Couchsurfing is a great alternative to traditional accommodation, but the whole idea of it can be confusing to people who have never used it. That’s why I want to share a few simple Couchsurfing tips with you to help make your first (or 4th or 40th) experience a little bit better.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a free website that connects travelers with local hosts. No matter where you go in the world, there is probably someone nearby on Couchsurfing who is willing to give you a place to crash while you’re in town. It’s a great alternative to hotels or hostels, especially if you’re on a budget, because it’s completely free! You don’t have to pay a single penny to stay with someone, but it’s more than just a free bed.
Couchsurfing is a community of like-minded people. It’s filled with humans who love to travel, learn about the world and its cultures, and meet others. That’s what makes this whole thing work–people who love, care about, and trust other people.
Instead of looking at Couchsurfing as free accommodation, consider it a cultural exchange. Get to know your host. Let them get to know you. Share common interests or spark new ones. Teach them something and maybe they’ll teach you something in exchange. Use it as an opportunity to learn.
How Does Couchsurfing Work?
After creating a profile, you’ll search for hosts in the place you’re planning to travel to. Once you find a host (more on that below), they’ll send you directions so you can find their home when you arrive. When you stay with someone through Couchsurfing, sometimes you’ll be on someone’s couch (hence the name), and sometimes you’ll have a bed–you might even get lucky and end up with your own room!
It’s really as easy as that! You’re the guest, and your host let’s you stay in their home for free. You’ll have the opportunity to get to know a local, maybe stay in a neighborhood you wouldn’t have as a tourist, and see the city from a different perspective.
While the idea of Couchsurfing is actually really simple, there are a few things you can do to really get the most out of your experience.
Here are some helpful Couchsurfing tips to make your experience fun, safe, and mutually beneficial.
While Couchsurfing, remember that you are in someone’s home (free of charge), NOT a hotel. Be ready to socialize with your hosts throughout your time there. It would be extremely rude to be a guest in someone’s home and not talk to them; you don’t want to look like an ungrateful mooch. Getting to know new people is one of the best parts about Couchsurfing, so don’t shut your hosts out and go about your trip as if they are just innkeepers.
Your hosts probably want to get to know you, which is why they’re a host in the first place. The level of social interaction varies from host to host—some will be busy and won’t be able to hang out, others will want to take you out, show you their city, and talk about everything. Be ready to attune your social level to theirs–let them set the tone. It’s okay to want some time to explore alone or to do your own thing, but don’t write your host out of your plans—make room for them in your schedule if they are open to spending time with you!
Again, you are a guest in someone’s home, for FREE. To show your appreciation, make the effort to help out whenever you can. Your host is not there to clean up after you. Keep your stuff packed away nice and neat, clean up the bathroom after you’ve showered, make the bed/couch, and don’t leave things lying around. Act like you would in anyone’s home. Offer to help with chores, like doing dishes or taking out the trash. It doesn’t take much of your time to be respectful.
Whether you are staying with someone for a day or a week, it’s nice to plan something for you and your host to do together. This also depends on how social they want to be, but make the effort to do something with them. Offer to cook dinner for everyone, or invite them to one of the things on your “must see” list. Locals often don’t take the time to do the touristy things in their own town, so you might be surprised to find that one of your activities is new for them too. Let them know they are welcome to tag along on your adventures, and they will probably invite you if they have anything coming up as well. Some hosts go out of there way to plan things for their guests, so leave time in your schedule.
Safety is one of the major concerns to those who are new to Couchsurfing. While it’s much safer than most people would think, it is still important to be aware at all times while in a host’s home. No matter how much you talk with your host in advance, you really never know what the person on the other side of the computer is like until you meet them in person. Be alert, look for red flags, and if anything seems fishy, get out of there. Trust your instincts in these situations. If you don’t feel comfortable, there is no reason to stay. However, most people in the Couchsurfing community are good, honest, trustworthy people.
Do Your Research
Before agreeing to stay with someone, make sure you know who you’re staying with. One of the wonderful features on Couchsurfing is that both hosts and guests can receive reviews on their profiles. That’s just a starting point to insure a potential host is trustworthy. Negative reviews are obviously a sign that things might go poorly.
Beyond that, do some research into your potential host. Make sure they have photos of themselves and their home; ask for more photos if they don’t have any/enough. Get their full name & contact info, and then Google, Google, Google. Ask for their social media accounts if they have them, and check them out—especially Facebook. Most people will try to connect on Facebook beforehand to get to know each other better.
This is beneficial for both parties, and hosts should be doing the same things to vet their guests. All of this is not full-proof, but it will definitely alert you if anything strange pops up on Google search, or if they refuse to give you pictures or contact info.
Have a Back-up Plan
Always, ALWAYS have a back-up plan. It doesn’t matter if everything seems absolutely perfect during your conversations before meeting, make sure you have another option for somewhere to stay just in case. You never know what’s going to happen, and the last thing you want while traveling is to be stuck without a place to sleep.
Contact multiple hosts when planning your trip, and if one doesn’t work out, at least you’ll have information for another host in the city. In addition to having another Couchsurfing host on emergency back-up, do your research and make sure you know of a couple of good hostels/hotels in the area you could go to for the night if needed. Budget those extra costs just in case, and hopefully you won’t need it and you’ll end up with some extra money by the end of your trip.
Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals while traveling, make new friends, and get an inside look at the culture of the place you’re visiting. I’ve been happy with most of my personal Couchsurfing experiences and I would recommend it for any budget traveler. Safety is really the most important thing with sites like this, but as long as you follow the advice above, you should be just fine.
Have you ever tried Couchsurfing? Do you have any Couchurfing tips to add to this list?
Pin image to save & share!