How to do couchsurfing (and not get killed)
Couchsurfing is a website-based organisation that connects you with locals and other travellers from all over. It is an awesome tool to spice up your travels, to meet people while you’re there and to have some great fun. And… It’s free!
How it works, basically
The first step is to register on the website and create a profile for yourself. Like AirBnb you share some personal information about you and the people you meet leave ‘reviews’, so that other people know that you aren’t a serial killer. How nifty. You then decide when you’ll be travelling to which destination and browse the options for hosts available. After you have selected your favourite host, based on their profile, you request a place to stay. If you are travelling along with other people, these people also have to request to crash at your host’s place.
The host, in turn, looks at your profile, decides where or not you look like someone who will steal their favourite bowl for a souvenir, and then decline or accept your request. And voila!
You and your host can then have a chat about when you’ll be arriving and what your plans are.
Here are some more details about how it works:
The registration process requires a lot of mindfulness – decide carefully on what you put on your Couchsurfing profile and what not. It is always recommended that you put as much about yourself as possible, so that the other person can make an informed decision if they would like to welcome you to their home. This will also enable the other person to see if you have similar interests, whether you have something in common and, more importantly, whether you can speak the same language.
Photos are always recommended. It’s not about who is the best looking, so you don’t have to upload your best headshots. When I was looking, I looked for someone who seemed to look like they like to have some fun. Pick some photos that illustrate who you are.
Remember that the more honest you are about who you are and what your expectations are, the less surprises your host will have when you arrive, or your guests if you host.
How do I couchsurf?
Pick your host. And don’t choose a creep! It is very, very important to thoroughly read through potential hosts’ profiles. Read through what they have to offer, where their home is, where you will be sleeping, how much time they have available and what their expectations of you are. Would they like you to eat dinner with them, would they like to show you around, do they have absolutely no time for this and will they be able to accommodate your whole party. Read carefully and, if it’s not your thing, steer clear of people who make sexual comments in their profile. If I saw anything in that sense, I moved on.
Read through a few of the hosts’ reviews from other people. There you will be able to get a good idea of the tipe of host that they are. Once again, read through the negative reviews. If I saw any negative reviews of a sexual nature, I moved on. Decide what you want and don’t – and just stick to that.
After you’ve picked your lucky winner, request the bed. Manage your expectations by looking at their usual reply time. Don’t wait up if the person usually takes 2 days to respond. After you have received the approval of your request, you’re all set!
I would recommend making contact with your host a few weeks before your arrival. Just double check that the person can still host you and confirm your plans. Chat about what time you will be arriving, where you will be, where you will meet etc. Feel free to ask the host how to get to their place. I’ve gotten ridiculously lost on the way to a host! Get the host’s phone number, so that you can let them know if something unexpected happens. Remember: communication is key!
What happens when I’m there?
There are two groups of hosts: the one group that likes to spend time with their guests, have dinner, take you around town and shot you their favourite spots. The other kind is the people who work crazy hours, aren’t available or simply don’t care for taking people around and getting to know them. You decide what you would prefer (once again – read their profile carefully!).
Very important: Couchsurfing is a community, not a free guest house. If you will only be using the facilities for a bed and don’t care for the people around you, this is most likely not the thing for you.
Most hosts usually make time to do something with you, to make you feel welcome. This can be dinner at home, a beer at their favourite bar, or a proper walking tour through their city. If you would like recommendations or for them to take you around, just ask. If you would like to spend the days on your own, but join up with them in the evenings, just communicate this with them.
Remember that someone is welcoming you into their home, so BE NICE. Put in some effort with your host to ensure that you have a pleasant stay – for all the parties involved.
It is customary to take a small gift for your host, usually from your home country. Just something small to show them that you are thankful for their hospitality and leave them something to remember you by.
Where do I sleep?
You’ll have a couch, a bed, a room or whatever the host has available. Note: you select preferences on your profile, eg. I don’t want to share a room, I don’t want to share a bed, I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, etc. Choose what you want and check what your host has available.
Usually your guest will supply bedding, but not towels. It all depends on your host though, so be sure to ask if there is anything specific that you have to bring along.
In case of emergencies…
Say you arrive at your host’s place and it is NOTHING like what the person said, something is terribly wrong and you do not feel like you can stay there. What if something happens to your host and he can’t host anymore? What then?
There are emergency groups on the website where you can ask for someone to help you out that same evening/the next evening. People tend to respond quickly here and are very willing to help you. If there is a problem, feel free to chat to these hosts in order to make a plan.
Can I host guests?
Yes! If you have an extra room, a couch or just a big heart, you can open your home to travellers in your country. There is an option on your profile to enable the setting that allows people to request your bed.
You will have a chance to serve the community that has served you – and meet some awesome people on the way.
The fun-tastic Couchsurfing community
This community is a big and a diverse one – and it is one where you will surely meet someone with whom you can connect. Even if you don’t couchsurf, please consider joining one of their gatherings. There are various events taking place, from learning the local language, yoga in the park or walking tours. Have a look and join the party. You will surely meet some really interesting people.
My experience Couchsurfing through Europe
I travelled through Europe, couchsurfing all the way. And it was, without a doubt, the best decision that I made during that trip. I met the most amazing people, had crazy fun and will forever be thankful for their friendly hospitality and making sure that I enjoyed their city. I travelled alone, so I had the days to myself to wander around, get lost and stare at artwork for inappropriately long periods of time. Then I met up with my hosts in the evenings and we would meet up with other couchsurfers or just hang out somewhere and eat something. I enjoyed seeing what real life is like in that city, getting to know the locals and following their advice on how to go about in the city where I am.
I would recommend couchsurfing to anyone. It is such a great way to get in touch with the locals, to meet new people and to save some money while you’re having a great time.
So leave your excuses and GO! Just go. Just travel.