“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
Are you familiar with this symbol?
Does it symbolize free accommodation, meeting a bunch of cool people and saving some good money?
Yes, it does and so much more!
This symbol means “Couchsurfing”.
Could it be that right now some questions pop out like: What is Couchsurfing?; Isn`t it like Airbnb? What do I do there? Is it not only for tree-hugging hippies? Is it safe?
Are you interested in this questions? Then grab my hand and let’s surf a bit deeper into this fantastic life-style.
Couchsurfing is a network, based on social sharing. Sharing means: Offering a place to sleep. Different people from all around the world create a profile on the Couchsurfing website (Check out HERE). The members offer their couch, bed or mattress etc. for “surfers” to stay. The main idea behind this system is clear: Bringing people together. Or as written on the website:
“that people anywhere would want to share their homes with strangers (or, as we like to call them, friends you haven't met yet)” - http://www.couchsurfing.com/about/about-us/
So basically it is about hosting and surfing.
Here are some interesting additional CS facts (found HERE):
- Name inspired by Bran Van in “Couch Surfer” check out HERE
- Founded in 2003
- Since 2011 a profit-organisation
- In over 200,000 cities (information HERE)
- 5,5 Million active surfers (2012)
- 53% are members are male
- Most spoken languages 1. English – 2. French – 3. Spanish – 4. German
Yes, CS is a profit organisation, but the registration, the use of the site and surfing is for free. This strategy separates Couchsurfing from other networks like “Airbnb”. Mainly it is a system that is build on trust, reputation and social communication (not on contracts and your bank account). In short: Humans deal with humans. This fact creates the idea, that CS is an unsafe method. Personally I would disagree with that. People, who travel a lot, could nod for this statement: If you deal with humans, communicate a lot and rely on your feelings. This will influence your safety dramatically.
If you are really aware about safety on CS, especially if you are female, please check this YouTube videos made by travelers.
- IS COUCHSURFING SAFE? TRUTH REVEALED! – by PsychoTraveller (Check out her other amazing videos for travelling and blogging, also on FB “www.facebook.com/psychotraveller“)
In my three years experience as a CS surfer and host I was never in a risky situation. I also traveled together with my girlfriend through Russia and other “less safe” countries. Except some misunderstandings, the time with our hosts was pleasant and even exciting.
If you are interested in some more personal CS stories, please leave a comment.
2. Advantages and disadvantages of Couchsurfing
- You can find nearly everywhere a host
- If you have no time for your social life, then be a host and invite the world to your home (doesn’t matter how much space you have)
- Did I mention that it is for free (surfing and hosting)?
- You will meet incredible, amazing, funny and cool people with their special life story. If you speak the same language, then communicate! You will remember some stories forever.
- Hosts can show you more than any tourist guide could. It happens that you do some crazy stuff together
- Some hosts take care of more than two people, so you will have a international round of people. You can even improve your language skills!
- You will also improve your communication skills as well as your planning management
- With some planning in advance you can already post your travel route and hosts will contact YOU
- You are travelling with kids? Also possible. Check out HERE
- Since the last year there is a stronger verification system that proves the identity of an account. Look out for the green check mark.
- You need to do some planning, otherwise you won’t find a host or hosts will get unhappy if you don’t appear at the agreed date
- One negative reference on your profile (e.g. because you appeared too late), affects your reputation and could make it difficult to get a future host. The solution: Be honest to your next host and communicate clearly
- It is a bit stressful when you have to find the host’s home in a city. Luckily most hosts provide you with all the necessary information
- It is hard to find a host in a capital city or at a tourist crowded place
- It can be unsafe. Not the host, but the way to his home (if he lives in a gloomy place)
- From time to time the communication doesn’t work and some misunderstandings will appear
- Yes, women can get in more uncomfortable situation. Take your time and READ the host’s profile. Don’t be too picky but trust your guts
3. Registration and your profile
Couchsurfing can be compared with an online role game: Older members = more experiences, more reputation, easier to find a host; new members = no reputation, harder to get connected with people.
That’s why it is a bit of work to get into this community. You have to gain your experience points to level up. But you are not alone, every Couchsurfer has a slow start. If you like you can follow these advises and you will have a smooth time.
The registration on CS is really easy. If you like you can log in with your Facebook account or use your email address.
