Pay It Forward as a CouchSurfing Host

The following is a guest post by Katie Aune of Katie Going Global. You can read more about her at the end of the article.

So you’re not traveling at the moment?

But you still want to meet cool people from all over the world?

And you want to give a little back to the traveling community?

Sounds like being a CouchSurfing host may be right up your alley!

Yellow Couch + Yotei Photo by TheDailyEnglishShow

CouchSurfing gets a lot of attention as a great way to meet new people while you travel while saving some money on accommodations at the same time. But CouchSurfing is a two-way street – without willing hosts, there’d be no place to surf!

I registered for CouchSurfing just over a year ago and I admit, my intentions were somewhat selfish – I signed up in anticipation of using it on future trips. Once I really started digging into it, though, I realized that in order to maximize my chances of finding a place to surf on the road, I should probably do some hosting myself (again, selfish intentions!).

My first request arrived in my inbox just a few weeks after creating my profile. A woman around my age needed a place to stay as she drove from North Carolina to Denver. It sounded like we probably had quite a bit in common and it was only for one night, so I readily agreed, thinking it would be a good way to get my feet wet. We hit it off quite well, spending hours that evening swapping stories and comparing past travel experiences. While it wasn’t exactly a fascinating cultural exchange, it was an enjoyable experience and I now likely have a place to stay if I’m ever stopping through Denver.

My next opportunity to host came several months later, when I agreed to host a couple visiting from St. Louis. The way my schedule worked out, I was only able to host them for a night, but I was determined to make the most of it. As their arrival came closer, though, I found myself becoming quite nervous.  What if we didn’t get along? What if I wasn’t able to show them a good time in Chicago?

Luckily, my worries proved to be for nothing. Jacob and Megan arrived mid-afternoon and met me at my office, where they left their bags before heading out to explore the city until I got off work. That evening, we headed to Giordano’s for some Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, where they generously paid for my dinner (not expected but certainly much appreciated!). Then it was off to Improv Olympic for another Chicago tradition – hilarious comedy! We had a great time, enjoying the show and getting to know each other better throughout the evening. Jacob shared tips for my upcoming trip to London and I gave them the scoop on the Chicago summer music festival scene. And much to my surprise, they were super-impressed with their sleeping arrangements – a fold out divan in my second bedroom.  The next morning, as I showed them off to their next host (conveniently only 3 blocks from me), I was a bit bummed I wasn’t able to host them longer.

I’m still waiting to host my first international guests, something that really attracted me to the idea of hosting in the first place. I’ve received multiple requests but unfortunately the timing hasn’t worked out or I’ve received requests that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. Which brings me to one of the great things about being a CouchSurfing host – while you should at least respond to all requests, you don’t have any obligation to actually accept them all. When I receive a request from a potential surfer, I like to see something personalized.  Did they at least take the time to read my profile? Or are they clearly sending out a form email to a gazillion potential hosts without really caring where they end up staying? I also take a good look at their profile – I read any reviews, see if they have references and get a feel for whether our interests and lifestyles might mesh. I want to know who I’m inviting into my home for a few days!

As Aaron wrote in Putting Surf in CouchSurfing, it is all about facilitating a cross-cultural exchange – and by hosting, you can do so without even leaving your hometown! You can learn about Russia, Germany, China or Brazil without hopping on a plane and at the same time, you can serve as an ambassador for own city and country – and culture. So whether you’ve surfed in the past, plan to surf in the future, or have never surfed, it is well worth your time to give hosting a try!

Have you hosted CouchSurfers before?  What has been your experience?  As a host, what advice would you give to potential surfers?

Katie Aune is a thirty-something recovering attorney who has lived in Chicago for nearly 10 years.  She has a passion for travel and sports, combining the two whenever possible.  With a full-time job in nonprofit fundraising, she takes full advantage of her vacation time to travel internationally at least once each year, but hopes to one day embark on a long-term trip through Russia and the former Soviet Union.  Follow Katie’s adventures at www.katiegoingglobal.com or on Twitter at @kgoingglobal.

