Sleeping with Strangers: A Couchsurfing Guide

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I’ll give you a second to get your mind out of the gutter…

Good?

Okay so a few weeks ago, before I headed to Keystone for TBEX, I spent 2 nights in Denver which is where I had my first couchsurfing experience. After only crashing on friends’ couches over the last couple years, it was a bit unsettling to stay with a complete stranger in a city I had never visited before.

Needless to say, I lucked out. I stayed with a young woman named Katie, and I could not have asked for a better first host. Even though she worked during the evenings, she willingly gave me a spare set of keys to her cozy apartment so I could have access at all times and not have to live by her schedule. She set me up in a spare bedroom with an air mattress as well as clean sheets, towels, blankets, and a pillow. She even offered to share some of her food, and taught me the proper way to dry cast-iron pans (put on low heat on the stove for 10-15).  As a host, she went above and beyond all of my expectations, and I can only hope my positive experience encourages you to try Couchsurfing. Not all hosts will be as welcoming and gracious as Katie, but that shouldn’t deter you.

Second home party. New friends and nabe!

Potluck dinner party in Tokyo

What is couchsurfing?

Though it seems fairly self-explanatory, Couchsurfing’s introductory video sums up the project really well.

Not only is it the best way to make friends in all parts of the world, but you’ll save money on a hostel or expensive hotel plus you get your own personal tour guide. It’s living like a local at its finest.

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Photographing sakura with my host, Satoshi, in Kyoto

Is it safe?

Yes! Couchsurfing has a number of safety features to put your anxiety at ease. When you talk to people online that you don’t know, you put an immense amount of trust into the fact that things will work out so the more safety concerns addressed, the better, right?.

If you contact a host with the following information or features on their profile, you’re almost guaranteed a positive experience.

Things to look for:

  • Verified location
  • At least 5 photos
  • Completed profile
  • References (the more the better)
  • Description of couch or room available
My couchsurfing host in Nagoya, Norimasa-san!

My couchsurfing host in Nagoya, Norimasa-san!

What to include on your own profile:

  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • School / University you graduated from
  • Contact info like (i.e. a website/blog, social media sites, or email)
  • Hobbies & interests
  • Allergies (optional)
  • Your thoughts on Couchsurfing
  • Where you’re traveling / where you’ve traveled
  • The languages you speak
  • Previous Couchsfuring experiences
  • A short bio
  • Photos

Let your personality shine through. The more human and personal your profile seems, the more likely people will offer to help/host you.

Bromigo and Bromiga

My tokyo host, Daichi, and I goofing off at 1am

How to find a host:

When you search for a host, there are plenty of filters you can apply such as gender, age, wheelchair accesibility, and whether or not children, pets, or smoking are allowed. You can also search for hosts with the safety features mentioned above like whether or not they have photos, references, or are a verified member.

Most importantly, you have the ability to post your itinerary and have various hosts contact you that way. Again, when hosts send you a message, be sure to read through their profile to see if they would be a good match. When you’re looking for a host, especially in foreign countries, send a request to multiple people so you increase your chances of someone saying yes.

mengshan

Mengshan, my Yokohama host, making curry udon

Sending a couch request:

It never hurts to start looking for potential hosts early on, but a good time to send a request would be 4-6 weeks prior to your arrival date. That way, you’re putting yourself on the radar of looking for a host in a certain city, and it gives people enough notice. When you visit a host’s profile, click the big, orange button in the top right corner that says “Send Couch Request”. Send a host a personalized message with a bit about yourself, some things you’re looking for in a host, and why you want to stay with them specifically. Look through their profile for common interests you may have, and use that to connect with them. What can you offer each other? Maybe you’d be able to teach each other your native languages? Be creative, be human, be you!

Sidenote: Some people have specific requirements for a couch request. Look on the left side under Couch Information to see if anything needs to be put in the subject title of the request or if they want to know specific details about you, etc.

Accepting an offer:

When any host reaches out to you to offer their couch, the polite thing to do is respond, even if you don’t think you want to stay with them. Ask them to meet up or go out for coffee first to get to know them, and even if you don’t pick them, at least you have another new friend to hang out with. They may even offer to hang out a couple times during your trip to show you around. Either way, it’s a win-win!

Sidenote: If after you show up, your host makes you feel uncomfortable, LEAVE! There’s no binding contract that says you have to stay. Trust your instincts.

Home Cooked Breakfast - Ireland

My friend, Mary’s, house outside of Dublin was so warm and inviting

How long can I surf with one host?

The standard is usually 2-4 nights, but if you really hit it off with your host, they may let you stay longer. As long as you’re respectful of your host’s home and any roommates, I’m sure staying an extra night or two would be fine. It all depends on chemistry.

What happens after I surf?

Be sure to leave your host a thank you note or send them a personal follow-up email to express your gratitude for a great experience. Buying them lunch or a small gift doesn’t hurt either, if they were an exceptional host. Also, don’t forget to leave them a good reference on the Couchsurfing site, and they will do the same so you can start building a good surfer reputation.

When you’re on the go, you can find Couchsurfing hosts with the new app they just launched for Android and iPhone. Happy surfing!

Describe your previous Couchsurfing experiences.
What did you find worked and didn’t work on the site when looking for a host?

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