The definitive guide to Couchsurfing

Just to clarify, I’m a happy member and a big fan of this community, I really love it! I have nothing to do with Couchsurfing team and this is not an advertisement. I will speak about my personal experience and my personal point of view. It’s valid for both men and women (I’ll write in the masculine form for simplicity). I’ll be happy to see in the comments if someone has a completely different experience.

I decided to spread Couchsurfing as much as I can, and I’m happy seeing the results. Now other friends are enjoying awesome experiences. I talk about it all the time with almost everybody (sorry to bother you, guys 🙂 ).

Most of the people don’t even know the existence of this community. I explained so many times with so many people what is it, how it works and if it is safe (usually this is the first question) that I know, now, what people are worried about and all the questions you can have it. I’ve used quite a bit in the last year and a half, so I’ll share also some tips and tricks I learned (the last chapter of this guide :D).

What is Couchsurfing?

The most correct definition is: COMMUNITY, is what really is. Sometimes can be called as a social network or a service or just a website. Call it whatever you want but the point is this: it is a community of open-minded people who like to share a bit of their life with others, generally speaking, a traveler. Is about making new friends from all over the world offering or receiving a free accommodation (but not only, as you’ll see later).

How Couchsurfing works

It’s simple: there are a host and a couchsurfer. The host is the owner of the place where you’ll stay, the couchsurfer is the person who is searching for a place where to stay. But it’s not all about that.

Couchsurfing is not about having a free hostel, is about having an amazing local experience.

It’s great both hosting and couchsurfing:

  • Hosting

    If you love traveling, share stories, make new friends from all over the world, go for a beer with a stranger, share your city or just know other cultures meanwhile you’re staying at your house, hosting people is ideal. I hosted great people, some has become my friend and I’m still staying in touch. I really love hosting people and every time I can, I do it.

It’s like traveling while you’re staying at the comfort of your home.

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Hosting a great photographer, and a great, great man and friend!
How to find travelers

To host people there are 2 ways:

  1. A couchsurfer will ask you with a request. This is the most common one.
  2. If you want to host people, you can search travelers in your city and ask them if they want to become your guests. You can search “find travelers”, typing your city, and you’ll find all members who made a “public trip” in that city. I started in this manner, I’ll explain better later how it works.
  • Couchsurfing

    It is amazing!! You meet so many different people and everybody is interesting. When you’re couchsurfing you’re literally entering in the lives of strangers, probably in a country with a culture completely different than yours. Can you imagine how stimulating can be? I had most of the best moments in my life thanks to Couchsurfing. A host who share with you a hidden place where you can see all city from above or sharing some good beers in a very local pub, eat local food in his favorite restaurant and so on. If you don’t have an insider, a local who can suggest you where to go, what to eat and drink, where to have fun etc. you’ll, probably, experienced just the part of the city designed for tourists (that is almost the same everywhere). Plus, is simply awesome share stories and chatting together.

If you don’t do couchsurfing you’re missing so many things.

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An amazing night with my host and his friends
How to find a host

There are two ways:

  1. Send a request: you simply search a host and send a request hoping he will accept. To do it just go in the search bar and type the place where you’re going to and it will appear a list of hosts in that city. There are very useful filters, like gender (if you are a woman and don’t want to stay in a place with a man) or pet and child-friendly (if you are traveling with a pet or a child) and many others, check them. After, you have to choose your possible host/hosts and write the request.
  2. Do a public trip: you can share with all the community where you are going, for how long and all the details you want. So, if some host is looking for someone to host he can find you. It’s also useful to hang out, you can write that one afternoon you want to go to a place and ask if someone wants to come with you. To do it just go in your “My Dashboard” section (it’s your homepage) and you’ll find “create a public trip”, follow what it’s asked and in 5 minutes you’ve done.

Couchsurfing is safe?

In my personal opinion, YES, it is, just don’t be dumb. I used quite often, never felt dangerous neither for a second. It’s so simple to be safe with Couchsurfing: read the references that other people left to your host or your couchsurfer. If the references are good, the person is fine. That’s it. If no, don’t ask or don’t accept, nobody forces you to do it. It’s EXACTLY the same thing you do on Airbnb, Booking.com, Hostelworld and so on. You read the references to check if the place exists, if it’s okay, if it’s clean, if the owner is fine etc. etc. If you have a bit of brain, you’ll never encounter problems using it.
If you are really afraid of, you can skip people without references or without the verified membership (read the next chapter). Personally, I don’t do that because I feel safe using it, and c’mon, everybody has to start from nothing. I like give the possibility to everybody to grow up in the community. But I understand that for someone can be too much.
Anyway risks are everywhere, also here! Don’t take my words like cast gold! So don’t be naive and be smart. If someone says something you don’t like it, ignore him/her! If someone starts to act strangely, just leave! You can also report to the Couchsurfing team, in case. You have to understand that you are responsible for your own personal security, all the time.

People will rather help you than hurt you.

For girls who are afraid, as I mentioned you can do Couchsurfing using the filters and you’ll avoid some annoying things. But I know a lot of girls who are doing it, alone, without any problems.

