Have you heard of Couch Surfing but never had the chance to try it? Are you curious to discover the world with locals? I couch surfed already in 39 countries, and staying with locals has been the best part of my trip! Sharing time, culture, meals, seeing their real life from inside – I would never experience that staying in the hotels. Couch surfing is a community of travelers and travel enthusiasts. Simply, people who love to share. Yes, it’s all about sharing!
How unbelievably beautiful experience can be when money is not involved. Traveling cheap is not the main reason for using Couch Surfing, however, big advantage. Hospitality and cultural exchange should be the objectives. If all the people would be just like the real Couch Surfers, world will be a much better place.
Couch Surfing is the best way to truly discover the culture
It wouldn’t be too much if I say, that thanks to CS (abbreviation for Couch Surfing) I experienced the most incredible moments while I travel. People’s hospitality is sometimes insane. When you enter a house of a stranger and you are welcome as good friend, isn’t it the most amazing thing ever? Despite all that is happening in the world, there are still people which give you keys to their house without seeing you ever before!
Even when I travel alone I feel like having friends all around the world! Locals showed me the best places, which were not stated in any guidebook, they often changed my trip itinerary, recommending some particular destination. What’s more, they know the best spots to eat or even better, they will cook to introduce local cuisine. In my opinion, there is no better way to truly experience the culture than entering the family house and living with them for a short while. Seeing daily routine, being part of their life always makes me happy and creates precious memories forever.
I am using couch surfing wherever I go, it exists in most of the countries. I also hosted plenty of travelers and participated CS meetings or events. It is always a great way to meet people, no matter where you are!
Recently, I observed mass promotion and misuse or change of the main idea of this website. Travelers which want to crush a couch for free replaced those who want to spend time with locals, share their own culture. Others use it as a matrimonial site or to grow their business. Those are wrong and should be reported and advised to switch to proper websites.
How to start using Couch Surfing?
Creating your profile is very important, the more you write about yourself, the better. It is hard to trust a stranger, but knowing a bit about other person will give you at least some impression. I never write to people with an empty profile. I usually choose the host looking up at the interests familiar with mine, so that I am sure that we will have a lot of topics to talk about.
When you have your profile set up you can start the game! However, having no references may be discouraging for the host to accept your request. References are opinions of people, which had already met the person and recommended (or not) to stay with. It is a great idea to ask your friends, who are members of Couch Surfing community to write personal review for you. Although references from strangers you host or which host you are more valuable, you must start with something, right?
The best thing you can do to gain the references and truly discover what is couch surfing about, is becoming a host. Invite travelers who are looking for a place to stay in your city. You can find information who is looking for a couch near you, on the website. You don’t have to live in palace to be a host. Your will to share and spend time is enough. Describe the sleeping conditions, the best means for transportations your guest should use to come and preferences concerning the length of stay.
Couch surfing is not only about hosting and being hosted. It’s also a bunch of local communities, which gather frequently for a various event. If there is no couch surfing event or meeting near you, feel free to create one. It’s a great way to discovers hosts, which may be your neighbour as well as meeting travelers passing by.
How to write a couch request?
First part of every couch request should be an introduction. Few sentences describing who you are and what is the plan of your trip. Eventually, introduce your travel mate and if possible, include the link to his/her CS profile. Remember to don’t write the whole essay, brief explanation is enough. When I lived in the center of Prague, Czech Republic I was receiving around 15 couch requests each day! I was not even able to answer all of them properly and had to decline 99% of them.
Second part of the letter should explain why you chose this host to stay with. Maybe due to the same hobbies, fascination in the same type of music, same travel dreams or ideology. Show to the host that you are interested to spend time with him. It is important for the host to see that you are not only looking for a free place to stay but really want to share time together.
Lastly, you may want to ask some questions and wish for a positive answer. Hosts usually answer within few days, depending of personal circumstances. I start to search for a host 2 weeks or 1 week before coming.
The Couch Surfing etiquette
Going to your host you need to accept his house rules. Be polite. Imagine someone comes to your house, asks only about Wi-fi password and stays online all the time, or goes out without a word. Why would you like to be the host than? Of course, it depends of the person but mostly hosts looking to spend time with guests, go out or cook together. They host you for free so let them get something back. Cook meal from your country, invite for a dinner or even bring some small gift. I like to pack luggage light, so I bring some bigger gift for first and/or second host. Later I try to have some small magnets or postcards from my hometown along with written invitation to visit this lovely place of Poland.
It’s important that you keep the place clean, ask to your host if you can come back late or invite him to go out with you. Respect your host as you would like your guests to respect you.
When you leave, make the place looking same as you came and write a reference. I kept contact with plenty of couch surfers I met, and we are still friends. Through the website I met so many incredible people, especially sharing same ideology and passions. There is no rule that your host will ever come to revisit you, but it is always nice to offer. Who knows, maybe your paths will cross again?
As a guest I always try to appreciate, what the host shares with me, even if it’s sleeping on the floor or not really tasty food. It’s impressive that people who have nothing and live in poor country, are more generous than those who have everything in rich ones.
Adventure or danger?
Despite all, 99% of my couch surfing experiences were great and left beautiful memories. I would advice everyone to try it out and give a dose of trust to a stranger which can end up being your best friend. From all the possible option of sleeping for free while traveling, CS is surely my favorite. Remember to be careful and never go to a host which looks suspicious to you or has not a trustable profile. Otherwise, you can surely go ahead. My bad CS experiences together with advice on how to stay safe using CS, I decided to write in a separate article (coming soon).
Don’t hesitate to share your views and personal experiences with couch surfing in the comments below.