Ah couchsurfing! A way to travel with the potential to give you some of the best memories of your trip and meet some of the most interesting and cool people you ever might! Couchsurfing has been around a few years now but has really exploded in popularity over the last few years.
The obvious pros of couchsurfing that come to most people’s minds is that it’s free! However, if you couchsurf for this reason alone then you’re going in with the wrong attitude. The best part about couchsurfing is the people you’ll meet and the diverse range of places you’ll stay. No other accommodation really gives you the opportunity to get to know the locals, to get to hear their inside tips of where to go and what to do and to get to stay in someone’s home; to actually experience how they live. Often the host/s will eat with you (maybe even cook a meal for you!), or take you out to town, or to a cool place nearby their home. That’s the joy of couchsurfing, every place has a new person (or persons, when you stay with a couple or some housemates), with new experiences and backgrounds. Couchsurfing hosts are often well travelled people themselves and will have some great stories and travel tips to share. Often they’re quite outgoing and are involved in the local community so you may find yourself being dragged along with them to a local language event, or rock climbing session or even underwater rugby training (yes it’s a real sport!). Make sure you return these hosts’ love/generosity by being involved/interactive with them, it’s not just about getting a free bed!
As to the actual ‘couch’ surfing it varies. You’ll sleep on a mattress amongst a bunch others on their own mattresses in a big living room, to having your own private room (this is actually more common than a couch) and then of course couches of varying quality degrees. Maybe you’ll even get a couch where you have to fight the house dogs off to keep them from trying to sleep with you… I think it might have normally been their bed
The main negative that people think of when they think couchsurfing is security, and yes, it is always going to be less secure (in a way), than a hostel or AirB’n’B (although, to be fair, you’re much more likely to be stolen from in a hostel than by a couchsurfing host!). You don’t know the person you’re going to stay with (and conversely, they don’t know you) and the relationship with that person is built on trust. . In saying this, if you research potential hosts you shouldn’t have any issues at all.
The ability to read someone’s profile is there, so it’s simply a matter of reading their profile and references. Once you have done this, you will then decide if you are happy with what you’ve learnt and if you want to stay with them. Profile descriptions are often quite comprehensive. If filled out adequately, just like you would have done when creating your own profile, you will gain good insight into their personal attributes, their philosophy on life, why they are part of the couchsurfing community, their work/study/travel experiences, hobbies, religious beliefs, the type of accommodation they can provide you (e.g. a couch in the loungeroom/your own private bedroom etc.) what they can offer/teach and what they wish to gain/learn in return. We encourage /advise leaving a reference about your interactions with those from the couchsurfing community. By leaving a reference, you are providing other members of the community with more insight towards the credibility and trustworthiness of your host/couchsurfer/travel companion etc. Whether it’s positive/negative feedback, a couple of short sentences or a lengthy paragraph, others can use these references as another means to help with their decision making.
Realistically, the main difficulty with couchsurfing is getting somewhere to stay, especially when you’re new to it. Once you’ve got a few references of your own you won’t have too much trouble finding a place. To get yourself a handful of references without staying with someone, go to a couple of couchsurfing events, meet people, build up some friendships, chances are they’ll write you a reference because they like you, but if you want to press things, just mention you’re completely new to couchsurfing and have no references yet. They’ll get the idea, and once you’ve got a few references you’ll find it easier to find places to stay and you’ll find the references starting to roll in. Alternatively, open up your place to guests before you travel and get yourself a few references from people staying with you. Talking to other travellers may even help you with some ideas for your own trip!
When it comes to writing a request, spend a few moments reading your host’s profile. Note what they like and where they’ve been, and make reference to that when you write to them! Make it personal. If you send out a heap of generic requests to stay somewhere, your potential host may feel that you are just using them and abusing the system. If this doesn’t phase you, then go ahead and good luck. However, you will have a greater chance of staying somewhere, especially with short notice, if you show sincerity and interest in the person and what they can offer.
If you want to read more about couchsurfing and other cheap travel accommodation options you can find lots more in my book on Amazon 🙂
First couch i crashed on in the middle of Vienna… not a bad place to spend a couple of nights 😉