When I tell friends, families or even strangers that I traveled and always travel using CouchSurfing, they are usually confused. They don’t know what it is. Because of that, let’s start with the basics.
WHAT IS COUCHSURFING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
CouchSurfing is a platform (with an app as well) similar to Airbnb where you stay with locals. There’s only one big difference between Airbnb and CouchSurfing, though, and that’s the cost. CouchSurfing is free, Airbnb is not. Actually, there’s another major difference — the experience.
With CouchSurfing you stay with locals and share cultural experiences as a way to pay them. Yes; you are totally staying with strangers using this method. These strangers are locals that also have a passion for travel and culture. You share conversations with them, food, and laughter.
The locals post on their profile what they have to offer you; a bed, a mattress, a couch, or sometimes even a whole room (this happened to me in Ireland!). It’s actually funny because although the name says “Couch-surfing”, I’ve never slept on a couch at any of the houses I’ve stayed at. I always have at least a mattress.
MY COUCHSURFING EXPERIENCE
Just like I talked about in my previous blog post, the first time I used CouchSurfing was in Poland. I was scared and nervous, but it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. From there, I couchsurfed with over 15 other people in many other countries, across different continents. Even though I started doing CouchSurfing mostly to save money, it got to the point that I was doing it for the social aspect of it, to make new friends and memories, and not for the money. For instance, my last time CouchSurfing was in Colombia, where one can get a hostel for as little as $9/night, but I still used CS (short for CouchSurfing) because I wanted to meet locals and share new experiences.
I’ve had a blast in all my CouchSurfing experiences. I’ve met people from all over the world that I still keep in touch with, and I wouldn’t travel the world any other way. I’ve been hosted by women, men, and even families, and each experience has made me into a better person.
I also hosted people while living in Madrid and enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than surfing.
IS IT SAFE?
Speaking only from personal experience, I’d say that CouchSurfing is really safe. However, CouchSurfing is NOT for everyone. If you don’t like making new friends, talking to others, new experiences, and stepping out of your comfort zone, then CouchSurfing isn’t for you.
The way CouchSurfing works is that every time you stay with someone, you leave them a review as a host, and they leave you a review as a ‘surfer’. Because of that, everyone on the site has reviews. These could be positive or negative, although 99% of the time they are positive. Then, on each person’s profile you can read their reviews from other travelers to get an idea of how it’ll be staying with them. These reviews cannot be altered once posted, so there’s no way to go from positive to negative or vice versa. It’s quite a transparent site.
You can also choose who you stay with and the type of person that hosts you. If you’re a girl and you’re scared to stay with a guy, which is a huge valid concern, you can filter when searching for a host so that only female hosts show up. You can also filter by age and language.
At the end of the day, YOU are the one that chooses who to message based on their profile and references. Ah, yes! The profile. Everyone has a profile on CouchSurfing (sometimes an autobiography, if you’re like me, because you write so much) and that helps you find people that you share things in common with.
Just because the platform is relatively safe doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions, especially if you’re a woman. Read references and maybe even message some other guests that have stayed with the host and ask about their experience.
OKAY, I’M INTERESTED! HOW DO I JOIN? HOW DO I GET HOSTED?
- Make a profile Make sure your profile is fully completed! Don’t be afraid to add what you like and dislike, the type of people you want to stay with, etc.
- Have some of your friends or colleagues write you a reference When you start at CS, you’re not going to have any references. It’s really hard for a host to accept you into their home without having any idea of who you are. Your friends can write you personal preferences to tell others why they should host you.
- Look up hosts based on the place you’re going to Some cities, like Paris, have hundreds of thousands of hosts, while other smaller and less popular cities have less.
- Make sure you read their profiles Make sure you fully read profiles so you’re not surprised about anything! Read all the way to the end. What if they have a cat and you’re allergic and you send a request reading?!
- Write a meaningful request When I was in Madrid, I used to get 3-5 CS requests every day for people to host them. There’s no way I could’ve hosted so many people, so I only chose the ones that stood out to me. Those were people that I could tell were interesting, people that I wanted to meet, but also people that talked about things in my profile, which means they read it! If you’re staying at someone’s house for free the least you can do is get to know them a little through their profile.
- Do NOT copy and paste message requests This is huge in CouchSurfing! Hosts hate when you send a copy and paste message to everyone. We can tell when you’re doing it, so please, don’t do it! Personalize each request.
- Tell them about you in your request Why did you choose them out of hundreds of other hosts? Why are you visiting X city? What are you expecting from the experience? Do you want to hang out with your host? Try to tell them as much as possible!
- Wait patiently Sometimes it takes a while to get accepted or declined. You will be declined many times before you get accepted. That’s okay. Just keep trying! It’s not personal. People sometimes are already hosting others, have plans, etc.
- Always remember that CouchSurfing is NOT a hotel CouchSurfing is a very different way to travel the world. It’s the best way. That means that you shouldn’t treat your host’s place like a hotel. Be clean, be organized, don’t use anything without permission, be kind. Spend time with your host.
- Bring your host a little something! I always bring my hosts a magnet. It’s a nice, thoughtful and inexpensive gifts they can put on their fridge and think of you! Other gift ideas include candy, wine, a flag from your country, a coin from your country, or a postcard.
- HAVE FUN! CouchSurfing is a beautiful thing and I’ve made beautiful connections thanks to it. I hope you do, too.