CS is a fascinating community of people, willing to open their doors to strangers and share their stories, talents, and experiences with one another. It really is an experience when you choose to couchsurf, you’re not just getting free accommodation, but a person with similar interests and someone who is waiting to show you their city, so you can get a true locals experience!
I have to say I personally have had only amazing couchsurfing experiences, meeting new people and traveling cities like a local… but the only bummer? Sleeping on a couch, because that’s really the worst part of it.
Yeah I know, crazy isn’t it?
I discovered couchsurfing while living abroad in Ireland and fell in love with the concept. I didn’t give it a try until my solo trip to Trinidad where I stayed with the most brilliant, spunky and hilarious young woman. We explored Port of Spain checking out local bars and snack stands, I met her friends and we were able to spend a day limin’ on the white sandy beaches, eating bake and shark & sipping cool peanut punch.
Not to say that you shouldn’t be cautious when navigating the world wide web it always pays off to know a bit about what you’re getting into. I’m here to give you some pointers on how to get started with CS and how to have an amazing experience while abroad.
- Open up www.couchsurfing.com, or download the app on your phone and go ahead and make a profile!
… it’s ok, I’ll wait…
- Include clear photos of your face. (no brainer) If you are traveling as a couple include photos (G rated) of the two of you, but keep in mind it is harder to find a host that accepts more than one person.
- Include photos of you traveling or any interests you have (ex: mountain biking, canoeing, cooking).
- Fill out the bio section as honestly as possible and make it speak to your personality and interests. Remember this helps hosts decide if they would like to host you.
- Include personality and humor. Think: resume meets dating profile meets Facebook. (disclaimer, CS isn’t for dating)
- Don’t leave blanks, as much as you don’t mean for it to look lazy, it does.
Pick a destination
- Even if you are just testing it out, pick a location you would like to visit one day, or search in your hometown!
- When you’ve picked your destination, click on “find a host” and I’ll give you some tips on how not to pick a crazy one.
Finding a good host:
- Pick someone who is verified, especially if is your first time on CS, it will bring you and your skeptical mother some peace of mind.
- Pick someone who says “accepting guests” and check the time of their last login. CS has a limit of 10 free messages per week, so don’t waste them on someone who won’t say yes.
- Read references, bio and check their photos (including photos of their accommodation if they have them), get a sense of who they are and if you’ll get along with them. The main point of CS is to share a meaningful experience and if you feel like this value isn’t present in their profile – skip.
- Click the “My Home” section on the profile and carefully read through it. Don’t message anyone who’s home section says it’s a “shared” bed, or the host will sleep on the floor, or they are a single male/female who “prefers female/male guests”. This is code for sex (unless that’s what you’re into, in which case, you do you.) If they don’t have anything written, don’t be afraid to ask about the accommodations.
- Hosts are most likely to say yes to guests 1-2 weeks in advance. If you’re a strategist (like me), who likes to plan months in advance, don’t waste your breath.
- Keep it short, detailed and personal. Tell them a bit about yourself, why the two of you would get along and the days you would like to stay. (Hot tip: take a line from their profile and think of a question, or comment on it).
- Don’t expect a reply right away – or at all. Now is the time to grow some alligator skin, people don’t always have the time to send a polite rejection. Move on.
- Don’t be afraid to connect with more than one host for your trip, not every host can accommodate your week long stay.
Yay! meeting more people!
When you’ve made a connection and they’ve accepted your request:
- Give them your preferred method of contact (phone, FB, IG, OKC, HTTP, whatever floats your boat) and start using that to communicate.
- Tell them when you expect to arrive in the country and at their doorstep, make sure your schedules are N’sync.
- On the day of, keep in contact with the host and update them on your whereabouts, ask for tips on how to get from the airport to their house and what to watch out for.
- Print all of your convos, their contact information, photos, exact address and leave a photocopy of important travel documents with a trusted friend or family member.
- Budget extra money for a last minute hotel in case something goes wrong
- Keep in contact with friends/family and let them know how you’re doing
- Lock up your valuables. Little luggage locks come in handy for extra peace of mind.
- Don’t be afraid to leave if you feel uncomfortable, you are under no obligation to stay.
Check out what else CS has to offer, they have great opportunities to meet with other CSR’s who are staying in the same city, usually hosted by a local! If you’re really brave, give hosting a try!
Remember to use your best judgment when finding someone to couchsurf with, and take necessary precautions but don’t let the negative aspects of CS or the stigma around it affect your decisions if this is something you truly want to try, be brave and dive in!
Those are all the tips I have, for now, I really hope this helps and it opens you to a new world, and a new way to travel. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or question, or tell me about your CS experiences, good and bad!
Enjoy your travels, future CSR’s.