For many, the concept of CouchSurfing carries a wide variety of opinions and connotations. Some people view it as free accommodation, while others see it as a great way to meet locals. Others are more reserved about CouchSurfing because of safety risks, uncertainty about host motives, and nervousness about trusting someone they’ve never met before.
I have loved my CouchSurfing experiences. Admittedly, I’m not as seasoned with it as many other people who do it often, but I definitely plan on taking advantage of this system going forward in my traveling adventures. Here are some great ways to navigate the website, meet potential hosts, fill out your profile, and, most importantly, stay safe while CouchSurfing for the first time.
Step 1: Make a profile, fill it out completely, and do your research. A few weeks before your intended arrival date, set up your profile and search through the local host listings on the CouchSurfing website. If a person even has one negative review, is it worth the risk? Generally, I tend to contact only people with 100% positive reviews. There’s no such thing as being too cautious. If they’ve rubbed someone the wrong way before, you could be next, and you’re better off safe than sorry. I also only communicate with people whose profiles are fully filled out and who sound genuine in their descriptions. You can tell when someone seems like a fun or sincere person, and they’re more likely to be an honest and well-intentioned host if they invested ample time into their profile. Also, be wary of people who have no reviews at all – this either means that they’re inexperienced with CouchSurfing, which could potentially cause confusion or complications. If it’s your first time CouchSurfing, be sure to connect with people who are experienced with it and who have received positive reviews.
Step 2: Post your travel plans and contact prospective hosts. This allows people to contact you if they have an open couch or area to stay. Think through this and, again, read peoples’ profiles thoroughly before you decide to connect with them. It’s okay to turn people down if you feel uncomfortable – I’ve done it plenty of times before. Typically, especially in your first few experiences CouchSurfing, you will want to only connect with people who have a lot of reviews (all positive), who live near where you’d like to be (Manhattan in New York, for example), and who have photos of themselves and have filled out their profile genuinely. Try and pick out a few for each destination, since some may not be available or might not respond. Once you’ve decided on a few you’d like to contact, send out a sincere email saying why you liked them as a host and when you’ll be traveling in their area. The more concise and specific you are in your introduction request, the more likely it is that they will reply. Be honest but polite, and you’ll be sure to find at least one host who lines up with your schedule!
Step 3: Make travel arrangements with your host. Once you’ve found a host, let them know about your specific travel plans so that they know exactly when you’ll be arriving. Sometimes they’ll even offer to pick you up and show you around once you arrive. Be sure to communicate this early-on so that you can coordinate and so that your host can accommodate you accordingly. Be sure to follow up with them closer to the date of your arrival to ensure that everything is all set.
Step 4: Stay alert during your stay, and determine a backup plan. If something feels uncomfortable or you don’t think that you will be able to stay for any reason, be sure you have the names and addresses of a couple of local hostels, hotels, or guesthouses. Sometimes hosts are not a great fit. It happens. Make sure that you don’t subject yourself to anything dangerous or uncomfortable, and if you do feel this way, GET OUT OF THE SITUATION. I can’t stress this enough, but be sure to stay vigilant and have a couple of backup plans in case things don’t work out for any reason.
Step 5: Be kind and considerate of your host. Most hosts are honestly in the CouchSurfing sphere for the right reasons, so be sure to show your appreciation by dedicating some time and genuine interest to them. Make sure you allocate time to spend with them, get to know them, and learn about their life. After all, they are welcoming you into their home free of charge simply because they find you interesting and want to help you out. Let them show you around their city, teach you their language, and tell you their story. This will make the experience much more meaningful to you as well as them. Plus, you might come out of your stay with a few new friends and maybe even a new outlook on life.
A Note For Women: I am a five foot tall, nineteen-year-old tiny Asian girl, and I’ve been fine during my CouchSurfing experiences. This hasn’t always been the case though, as there are a few people on the site that are looking for something other than travel companionship. My recommendations for female travelers are to a) try it out with someone else your first time and b) choose hosts who are also female or couples. I cant stress this enough, but please please please for your own good, AVOID single men who contact you. I’m not saying all single men are bad, but if a man contacts you saying he only has room for a single young solo female traveler, the risks of trouble are vast. In short, be careful who you choose, ladies, because you don’t want to be caught in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
Giving Back: Part of the beauty of CouchSurfing is that people selflessly offer their homes to travelers or other people who need a place to stay. So, if you enjoy your experience or just want to meet travelers from all walks of life, hosting is a great way to contribute to this global altruism. Hosting CouchSurfers can connect you with a bunch of different people that you may have never crossed paths with originally, and they’ll be eternally grateful that you offered your own house to them during their journey.
The Bottom Line: CouchSurfing is generally safe, fun, and life-changing. Ask any experienced CouchSurfer and they’ll tell you nothing different. Having the amazing opportunity to meet other travelers and stay in their homes is only possible because there are well-intentioned and selfless people in this world who want to meet wanderers. Take advantage of these amazing opportunities to meet locals wherever you go. As long as you are alert, you do your research, and you are considerate, your CouchSurfing experience should go smoothly!