Last Updated August, 2020
Are you wondering how to have safe Couchsurfing experiences no matter where you go? I’d love to share a few details about how we do it.
When I was growing up my father was teaching me that everything in life has a price connected to it and for whatever I consume I have to pay in one way or another. Thus, every time when I was offered a free something (like a service, gift, or favor), from a person I didn’t know, I was immediately getting reluctant and thinking of a scam or fraud. I grew up with the idea that free was only cheese in the mousetrap.
You can imagine how I felt about the opportunity to stay for free with hosts around the world, using Couchsurfing or similar platforms. Yes, I know people are helping each other during times of hardship, but it took a big leap of faith to accept the idea that there are those who open a door of their home to random guests because of curiosity and kindness.
WHAT IS COUCHSURFING EXPERIENCE?
The first time I heard about Couchsurfing was roughly three years ago from one of my friends who was tripping around Europe. She casually mentioned how she stayed in different homes across Europe without paying a penny for her accommodation.
I didn’t believe her.
I thought she purposefully made it up so that others didn’t poke their noses into her business. Year or two later I heard my friend’s friend was moving across the United States and needed a place where she could rest her head. She didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel room, so she used the Couchsurfing website for a free stay. A bit later I heard someone else was meeting locals through the same platform and having a couch for free.
It seemed that the Universe was trying to tell me something by sending different people along my way who had Couchsurfing experiences through hosting someone or being guests themselves. It kept giving me a nudge to register on the website, but I kept finding reasons why it wouldn’t work for Mark and me.
Additionally, when we were getting perks on hotel rooms through our employer, staying in a stranger’s home sounded crazy. Why would we even consider that? We were too fancy-schmancy with our cheap hotel stays to sign up for anything else.
Nevertheless, when you come to a point in life when one of your biggest dreams can come true in case you break the mould, then you’ll work hard on changing your thinking patterns and embracing ideas you were rejecting before. Especially if those ideas are worth spreading.
When we came to a decision about going starting to travel full time, we had to reconsider our attitude and opinion about Couchsurfing and similar concepts. If we got to pay for all our hotels, even discounted ones, our adventure would end as soon as it started.
But the reason was not even money. There were a lot of cheap places around the world where we could rent a room at a decent price (read this post about how much we spent on accommodation in Asia, for instance). Yet, Couchsurfing for a long time stayed our top priority.
We were really pumped up about the opportunity to meet many cool people. And, connect with some of them, hear their life stories, learn and inspire each other was an integral part of Couchsurfing.
It’s a truly amazing experience to go to a stranger’s home, meet him/her for the first time and after leaving his place know we got a friend.
Over the past seven months, we’ve stayed with hosts in more than 50 homes across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
We learned a lot during the process.
Most of our hosts were wonderful people who took good care of us. The majority provided a separate bedroom, shared some food and lots of stories.
However, not all Couchsurfing experiences were outstanding. There were a few pretty plain stays and even the most awkward and unpleasant one.
They all taught us what steps should we take to get in a safe and secure environment next time.
We soon mastered some techniques on how to recognize among so many hosts those who have only good intentions and offer decent quality accommodation.
We would like to share our experience and tips to help you find your next amazing host during your travels. And hopefully, besides wonderful Couchsurfing experiences you’ll also have a fantastic time, make new friends and get to know what Couchsurfing community is all about.
TIPS ON SAFE AND POSITIVE COUCHSURFING EXPERIENCES:
Create an outstanding Profile
First of all, you should complete your profile with as much information as possible. Providing details about your interests, hobbies, and experiences. Be honest and open.
Write only in a positive and constructive manner. Download a good quality picture where your face can be clearly seen.
Hosts want to know how their potential guests look like and if they can trust them. If you are a couple, create one profile for both of you. In case you are traveling with a friend who has a separate account, make sure to add a link to his/her page.
Also, what we found important is to have verification. You can quickly add it by sending a copy of your ID to the Couchsurfing team. A few times, in the beginning, we got messages from hosts saying that they don’t invite anyone into their home without verification. Maybe other people didn’t get back to us for this exact reason too.
Spend enough of time on each host’s profile before sending a request
The first thing we do, when open host’s profile page, we proceed to his/r “My Home” section trying to find out what he offers. As a rule of thumb, we don’t usually contact hosts who lack information on their page. Sometimes there are exceptions if positive references are present.
We thoroughly go through all the details. Then we learn what type of accommodation or bedding is being offered and how many people live in the household. Where a host’s place is located and what type of transportation is available in his neighborhood are important factors as well. Looking for references and verification is an integral part of the process too.
Most of the time we send requests mainly to those who offer a private room only. From time to time though, if a host’s profile is complete and references take place, we consider staying in a public room.
We never purposefully consider options to sleep on the floor, in a tent, sleeping bag, or anything like that. Two times we actually accepted a generous offer to sleep on the floor (host said on a mattress or something) and honestly, it was the most uncomfortable stay ever. The only exception was that time in Phnom Penh Cambodia when our host (a very nice guy from Australia) invited us to his tiny but new and modern apartment.
If you don’t care much where and how to spend your night then at least check the host’s homepage. It should be completed with personal information and references. In case this information is not there just skip the profile.
Write personalized and detailed Couchsurfing requests
This is something we would like to put a lot of emphasis on. We personally spend a lot of time not only looking for the right hosts but also writing them a message. If you just copy and paste your email, hosts will see that.
They receive multiple requests every day from different people. If your message will be one of those you send to anyone else, they won’t even bother responding back. Not to mention inviting you to stay in their home.
Be creative and thoughtful. Write why you think your stay with that particular host will benefit you both.
Be patient and don’t give up
We’ve talked to some people who said they’ve tried to use Couchsurfing but were not successful in it. Some folks said hosts were not responding, others didn’t have a pleasant experience. Those were the reasons why they all gave up. Sometimes we personally send up to a hundred requests just to be able to find someone in one place.
In anything we do (not only Couchsurfing), we follow 80/20 rule, created in 1906 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He says that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. That’s why next time when you use the Couchsurfing platform keep in mind that 80 percent of all people you’ll write to will ignore or decline your requests. But there always will be another 20 percent who’ll say yes and invite you into their homes.
The more people you write the more replies you’ll receive. Don’t get discouraged if there are times when no one is ready to invite you over. It’s OK, it happens. Sometimes hosts may be too busy or hosting somebody else. Not being able to find accommodation in one place does not mean you won’t be able to find it anywhere else. Be patient and positive, and we guarantee you will find your host!
Couchsurfing (there are also other websites similar to this platform) brings people together and helps to spread love around. It’s a wonderful opportunity for both hosts and surfers to see the world from a different angle.
However, don’t forget, every wonderful Couchsurfing experience depends not only on a great host but on a responsible and nice Couchsurfing guest.