As I mentioned before trust is a keyword on CS. Trust you have to earn and everything starts with your new profile. There is lot you can write on your page. For this you have to fill the empty space with something of your own. Please don`t use phrases like “I am an open minded person” or “I like to travel and to meet new people”, this could be true, but everybody on CS feels the same way, otherwise people wouldn’t use this site. No, put a piece of your inner soul into your profile. I know it scares a lot of people to be open on the internet (open = vulnerable, date espionage), but here on CS it is the base and makes the communication easier. And don`t believe that you have nothing to write about yourself. YOU are unique as a human being, full with your own interests and abilities. So be honest to yourself, take your time and create an incredible profile. This will increase your chances of being noticed by other surfers and solids the path of finding hosts.
Speak in pictures: Smooth up your profile with a beautiful picture of yours. As psychologists mentioned: A smiling face invokes trust and positive feeling by the viewer.Smile!
Put also some more pictures about you in the “Photos” area, to make the text rounder.
Connect with your Facebook account and check out who of your friends is already on CS (Look for “Facebook Friends on CS”). If you like send them a request for friendship.
As I wrote above, you can verify your profile through giving away your home address, phone number (it is not visible on your page) and an amount of 19$ yearly. In this case you buy trust. It is a extra option you can afford but it is not necessary. From my point of view, the most successful couchsurfers don`t have a verification.
4. How to find a host
Everything is much easier when you have a plan. You know where to go and the time you will be there?
Perfect, just search for a host.
It is highly recommendable to do it in advance (at least a week). For capital cities you should start searching a month ahead. If you are hitchhiking your way make sure that you have the phone number of the host, because you could arrive later than expected.
Before you contact a host, please read his profile. I know, it takes time, especially when the profile is really long. But the keywords can be hidden in between the text like “I don’t host couples” or “I have two cats at home”. Make sure to check his or her references. One neutral or negative references doesn’t say anything about the person, it could have been just a misunderstanding. Just take a look at the person who gave the reference. In some cases the reference giver is a weird person or just lies to get out of trouble. Like always, follow your instinct!
Now, what shall I write?
It can be a ton of different things. Here are my personal advises.
- The shorter the better (some hosts receive 20 requests everyday)
- Begin with an interesting sentence, something that should catch the attention of the reader (e.g. “You are a big fan of the Beatles. Do you know some good Beatles places in London?)
- Do not copy and paste the same request over and over again. This is rude and impersonal. Some host have a keyword in their profile to make sure you read it. Copy and paste only non personal information (e.g. your travel plans)
- Write the host “why” you choose him, try to find out the connection. Even when it is only his photos. Some hosts speak little English and don’t fill their profile with a lot of text, that makes it harder to get a link to them
- Write about what is important for you (e.g. I usually get up really early…). This can prevent misunderstanding.
- Is it important to mention, that your request should be in a proper and friendly form?
Yes, this process will take it’s time. I sometimes spend more than a half hour to read and to write a request. I feel it as an obligation towards the person who might host me. The person offers his/her private space and time for me, so at least I can read his profile and write him/her a good request.
Usually you have to write more than one request for a place, until you get accepted. If you going to a mayor place, expect to write over 20 requests. And don’t give up if the first 10 hosts don’t respond. Some people are too busy with hosting, don’t check their account or just too lazy to answer. Stay friendly and patient. By the way this are really important attributes you can carry during your travel!
Have a long and safe journey.
You have some questions about Couchsurfing? Write it in the comment section.
 Once in London my girlfriend and I slept in a tiny kitchen on a mattress. Even so it was funny because our host had already another group of surfers in his house.
 We had a host in Poland who took us to his own bar and we spend a really joyful evening in mixing our own drinks.
 I made this experience in places that are less touristic. Also I didn’t need to search for a host in Poland, the people offered me a place to sleep.
 Sometimes a host didn’t gave me the right information so I arranged a meeting point at a central place.
 E.g. My girlfriend and I wrote more than 30 requests for Tokyo and in the end only two hosts excepted us (THANK you again!!!). 15 of the requests were not even answered.
 My worst experience in this case was in Seoul with another host. He was inflexible and got angry when I didn’t appear at the agreed time.
 There are a lot of shady looking guys with none or few references. But some of them are heart-warming dads and granddads with a huge smile. Communicate a lot and give them a chance.
 E.g. a host will be happy to read that you share the same music interest as him. This little things make you sympathetic.
 It is possible that a host will accept requests done a day or two before your arriving. I do. But most of the people don’t have a Couchsurfing App and do not check their account daily. So give them some time.
 Already met hosts with such a negative reference. The more I understand their situation the more I understand the huge misunderstandings between our cultures.
 I respond to every request, even if I cannot host the person. Except to messages that were obviously copy-paste or consists of one sentence.