Crashing on the couch of a complete stranger. On the surface, that probably sounds like an incredibly crazy idea!
But that simple concept is the entire premise of CouchSurfing, a social networking site that helps connect you with people willing to host travelers. Sure, it sounds unsafe or scary, but with Surfing experiences in 4 countries, I can assure you that it’s both perfectly safe and a truly incredible experience that YOU should experience!
It took me four years after I initially heard about CouchSurfing before I actually decided to try it out. Why? I was scared of what could happen! Don’t let the same thing happen to you.
Why Should You CouchSurf?
There is NO better way to experience life in a culture! You’ll be staying with a local, experiencing what their life is like and being able to pick their brain. You don’t get that staying in a hostel!
You’ll meet the most fascinating people! CouchSurfers are all like minded with an interest in travel. Every single one that I’ve met has a fascinating personality and is more than happy to tell you about their culture, even in candid remarks about their governments that could never be said publicly.
You’ll get local advice on things to do! Who knows a city better than a local? Your host can probably give you some awesome tips for things to do that your guidebook doesn’t even begin to cover!
It’s free! Yes, at its heart, CouchSurfing is about facilitating a cultural exchange, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that you are in fact getting a free place to stay. But don’t go into it with that mentality! Better to think of it as an added bonus!
Photo Credit: FvS
How to Get Started With CouchSurfing
Sign up! It’s easy! Just visit CouchSurfing.org to get started!
Fill out your profile entirely! Veteran CouchSurfers tend to be wary of people with empty profiles. This is your public image which people will use to discern whether or not to host or meet you. Be honest and make sure you add a photo.
Join groups! CouchSurfing is filled with groups that run the gamut of interests and locales. You should absolutely join your local group and get started interacting with other CouchSurfers!
Hit up some local events! Most cities have a thriving local community with many events where you are able to meet other CouchSurfers. It’s a wonderful introduction to the community!
Meet other CouchSurfers! Not only will they be able to tell you all about the wonders of CouchSurfing. Most importantly, if you get to know some of them through some local events, you can become friends with them on CouchSurfing. Some evidence on your profile of having met other CouchSurfers is imperative to finding a host!
Search for a couch! When searching for couches, examine people’s profiles carefully. Do you share interests? Are they a smoker? What will the sleeping situation be (it’s not always necessarily a couch, sometimes just a floor or an air mattress or even a spare bedroom)?
Send out requests! Use the CouchRequest form, NOT a direct message to send out your request. While it might be tempting to send out a generic note to a bunch of people, most hosts will reject you for doing this! Make sure that you mention elements of the potential host’s profile. Some hosts even go so far as to say “You must mention [something] in your request” in an effort to weed out those generic requests, so make sure you carefully read each profile!
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Though you may put all your hopes on a single host, it’s in your best interest to send requests to multiple hosts, thus upping your chances of finding someone willing to host you!
Oh and don’t forget that you can also host CourchSurfers!
The host sets the ground rules! You are a guest of your host. It’s their house so it’s only fitting that they set the rules. Often times, your hours will revolve around those of your host, though some hosts may give you a key. Many hosts tend to lay out these rules in their profiles so make sure you read them carefully!
Be neat and curtious! This should go without saying, but remember that you are a guest in somebodies home! Don’t be a slob!
Bringing gifts? Some Surfers feel the need to do something nice for their hosts, but this is by no means required. Some like to bring something from their hometown, cook a meal, or treat their hosts to dinner (the latter is my preference). But it’s also perfecrtly acceptable to do nothing. The basic premise of CouchSurfing is to “pay it forward.”
Finally, don’t be a no-show! May sound pretty straightforward, but don’t leave your host waiting for you! If you’re running late or can’t make it at all, let your host know! “Standing them up” is an excellent way to get a negative reference on your profile, which would probably mark an end to your CouchSuring career!
So…what are you waiting for? Your next trip is the perfect opportunity to give CouchSurfing a try! I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Now, I’d love to hear from you! Are you a veteran CouchSurfer with some tips to add? Are you a newby with questions or fears about getting into CouchSurfing? I’m happy to help you out with any advice you may need!
14 replies on “Yes! YOU Can CouchSurf!”
I like to bring ice cream when I arrive at a new host. Who doesn’t like ice cream?
Also to would be surfers, consider having a mobile phone so you can confirm with your host, arrange plans, and notify them if something changes. It’s just courtesy.
Haha Dustin of course you’d bring your host ice cream!
Cell phone is a GREAT tip! New SIM cards or so cheap you really have no reason not to buy one when you arrive in a country! It’s an imperative tool to making plans ot meet up too!
Just stumbled across your blog Aaron – love it.
With regards to sim cards – totally agree especially for Europe and Asia but bear in mind that in some countries it’s still expensive. Eg. a sim card in Canada is like $40!!
Best tool I use for Couchsurfing is my Ipod Touch – free wifi at any Starbucks, McDs, etc. You have google maps, email and skype if you need to call. Last summer, I couchsurfed for 3 months and this was the only tech tool I used!
Looking forward to more articles.
Thanks for the handy tip on the iPod Touch Roy! I traveled with one as well, yet I still brought a cell phone and bought local SIM’s. Then again, I was in Asia and don’t think I ever paid more than…oh… US$5 for one! Can you call a local number in another country with Skype?
Actually, I had a cheap unlocked cell on me as well (for countries that had cheap sims). But yeah, if you have skype credit you can call any landline or cell for cheap.
Good to know thanks! Yeah my travel cell phone of choice is a cheapo unlocked phone that I got in Thailand for US$15! Still works like a charm 4 years later…just doesn’t do any fancy tricks (like internet, which is fine with me)!
This reminds me I need to sign up for couchsurfing. I will do so before I leave for sure. Thanks for the tips. I have never done it but am looking forward to doing it.
Haha yes you do! Do it and do some local community events before you leave! I’m sure Houston’s got a thriving local community!
would you mind if I translate this post to spanish? I’m a CouchSurfer down in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I’ve sent you an email.
Helpful info for us newbies.
Thanks Talon! Glad I could be of assistance in your first CouchSurfing experience! 🙂
Really, really great tips! Nice to come across another strong advocate for the service. I was totally scared and apprehensive at first too but ever since I started, I just haven’t been able to stop. Highly recommended!
Yeah I was too. I was nervous and really had no idea what to expect, despite having friends who’d done it before and loved it. Once I started I never looked back! Sure, some people think I’m nuts, but they have no idea about the amazingess they’re missing!