How to: Use Couchsurfing (as a Guest)
You may or may not have heard of Couchsurfing.com—the magical travel website where you can ask strangers to let you crash on their couch FOR FREE! It sounds like a budget-traveler’s dream come true―and it IS, as long as you understand the platform, expectations, and etiquette that come along with these free accomodations. Here’s our beginners' guide to having a positive experience with Couchsurfing:
Before you book a host:
1.) Make the effort: Take the time to fill out all of the information on your profile. It may seem silly to you, but this is the only criteria a stranger will have to go off of before deciding if they will let you stay in their home or not. Information about your hobbies, favorite movies, and philosophy of life can go a long way when it comes to convincing them that you would be good guy or gal to accept. (If you're looking for even more detailed advice on making your profile, we've got that for you too!)
On the flipside, actually read your potential host’s WHOLE profile before sending them a request. This is useful for two reasons. Firstly, it is the best way to decide if you mesh with the host. If everything they’ve written on their profile is in contrast with yours, perhaps they’re not the person to spend the weekend with. Don’t set yourself (or them) up for an uncomfortable experience.
Secondly, some seasoned hosted get A LOT of requests and weed them out based on how seriously interested guests seem. Therefore they may insert a request for YOU somewhere in their profile. One example that I’ve experienced was that a couple talked about their two cats by name then said “Please mention ___ and ___ in your request to confirm you read through our information and that you understand there will be pets in our home.”
Planning your trip:
2.) Treat each potential host personally: Although you may need to send out 3-5 requests in order to get accepted for a specific date, be sure that each of your requests has a personal touch. Absolutely don’t copy and paste and wrong name into the request!!! This is a sure-fire way to get rejected without a response. And can you blame them? Think about it from their perspective—they’re considering putting enough faith in you to welcome you into their home and you can’t even get their name right? Just make the effort to write their name, mention something you found interesting about them in their profile and/or something you have in common, and give them a brief summary of what your agenda would look like.
3.) Have a plan, while remaining open to change: Most couchsurfers appreciate getting an idea of what kind of guest you will be. Some guests have their whole weekend planned out and will only come back to the host’s house to shower and sleep. While this is not necessarily the norm with Couchsurfing, it may work for a host who also has a busy weekend. On the other hand, I find it good to have a general idea what you will do during the trip to entertain yourself while also being enthusiastic about making time to get to know your host, whether this means making a meal together at home or hitting the town together to grab drinks or sightsee.
Staying with your host:
4.) It’s give-and-take: Understand that Couchsurfing hosts offer you a free place to stay for a reason. They are not push-overs, they are just really cool people who are interested in meeting other really cool people! This means that they will likely want to spend time with you and at least have some meaningful conversation. Don’t be a mooch—this person you have never met is offering you an opportunity to travel on a budget and discover a new place you might not otherwise be able to afford to see. What’s more, they may even be willing to show you around and share meal times with you. Be grateful! Take them up on their offers (when else will you get a chance to go sightseeing with a local or to check out their favorite underground bar that isn’t listed on TripAdvisor?). Then, offer to buy them a beer or a lunch. They may or may not accept, but it’s the least you can do for a free place to crash!
5.) Be respectful: This person is letting you into their home and LIFE for a night (or a few!). Take time to get to know them personally, but also logistically. Do they have to get up early to go to work? Do they shower in the evenings? Will they have friends over while you are staying? In my experience, Couchsurfing hosts are incredibly accommodating and extend the invitation for you to be a part of any gatherings they have at their place during your stay. However, don’t be assumptive. Make an effort to respect their daily routine and personal space. If you have a scheduled event at 10am, don’t set your alarm to wake up at 9:30 and then be upset that your host is using the bathroom until 10. As with anything in life, communication is the key to a positive experience.
Of course, there are MANY other aspects of Couchsurfing that we could get into, but having these initial five tips in mind will have you well on your way to having a positive guest experience!