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Like this extremely nice (and crazy) girl I hosted, who, right now, is cycling in the Himalayas (that’s why she’s crazy 😛 I’m kidding, all the best for you, dear 🙂 )

Couchsurfing verified membership

What is it?

It’s a real confirmation that the person who is in the profile is really that person.

How you can become a verified member?

Paying some money and sharing with the website your personal ID, your address, your phone number and your bank account. And they will be verified that all of these things are okay and that you are really you and not a fake person. Don’t be terrified, it’s not mandatory share all of these informations, just one or two are fine.
At the moment, you can have a “Lifetime Verification” for $60 USD. Considering all the benefits you can have, I think it’s a really good deal and you’ll support the Couchsurfing team (it’s expensive to keep a website and apps big like this). But, if you really want you can skip the payment…

How to become a verified Couchsurfing member for free

…It’s simple. Host people! I actually didn’t know that, I discovered casualty. I started to host before starting to couchsurfing. I wanted to know how it worked and try at the comfort of my house before trying in an unknown country, and also to have some references for my future hosts. So I hosted for the first time, it was an amazing experience, and after I left a reference and my couchsurfers made a reference for me. I magically became a verified member for three months. It has sense, they verified in person if I was actually me. So I discovered that every time you host someone your verified membership will increase by three months. You can increase them until you reach 12 months. After this, your previous three months accrued will be added for the next year, and so on. So, more you host, more time you’ll be a verified member. You can have a lifetime verification for free, if you want 🙂 .

Advices for couchsurfers

First of all, be respectful. It’s not your house and your host have his own life and his things to do. He’s not your butler. Be kind and clean, try to understand what kind of person is in front of you and try to not gets closer to his limits. Don’t ask very personal questions at the beginning but be curious about his life and the place where he lives. Maybe he’ll share with you his deepest secrets or just superficial things. Everybody is different and you’re a guest, so respect your host and the house. If you need something, ask. If it’s not clear how free you are, about what to do in the house or what time be at the house or whatever, ask! I encountered so many different hosts. Someone gives you the key of the house and permits you to come in whenever you want, cook by yourself or bring everything you need from the fridge. Someone else prefers just having a conversation together during the evening. Someone is a party-guy/girl who wants to bring you to clubbing or just share a walking together. Is very, very, different and every time I’ve been hosted I had a completely different experience. You can try to understand what kind of experience you’ll have read the host’s profile. I think it’s a must read (at least a bit, the main parts) the profile of your host, see the pictures and especially “my home” section. Is it a problem for you sleep on the floor or in the same room with your host? Are you allergic to cats? You’ll find out these kinds of things in this section. If you aren’t sure about something or the section is empty (it happens, quite often) ask before accepting or in your request.
With someone, you’ll get along very well, with someone else the relationship remain more distant. There’s no correct or wrong.

Be nice, if you are good at cooking, you can propose to cook for your host or do it together; it’s a great way to know each other and have fun. Or if you go out together for a beer, it’s nice to offer one (or two) to your host. Or give him a gift or whatever you can think about. It’s not mandatory, of course, and if you’re traveling on a very low budget can be “expensive”. But at least, be nice, open and happy and you’ll repay your host for his time and the place.

The Couchsurfing etiquette says that more than 2 or 3 nights is not very nice to ask. Because everyone has his own life and also because not always people are getting along very well. So it’s better to ask for 2, maximum 3, nights and then if the things go well you can kindly ask to stay more. It happens also that your host asks you to stay more if you want to stay other days in the same city and you don’t have a place (it happened to me 2 or 3 times). Or you can simply start to search for another host.

PLEASE, if you want just a place where to crush in the night and sleep, use hostels, hotels, a tent, Airbnb or whatever you want. This is a different thing!!

Downsizes of Couchsurfing

Obviously, because of the things I just said, you are depending on your host, if he wants to go to bed at 22pm or at 3am you have to follow him if he doesn’t give you other options. So it’s better that you’re are a flexible person.
If I do a long trip, more than 2 weeks, for example, I alternate Couchsurfing and Hostels according to what kind of experience I want to do in a place and to be more flexible some days. Also, I’m an introvert, so I need some time without social interactions after a bit of time.

Another down-size is the unexpected. Hosts and Couchsurfers are PEOPLE, that means that unexpected things can happen. It’s not a hotel, remember always (though unexpected things could happen even with normal accommodation where you pay, at least it happened to me). A host can leave you without a place where to sleep at the last moment because something happened to him, from a change of plans to a sickness. And also a couchsurfer who was supposed to arrive at 19pm could arrive at 2am because of a delay of the airplane or something else, or not coming at all. I say these things because they happen (happened to myself more than once). You have to be prepared for these inconveniences and don’t be angry, I know it’s not a pleasure, but things happen and it’s nobody’s fault. With a bit of experience, you’ll start to know how to face these situations, if you’re an expert traveler you already should be able to tackle them.

