How To Begin Couchsurfing
A step-by-step guide on how to travel using Couchsurfing.com.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a community of guests and hosts all around the world. Hosts open up their spare rooms, beds, couches and so on to travelers. Guests, also referred to as surfers, are travelers who need a temporary place to sleep while they are visiting a certain destination. Couchsurfing.com is the formal virtual meeting place for hosts and guests, although there are other means of hosting and surfing. Couchsurfing.com is more of a trusted medium because of the reference system it utilizes, wherein if you host, surf or meet a member of the community you leave references speaking towards their character and trustworthiness. The other party is not able to alter said reference after it is submitted. There are also confidential means to report on fishy behavior. CS.com even alerts travelers to certain beings with negative reputations.
For the record, we use CSing as our main means of travel and have also hosted several times. As of yet, we’ve only had amazing experiences. We also have a certain system we use to weed out potential unpleasant guests/hosts, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
Although there is no exchange of money via CSing, it is not necessarily “free.” If you wish to use CSing, frequently or occasionally, you are expected to contribute to it’s community and exchange cycle. Freeloaders are the worst kind of guests/surfers. If all you want is a bed you don’t have to pay for, couchsurfing is not the method for you. However, if you would like to meet people, have cultural exchange, explore cities like the locals and learn new languages I urge you to keep reading.
How do I start couchsurfing?
The best way to join the CS community is to begin by hosting. (You don’t have to start this way, but it is definitely the way to figure out if CSing is for you or not).
How To Host:
- Sign up and create a profile on Couchsurfing.com. It is imperative that you fill in ALL the information asked of you in the profile template. You’d be surprised at how quickly you’ll get ignored by many if you don’t follow this step. Be as detailed as possible. Also make sure to note specific dates and times that you accept or do not accept guests.
- (Optional) Verify your address and identity. In order to do this, you pay a fee and receive a postcard with a unique code that you enter on the site upon receipt. Although this costs (varies upon location; we paid $25 when we were originally verified)it’s worth it. The purpose of paying this fee is to a.) prove that the address you gave CS.com (not visible on your profile) is really your address and b.)you match the name used for your payment method, confirming you are who you say you are. Not only does this process make other hosts and surfers feel safer, but it shows your commitment to the community.
- (Optional but recommended) Search for travelers looking for a host in your area. Check out their profiles to see if they’re someone you could possibly connect with (this is one of the reasons it’s so important to have a complete profile!). Don’t feel bad about checking their Facebook pages, either. It is important that you feel comfortable with who you invite into your home. If you find someone you think you may get along with, send them a message letting them know you are available as a host.
- Even if you skipped step 2 and/or 3, you will receive messages from from travelers requesting to stay with you. Answer every request, even if your response is no. Your response rate is shown to others and it shows good faith if you at least care enough to reply back to those who took time to message you. *Remember to check references. If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable, it’s perfectly fine to say no. NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN STONE USING CS!
- Once you and your soon-to-be guest(s) have set dates for their stay, mark it in your calendar to keep track. You would hate to be the host with overlapping guests because you’re terrible at organizing. Most travelers have limited budgets and it would suck for you to be the reason they have to find other accommodation.
- Before your surfers arrive, make sure to prepare a list of house rules. This is acceptable and expected. You cannot get upset if someone doesn’t behave the way you expect them to when you never informed them of what you actually expect.
- When your surfer(s) arrive, give them some tips of the town. Let them know what spots you frequent and where not to go. This will be the beginning of an incredible exchange between host and guest.
- Try to make time to spend with them. If you don’t have time to socialize, let them know at their arrival so they don’t expect anything.
- At the end of their stay or when they are leaving, ask for a prompt reference. Be appropriate and kind when doing so. Don’t be pushy. They will understand, as they will benefit from the reference you’ll leave them as well.
- Leave your surfer(s) a reference. Although it is more of an unspoken courtesy for guests to quickly leave their hosts references, it is a two-way street. Usually the quicker you leave a reference, the quicker you’ll receive. The more positive references you receive, the better chance you have of being trusted and hosted in your own travels. Also, you will have a greater appreciation for what being an excellent guest is and therefore become more host-able.
If you follow all of these steps, you will gain affection for the CSing family and shouldn’t have an issue finding a host of your own. Many times, if your itinerary allows, you’ll be welcomed in the homes of those you hosted or their close friends and family.
“I don’t want to or can’t host. Will I still be able to couchsurf?”
