What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is an online community where travelers connect with locals who wish to host them free of charge. It gives the traveler an opportunity to experience a slice of the culture, while also teaching the host about their own culture. The traveler stays in the home of the host, “couchsurfs”–usually in a guest room–and repays the host by assisting with cooking breakfast and cleaning before going on their way.
Of course, the elephant in the room must be addressed. Staying with a host is staying with a stranger from a different place; something that goes against the morals of everyone growing up with the “stranger danger” mantra. It is a vulnerability that must be taken into consideration before a traveler decides to join the community, makes connections with people they’ve never met, and agrees to stay with them for a night while completing their travels.
How do I Couch Surf Safely?
Like any other virtual community online, Couchsurfing features profiles that help travelers find and connect with potentially compatible hosts. Your profile should have all the necessary information including a photo for the host, and vice versa. If you are a female traveling solo, first look for other females or couples that are hosts, and then move onto male hosts that share your travel interests instead of having ulterior motives.
Once you begin to receive messages from possible hosts, you will know who seems legitimate and professional, and who you should simply ignore. The host’s profile should also include a generous list of reliable references–ten is the number you want to look for first. A good host has also had a mixture of male and female travelers stay with them, it represents a willingness to host a more diverse group and it helps travelers weed out the hosts that are simply “man looking for woman” or vice versa.
No matter what, you should always have a backup plan–a number for a hotel and transportation, such as a taxi or Uber service, to pick you up if you feel unsafe.
What Should I Expect from Couchsurfing?
Yes, you are couchsurfing to receive “free” lodging, but you should treat it as a cultural experience with your host. They will expect you to spend time with them and learn from them, as well as teach you about the region you are staying in. They don’t want to get the impression that you’re just there to sleep in a bed for free, and then you’re gone. The visit should be much more than that, for both traveler and host.
Couchsurfing should be about the experience you hope to gain when staying with a host, so be prepared for anything and take it all in stride when you walk through the door. Be open-minded and learn from it, and you’ll most certainly make unique memories as you travel the world.
Should I Do Anything Differently?
While couchsurfing, try to be the best traveler the host has ever had. In turn, they will be delighted and repay you with kindness. Realistically, not everyone is going to be perfect, and once again, if you ever feel uncomfortable, be sure to leave the host’s house.
When you are finished with your stay, write a review; this is helpful for both parties. The host will be pleased with a kind review or able to learn from constructive advice, but on the other hand, the traveler will be grateful for all of the honest information given in the review. In turn, the host is also able to review their travelers, letting other hosts know who was a delight, and who they should be more aware of.
So, all in all, simply be kind, help out when you can, be respectful of their culture and lifestyle, and leave with memories! Chances are, your host will take you out to places that only locals know about, instead of leaving you to your own devices, falling down the rabbit hole of underwhelming tourist attractions. You will see all of the great sights, taste the food, and encounter the culture as if you were a local yourself!
To get you started, here is a great story about a first-time couchsurfing experience!
Have you ever couchsurfed? Are you reluctant to try it? Have we given you more confidence to step out of your comfort zone? Let us know!