Couchsurfing! The Art of Free Travel.

As many people know I am leaving for the next year and a half to go study abroad in London as well as France. But this summer I am going to be a camp counselor in Florida and there is a few days in between events that I had no place to stay! So I invested some thought into the couch surfing site and decided I will be staying with a total stranger for three days before my camp starts!

I thought I would share my thoughts on couch surfing and how it works!

One of the things you’ll want to consider either before or during your trip is whether you want to get involved with Couchsurfing. For those who aren’t familiar, Couchsurfing is a community made up of millions of members in over 230 countries. It is a network that allows travelers on the road to connect with hosts that may have sleeping accommodations in their home (such as a couch, an extra bed, or a hardwood floor) to offer for travelers. It is of course a great way to save money on the road as an alternative to having to pay for hostels and guesthouses but it can also offer much more than that and is a fantastic way to meet locals in every country you visit as well as to network with other travelers as you hit that road backpacking.

Many hosts will offer to show you around their town, help with the language barrier as you travel throughout their city and also offer advice on places to see and things to experience while there. Some may even take you along to some random events or parties going on in their city or town. Either way, its always a travel experience to remember that is filled with good stories to tell later.Another great benefit of this online community are the Couchsurfing meet ups and events that take place where you can meet fellow travelers as well as locals.

If any of this sounds good to you, you may want to go ahead and sign up and create a profile on Couchsurfing if you haven’t done so already. It is absolutely free to use and the longer your profile exists, the better it will look to potential hosts and the more opportunities you will have to build your profile and friends within the site.

Here are Some Tips on Creating a Great Profile:

List as much information about yourself as you can

This includes any photos you can post which helps to give insight into the person that you are. Hosts (and other members) will be more apt to contact or host you if you have a very informative profile so they can understand the type person you are and get an idea about your personality.

Add Friends and References

To build credibility on the site, you’ll want to add some friends and have at least one of them vouch for you by giving you a reference. Before I left, I was new to CS though I had one friend that was already a member of Couchsurfing. He provided me a reference and a friend link in much the same way as you would find on Facebook and LinkedIn.

This helps to create trust and validity, especially if someone is looking to host you and it is your first Couchsurfing experience. That host can then click on your references and friends to see that person’s friends, references and profile… and on and on it goes. And if you don’t know anyone yet on CS, see if you can find others already in your hometown on there. You’d be surprised how many you might find!

Tips on Having a Successful Couchsurfing Experience:

Picking your host

In almost every town and city you visit, there will likely be many different hosts to choose from. Although the location of where they are in the city can be a factor, it is best to try and choose a host that you may feel most comfortable with, have similar interests with or that may have a similar lifestyle or daily routine that will fit yours. Examples would be finding out if they are an early or late riser or finding out if they like to go out and socialize vs. someone that works all the time and won’t have time to show you around.

On Sending your Couchsurfing Request

Make them personal! No host wants to receive a request that appears as though it has been sent to 50 others. In fact, many hosts will only accept guests if they can see that you’ve read their profile. This is important to them and it should be important to you too so that you understand fully who you might be sharing a living space with since that person might be sleeping 3 feet from away you!

Give a Host at least 2-3 days Notice

Before emailing or calling a host for a Couchsurfing request the night before you show up in town, try to give them a minimum 2-3 days notice. If you already have a planned route with an idea of the days you’ll show up in their town, it can be better to plan out a week or more in advance but then plan to follow up a day or two before you show up just to be sure that your host hasn’t forgotten about your arrival!

  Good Couchsurfing Etiquette:

– Don’t leave your stuff lying around! Obviously, you’ll make your bed, couch, or sleeping bag but don’t clutter up their place with all your backpacking clothes and items!

– If staying for more than a couple days, don’t freeload on their food and drinks… offer to take them out or bring some stuff back to their place

– Be considerate of your host’s schedule! If there are two or three of you staying over, don’t be in your host’s only shower when they are trying to get ready for work in the morning…Not cool!

– Don’t overstay your welcome. This goes without saying but if you told your host you would stay for 2-3 nights, don’t linger around for 7 days! They may be too shy to ask you to leave but may leave you a less than perfect reference.

– Put some clothes on! Some friends of mine recently hosted someone that thought it just fine to eat breakfast with them in nothing but his boxers… It may be fine when you’re at home but most would rather do without the sight!

– Offer a gift. This could be something you bring upon showing up such as a bottle of wine, chocolates, beer, a new MacBook Air, or whatever…  you could also leave them with a souvenir or card from your hometown.

Most hosts will want you to stay for at least 2 nights. This is generally so that they can get to know you and also so they don’t feel like they are being used just for their couch to crash on for a night.

Most people become hosts for a variety of reasons which could be to learn about your home country and culture, to improve their language if you are a native of a country they are trying to learn from and also, just for good company. It is exciting for them to host guests and see the perception of their hometown through a foreigners eyes.

For the Couchsurfer, it is always a fun to show pictures of your hometown and to offer insight about your country as well as your travels so far. This will help add to a positive experience with your host and can give you plenty to talk about.

Leave a Reference for your Host

After your stay, add your host as a Friend and also leave a Reference. Whether your Couchsurfing experience was good or bad, provide as much detail as you can and be honest. This will give future Couchsurfers needed information for their upcoming stay. Hopefully they’ll be positive and of course, you’ll hope they do the same for your reference! And you never know, they may someday come knocking on your door in your home country for a couch to crash on…

To get involved, head on over to Couchsurfing and join the millions already in this worldwide community!

I’ll try and give an update when I actually Couch surf myself!


By Amanda Summers

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