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12 Responses to Pay It Forward as a CouchSurfing Host

  1. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World January 18, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    We’ve been both hosts and surfers and my only tip as both a surfer and a host is to establish a relationship beforehand. Start a month before and establish the base for the relationship through correspondence so you don’t feel like complete strangers in the beginning. Doing your own dishes and taking out your host for dinner on your last day is something that we always do and seem to be highly appreciated as well.

    • Aaron January 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

      Hey Jack and Jill,

      I’ve only ever surfed, never hosted, but I always like to take my host out for dinner. They do so much for you that it seems like the least that you could do!

      Interestingly enough, the longest out I’ve ever found a host is about 3 weeks (the shortest being 3 days). I can’t say I’ve had a huge amount of correspondence with them prior aside from some of the basics as to where to meet and whatnot and maybe a bit about our shared interests (though I like to mention that in my Couch Request message).

  2. Katie January 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    As a host, I’ve found it’s hard to try to plan too far ahead. I got a request last spring from someone asking about July! I just have no idea what’s gonna be going on then and I would hate to commit to someone and then have to cancel. My preference is generally for someone to contact me 2-3 weeks ahead of time – far enough out that I can plan for it, but close enough that I have a good idea of my schedule.

    I think the key in the pre-surfing correspondence is to make sure everyone is on the same page so there are no surprises.

    • Aaron January 19, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

      I would echo the notion that there should be no surprises. Host or surfer, make sure any bizarre quarks are clearly laid out in you profile. Like, say, if you’re a nudist…get that out in the open (I’m not, but there are some in the local CS community who are pretty awesome people).

  3. Kyle Morgan January 21, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    Couch surfing is an amazing network. My wife and I will be opening up to hosts soon in Ipoh, Malaysia.

    • Aaron January 21, 2011 at 12:09 am #

      Indeed it is a great network and that’s fantastic that you two are open for hosting! I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time I’m in Malaysia! 🙂

  4. Carol998 July 3, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Provided my first hosting this weekend. Thought enjoyed it. Great way to get to know folks …everyone has a story.

    • Aaron July 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

      Isn’t it? So glad you had a great hosting experience!

  5. Kathryn February 10, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Katie & Aaron –

    I can honestly say that Couchsurfing has changed my life. Sure, there are going to be odd situations every once in a while (though don’t you get that in hostels/hotels too?), but for the most part I’ve encountered wonderful people and made life-long friends through the site. I’ve hosted folks from 6 different countries, traveled with CSers to places I never would have found myself, and surfed in 7 different countries. But as any CSer will tell you, it’s the connections and the variety of activities made possible. From going out to dinner with a Lithuanian gal to motorbiking through Nepal with an Indian photographer, my experiences through Couchsurfing have positively impacted my life forever–and I’m so grateful for that (though even my parents don’t want details on how I found these “strangers” in the first place!). If people don’t trust it, then they needn’t join the club! It’s all about possibilities and being open to unique experiences, and many people just can’t handle that. And by the way, I’ve hosted people the very night they requested, and had great experiences. My advice? Set some limits if you’re just becoming familiar with the system, but be open to having your thoughts challenged and changed. It’s completely worth it!

    • Aaron February 10, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

      Great tips Kathryn! And I agree, I would always love to take advantage of CS, though in some ways it doesn’t fit my travel style as it tends to require some degree of planning that you’ll be in a certain place at a certain time. Still though, you can’t beat the price or the amazing experiences!

  6. Michele August 5, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    We have hosted heaps of surfers and love the experience….it is like being on holidays all the time and gives you a new love of where you live as you see it through the eyes of a traveller 🙂 We also host people with no references as believe everyone has to start somewhere.

    • Aaron August 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

      That’s very admirable of you! Personally, I don’t feel comfortable surfing with someone with no references (though this is somewhat hypocritical of me as the first time I surfed I had no references, but I did have friends on CS).

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