A Guide to Couchsurfing For the Uninitiated

Way back in 2012 I dipped my toes into the world of Couchsurfing.  I was getting ready to start my trip around the world and wanted to make sure every single dollar lasted as long as it possibly could.  My house had been sold, and was in escrow, and my flatmate had moved out, leaving a spare room for a month or so, I figured what the heck, so I signed up as a host, figuring it was better that I host a few people, and get some positive reviews before travelling in case I ever needed a place to stay while I was on the road.  For the purposes of this blog post, I consider Couchsurfing to mean travelling while crashing on someones couch, be it an existing friend, or a stranger you’ve met via the official Couchsurfing website or another method.


I’ve hosted guests in both Auckland and in Thailand, and I’ve Couchsurfed in Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, France, Thailand and the USA.

What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is a type of travel where rather than staying in hostels or hotels, you crash on someones couch, usually organised via the internet.  Remember this started before the days of Airbnb.  The best bit – it’s free, the only expectation is that you also host others when you are not travelling, a pay it forward style way of travelling. I saved hundreds of dollars when I crashed on couches in Europe, I’d forgotten that Oktoberfest was going on, and it was 90 euro for a bed in a hostel the night I arrived in Munich, luckily my host saved the day, and my wallet!

There are three functions of couchsurfing

  1. As a guest – you stay at someones house
  2. As a host – people stay at your house
  3. Local meetups and gatherings with locals and travellers (these are a great way to plan your trip if you haven’t left yet)

Couchsurfing at French Dubstep Producer Malilone’s Apartment in Paris

Is it Safe?

It depends, for me I’ve never had any problems, but I was a male single traveller when I used it.  From what I’ve read, those who run into problems tend to be younger women when staying at sketchy hosts.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the reviews of hosts before you stay with them, and give accurate reviews afterwards to ensure the safety of the community, and if you feel uncomfortable, leave straight away and call the authorities if you need to.

Remember, most people who are involved in couchsurfing are travellers themselves, they are either between trips, planning to go on a trip or back from one.  They are in it because they like to travel and they love to meet new people and experience different cultures. Couch surfing breaks down borders and barriers between cultures and people. Almost everyone is in it for the right reasons, but there will always be a few bad apples, have your wits about you and you’ll have a great time travelling and probably make some friends along the way.

Pipo, my Canine host in Berlin, whose owner has stayed with me in Auckland AND Bangkok!

Tips for Everyone

  • Make sure you read both your hosts and your guests reviews, and screen the crazies – I’ve heard all sorts of strange stories regarding hosts that turned into nudists at a moments notice for instance.  This is especially important if you are a single female traveller.
  • Review every single couch surfing experience and be honest.  This helps awesome travellers get places to stay and helps keep the creeps off the site.
  • Trust your instincts. If they seem like a cool person, they probably are, if they seem super sketchy and sound like a potential serial killer, they probably are too.
  • Go through the verification process, and try to only stay with verified people.
  • If you are new, see if any of your existing friends are already members, and if you’ve stayed with them give them a reference and vice versa.
  • Go out for a drink together, get to know each other and share travel stories – I probably wouldn’t be married and living in the USA if it weren’t for some of the travel tips I picked up while couchsurfing.
  • Attend the couchsufing meetups in your area before you want to start hosting or travelling, you’ll learn lots of tips and stories from people who have been there and done that.

Tips for Guests

  • Don’t overstay your welcome, usually a few nights is all you want to do – to let your host get back to their normal life.
  • It’s easier to get accepted for somewhere to stay if you are a solo traveller, same goes for girls – it’s just less threatening to hosts and vice versa.
  • If your host takes you out to local bars, or food joints, shout them a meal or a beer, they’ll appreciate it and it’s way cheaper than paying for accomodation.
  • Be prepared to be spontaneous, and work around your hosts schedule, after all they are hooking you up with a safe place to stay for free.
  • Check to see if your hosts have actual photos (with their face visible) on their profile, that they use their full name, and have more than a couple of references.  If it seems sketchy it probably is.
  • Find out the sleeping arrangements, this is important, are you crashing on a couch, spare bed, or do you need a blow up mattress. If the host wants you to share a bed, run for the hills.
  • Look for hosts that you have something in common with, if you are a vegetarian, look for a vegetarian host etc.
  • Be tidy, keep your gear somewhere out of the way, and clean up after yourself.  Trust me, as a past host it’s really appreciated.
  • Let your hosts get ready for work before you hog the shower.
  • Make sure you offer to host your host when you get back home if they ever visit.
  • Bring a small gift from home for your host, they’ll really appreciate it and it will be something positive to remember you by.
  • Apply for a couch in advance, don’t expect last minute accomodation except in emergencies. Give your potential hosts time to plan and get ready.

 

Enjoying Lunch with Jasen and Nina in Pula, Croatia. I stayed with them for a few weeks – a few years later they moved to Canada, and came to stay with us in San Diego!

Tips for Hosts

  • Don’t try and hook up with your guests, couchsurfing isn’t a dating app.  There is a huge power imbalance between the host and guest and it’s just super sketchy.
  • If you can, help your guests out by providing them with clear directions on public transport.
  • Show your guests around town, it’s a great excuse to check out the local tourist spots that you never got around to checking out.
  • If you are having dinner, offer to make a plate for your guests the night they arrive, it’s usually stressful arriving in a new town, and a beer or a meal goes a long way for a hungry traveller. Bonus points if it’s a local speciality.
  • If you have a washer and dryer, offer it to your guests – trust me, after travelling for a while, there is nothing better than clean clothes, and the last thing you want is a smelly backpacker in your house.
  • Keep an eye on the last minute section of your town, you might be able to help someone in need if their accomodation has fallen through and they will be eternally grateful.

Are you ready to start travelling on the cheap while hanging out with cool local travellers who can show you all the cool things to do in the neighbourhood? Sign up for couchsurfing now by clicking here!

 


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