When I hear people saying they don´t travel much because it is too expensive, I think to myself – you have so much to learn. Nowadays, more than ever it is extremely easy to travel on a budget – starting from extremely low airline fares to hostels, carpooling service etc. One of my secrets has been Coushsurfing. You might have heard of it and think it is simply a free couch. Perhaps you have heard also someone saying its a dating site or not trustable and should never be done alone. Couchsurfing platform was created with a purpose – travellers helping other travellers. So what is couch-surfing and what you should know before using it?
What is couchsurfing?
When travellers go overseas they need places to stay. And there are many locals who have spare beds, floors, rooms and couches. Couchsurfing matches these two together.
“Hosts” will list their available spaces on the site. Travellers will then search through them and request to “surf”, after seeing their profiles. Alternatively, travellers can publish their travel plans, and hosts can offer to accommodate them.
No money ever changes hands. The exchange is done in the spirit of travellers helping other travellers. Some of you might find it odd that anyone would do this. Why would you offer a bed for free? Why go to so much trouble to accommodate someone and get nothing in return? Why not list it on Airbnb and make some money instead?
It’s pretty simple. Travellers know travellers. And we know how important it is to help each other out. Plus you get to meet some pretty cool and energetic people and possibly make friends of a lifetime.
What you should know before using CS
First, you need to create your profile, filling the different sections, based on which the hosts will evaluate you and decide whether they want to host you and vice versa. You should always have your interests laid out. You should create some
“Couch surfing” has a catchy ring to it, but there is some good news: you won’t always be relegated to sleeping on couches. Many hosts have spare bedrooms; you could even have your own bathroom. On some glorious occasions, guest cottages are available!
How to find a host?
1. Send a request
So you have found a host that you think is a match. It is much more difficult to find a host if you are a couple, but now impossible. Now you should write a personalised request, not a copy paste message. The hosts can tell it and they don´t like it. You will have better chances to find a host if you write a few engaging sentences based on what you have seen in the profile. If you are a solo female traveller, be especially careful and don´t send misleading signals. In simple words – write a casual request, not going too much into details.
- I would suggest surfing for 2-4 nights;
- 1 night is not acceptable. CS is a cultural exchange, not a hostel, unless it´s an emergency situation or last minute call.
- 3 nights is optimal in my opinion
- Anything over 4 nights is too much unless you are getting along extremely well.
- Try to search for hosts up to one month in advance.
2. Post a public trip
Another way you can find hosts is by posting your travel plans. Your trip will get listed on the “public trips” list and people might offer to host you. It looks like this:
3. Search in the local cs community groups
If you don´t get any success, try looking in the local (the city of destination) cs community groups in couchsurfing.com. You can create a discussion asking for a couch. Outside
Follow the rules and enjoy the benefits
There are a few “unwritten” rules when you Couchsurf.
1. Be responsible and considerate. There are many kinds of hosts – some of them will trust you and give the house keys and continue their life. Others will let you in only after they have arrived. Both are totally fine but don´t ask for the house keys yourself. Define between each other all the other boundaries and learn the house rules. Everyone likes to have their space, also the host.
2. If you take you also give. Be a good couchsurfer by getting to know your host; plan to spend a little time with them rather than just turning up when it is time to sleep. Share your travelling stories, cook a meal from your home country or grab some beers. You can even bring a gift from your country. Always clean after yourself and respect the home.
3. It’s not a dating site. Even though there are quite a few stories of Couchsurfing couples and marriages and babies. But just keep in mind that’s not what the site is designed for.
4. If you surf, you host. It’s not cool to be surfing hundreds of times, and never hosting anyone in return. When you’re back in your home country, try to host a few people to give back to the community.
5. Respect your host. If you had arranged to stay for 3 nights, stay for 3 nights. Don’t put them in the uncomfortable position of kicking you out. Clean up after yourself. Keep your area of the house clean. Don’t treat it like a hotel nor your own house. Treat it like the home of a very important person who is doing you a very big favour.
6. Always leave a reference. If you felt welcome or if something went out of control – write it all down. It will help future surfers and eliminate those who don´t follow the rules.
- You get a peek behind the tourist curtain and can go a little deeper to connect with a destination. A good host will provide a deeper understanding of the place you are visiting.
- Your local friend knows the hidden hotspots. They are like your local guides. They may give can offer money-saving advice for insider sights and activities. You’ll learn about scams to avoid and where to find the best eats in town away from the tourist traps.
- You may have access to the kitchen and cook your meals. Cooking meals at home are cheaper and healthier than eating out in restaurants.
- Even if you already have accommodation, you can use the Couchsurfing website to find traveller meetups and hangouts.
- Lasting friendships are often formed through Couchsurfing, I have very good friends and acquaintances all over Europe.
My first host, Gil, in Porto – a lasting friendship 🙂
Is it safe?
Remember, couch-surfing is not a dating site and it should not be approached like one. Hosts just like surfers should show respect to each other.
With no doubt, there are more men hosts than women. I have stayed with over 30 hosts, mostly men. For a girl it is definitely easier to find a host, but there are downsides. Make sure you do the following:
- You should always read the references;
- Check the hosts profile;
- Read the description of the “home”
Be aware that not all the references are 100% honest; many times surfers don´t tell the truth because at the end of the day they were hosted. You should be grateful but also cannot accept disrespect and in case something happens, should always write it in the reference so that the future surfers are informed. Only because the host has 300 references, doesn´t mean you will have the best CS experience ever.
I advise never staying in the hosts bedroom; there is a chance that during the night the host comes to the bedroom and asks to share the bed with you saying its difficult to sleep on the sofa. It can turn out to be very awkward and annoying.
Hosts know that acting poorly toward guests will result in negative ratings and reviews, effectively eliminating their chances of hosting travellers in the future. This is usually enough to keep members of the Couchsurfing community in check.
As with any social network that has millions of members, you are ultimately responsible for your own personal safety when making contact with strangers.
The CouchSurfing.com Website
Couchsurfing.com first became a public website in 2004 as a way to match travellers with willing hosts. The site operates much in the way of other social websites; people add friends, build profiles, upload photos, and send messages.
Signing up for an account on the Couchsurfing website is free, however, members can optionally pay a one-time fee to become “verified” for additional credibility.
Of course, most people visit the website when looking for a place to stay, however, it also serves as an online community for travellers. Need to buy a motorbike in Vietnam? You can probably connect with a traveller who is leaving Vietnam and wants to sell hers. The Couchsurfing app features a way for travellers to meet up.
Couchsurfing.com is good for meeting real-life friends, even at home! The community pages are handy for getting real-time information from other budget travellers about upcoming destinations.
The groups on the Couchsurfing website are operated by local volunteers known as ambassadors. Local groups often have informal meetings and gather for events and outings. Even when not travelling, you can use the groups and ambassadors to meet fellow travellers and interesting people at home.
Couchsurfing is not for everyone
Lastly, couch surfing is an alternative way of travelling and is not suitable for everyone.
It is a great way to save money and meet the locals while you travel or vice-versa. But don´t use cs if you are not feeling comfortable to share a house with a stranger. If you are a couple, it will not be a romantic stay but there are many benefits. Also, regular Couchsurfing can become exhausting. Try mixing it up with other types of accommodation, like Airbnb. You have to be open-minded and English is fundamental.
Also, if you don´t want to be hosted but still want to meet the locals, you can always send messages to the locals and ask if they want to meet. In this way, you will have your personal space and also a chance to know the city with a local CS member.
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