If you skip the aforementioned steps and don’t host, it should only be because you are not able to. If you are able to and simply don’t want to host surfers, then you shouldn’t expect to be welcomed into anyone else’s home. Period. Hospitality cannot be expected if not given. It’s all about reciprocity.
How To Surf
Finding a host definitely takes more time than finding a surfer. Hosts have to be particular about letting someone into the intimacy of their homes(which you will appreciate if you followed the first 10 steps). We don’t run into issues finding hosts because we have a system of guidelines that steer us in the direction of spectacular people. Again, we’ve only had great experiences because of this.
Using the filters available on CS.com, here are the rules we follow to ensure finding a stellar host:
Begin searching for a host 4-6 weeks ahead of time. Don’t start looking too early; people don’t know their schedules yet. Don’t wait until the last minute; people will already have a houseful of surfers, or worse, think you to be inconsiderate. We’ve found that sending requests about 4-6 weeks before your anticipated arrival date gives time for rearranging due to changes in schedule and shows your preparedness and consideration.
- Limit your requests to 3-4 days per host. As hosts and surfers, we’ve found this to be long enough to get settled but not so long as to become a nuisance. Even if you’re going to be in town longer than this, it is a bit intrusive to ask for a longer stay. If you connect with a host enough, they may offer an extension to host you but the choice is theirs. For longer visits, set up multiple hosts.
- We look for bilingual host with at least one shared language between us. This is not as crucial if you speak the native tongue of the place you’re visiting, but it comes in handy when needing help translating and getting around. Also, if your host knows at least two languages, one you know and one you don’t, it is easier to add to your own linguistic skills(and sometimes theirs) by teaching each other new words and phrases.
- We try to request people who accept pets and children. That may seem odd given that we don’t have either, but we’ve found that people who accept families into their homes usually have more of an openness about them that creates ease during our stay. There are definitely weirdoes out there, and we’re not saying that some aren’t on CS.com. However, STRANGErs usually want a specific kind of traveler, such as solo females. Make sure to check for references from travelers similar to you. For example, if you are a woman traveling alone, look for hosts who have had single female travelers leave references.
- Read hosts’ entire profile and send personal messages each time. Many surfers get rejected simply because they copy and paste the same message on every request they send out. This is a major no-no. Hosts will have certain rules and stipulations that they may even ask you to acknowledge in your request. When you send the same “Hi! You’re profile looked interesting…” message, you’ll get a no almost every time. Mention specifics about their profiles and interests. If someone is hospitable enough to (possibly) let you stay in their home, you can at the very least respect them by reading about who they are. Hell,you shouldn’t feel comfortable requesting to stay with someone who you didn’t care to read up on!
- When hosted, leave a small token of your appreciation. Sometimes it seems as those hospitality is dead among guests. Don’t be that guy. A kind person was cool enough to lend you their roof for X amount of nights. A small gift is the least you can give to show them you’re thankful of their graciousness. Your budget is probably very limited but even an inexpensive or creative gift is appreciated by hosts. Some of our guests have left chocolate from their native countries, fresh honey from the farmer’s market. Once we hosted a band that left us their CD! We’ve left toilet paper for a large family and even our Netflix password to a host that grew to be a close friend. Hosts will often mention such pleasantries in their references of you. That makes you that much more desirable to other hosts. In our opinion, it is a necessity to show your gratitude. Otherwise you’re simply one of those freeloaders we keep telling you not to be.
- Go into detail about your intentions in your requests. When you send requests to hosts, especially when first starting out, make sure they understand who you are and your purpose for traveling. Do your best to convey your interest and intentions so that the potential hosts feel like they know you. Sure they can read your profile, but the burden is on you, the surfer, to prove your worth. They don’t need you; you need them.
- If you’ve hosted, make sure your desired host knows that. We tend to stress that we understand being a great guest because we have hosted. Trust me, they’ll light up once you mention this.
- When not hosting or surfing, go to local CS meetings. This is a great way to meet others in the CS community and gain valuable references. Meetings are usually tons of fun and you’re sure to meet a bunch of new and like-minded folk who can give you tips on travel and laughs all night. Also, drinks are usually involved!
If you follow these guidelines, you’re sure to have a positive Couchsurfing experience whether hosting or surfing. They’ve worked for us so much that we almost hate traveling any other way.
If you have any tips to share on how to start out couchsurfing, please comment below for allow to benefit from (including us!).