meal for them on your last night (if you are allowed to use the kitchen, that is!) or give short language lessons if they want to learn more about the language or languages you speak. You can also offer them a stay at your place, if they ever find themselves in your town or city. Really, the small stuff can go a long way.
10. Leave references and make sure to report bad experiences
After your stay with your host, be sure to leave an honest reference. This is not just for the host to ponder on but also for other Couchsurfers’ information. Leaving references will help other members make decisions based on your experiences. And if you’ve had bad experience with your host, never hesitate to report it on the site to save other members the inconvenience and discomfort you went through. Do your part in keeping Couchsurfing a safe and reputable community.
Let us know what other Couchsurfing tips you have!