Couchsurfing is not just for hosting

Groups

In the groups, you can find people living in the same city who have a hobby to share, for example: “Language exchange San Francisco” where people want to share different languages and make some events about it.
You CAN’T find this section in the app.

Events

In the events section, you can find all the events in a city. Usually, in every big city in the world, there is a strong community who make some events. For example “discover a new pub every Friday evening”. Everybody can make an event and everybody can participate, exactly like a public Facebook event.
In my case, I attended an event in my city and I discover an awesome group of people with who, now, I’m hanging out usually.

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My first CS event in my city 🙂 I love these guys!

Hangouts

This section is only in your smartphone. It works with your GPS. If someone of the community is nearby can ask you to hang out with, and you can do the same. Obviously, you can turn on/off as you want. It is very useful for example to spend an afternoon exploring a new city with someone else if you are alone (or not).

To hang out you can also use the normal request, if you want to ask before, like the girl in the picture below did with me.

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Hanging out with a polish girl, thanks to her I came in Lithuania (long story) 🙂

Search bar

Be aware that in the search bar of the website you can search:

  1. Explore: a general view of everything’s happening in a city. You can even find a preview of the hangout section (that is available only in the app)
  2. Hosts
  3. Members: all members of the community
  4. Travelers: people who are traveling in a place, useful if you want to host or hangout
  5. Events
  6. Groups
  7. Local advice: if you have a question about a place this is the right section where to ask

In the app instead you can search:

  1. Hosts
  2. Members
  3. Travelers
  4. Events

Couchsurfing tips&tricks

With these tips&tricks you’ll increase a lot the chances of being accepted.

The requests

  • Write one single request for a trip and then personalize according to the profile of your possible host (see the next section). To do this, use the message templates, you’ll find it meanwhile you’ll write a request. Simply write it and add in the templates. Every time you’ll do a request you can add it with a simple click without re-write it. Sometimes I did 50 requests, you have no idea how many time I saved!
  • Always mention his/her name in the first line! It seems less a generic request, the host will appreciate it.
  • When is more convenient to do the request? Well, depends a lot of the hosts, someone prefers to have the request 1 day before and someone 1 month before. Obviously depends on what kind of lifestyle, work and how is organized the host. Sometimes is written in the profile when the hosts prefer to receive the request, so check it! Generally speaking, the best is around 5 days – 1 week before. But, for example, sometimes I did in the late afternoon for the same night and found it. Depends how luckily you are. You can try one month before and don’t find anyone and try the day before and find dozens, and vice-versa. There isn’t a perfect answer.
  • Be aware that probably most of the requests will not have any answer; a lot of times you will receive an answer after the trip. It’s normal, don’t be paranoic, nothing is wrong with you 🙂

Reading the profile

  • Check if he’s learning your language, in case you can offer your help in the request or remark the fact that you are a native speaker and a simple chat can help him to improve it.
  • Check if you have interests and hobby in common. In case, mention it in the request.
  • Check if the host prefers hosting during the weekday or weekends. If you are going on the weekend and the host has written in the profile that doesn’t want to host during the weekend, you’re not going to send a request. It’s a time-saver for both of you.
  • Check the position of the house to know if he’s located in a good position for you. Unfortunately not always is written. But anyway it’s free, it’s an incredible experience, do you want also the house in the city center? Be realistic! (Anyway, sometimes it happens 🙂 ). You can also try to modify a filter during the searching, but I’m not really sure it works well.
  • Sometimes some hosts put in their profile some phrases or questions that you have to copy or answer in your request. Without this detail, the host will not even read your request. Why? Because they want to check if you read the profile. Usually, hosts in a big city with a lot of requests do this to have a “natural selection”. I personally don’t like do that, but I perfectly understand.

General

  • Try to find people like you. I’ll give you an example. If you have pictures of yourself drunk in a pub meanwhile your vomiting is good to find people who like this kind of things. Just don’t expect an accepting from a family with little children; in this case, I suggest you to not even try!
  • Similar to the previous one. Try to find people according to your mood. It’s Saturday night and you are in the mood for crazy parties, try to find someone who wants to do it. You can even ask in the request or suggest a place where to go together to a party.
  • BE CLEAR! About everything.

Useful links from Couchsurfing:

The only official website:
www.couchsurfing.org

Couchsurfing help-center where you can find all the informations
https://support.couchsurfing.org/hc/en-us

http://www.couchsurfing.com/about/about-us/

http://www.couchsurfing.com/about/safety/

https://support.couchsurfing.org/hc/en-us/sections/200670420-Verification


I want to conclude remarking that this is just my personal point of view and experiences I had, including experiences from people I know. I’m not a master of Couchsurfing so things can be different, and, I think, that’s the awesomeness of the Couchsurfing community.

Similar communities

Exist also other communities with the same principle, I never used them so I can’t say anything. But, as I know, Couchsurfing is the biggest community in the world.

Anyway, I want to share with you that there are more opportunities. Here it is a list:

I truly hope to have helped you with this guide 🙂


Always curious, keep exploring, Wo/a\nder

Francesco

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