Backpacking, Travel Resources

How does Couchsurfing work

So you might have heart about courfsurfing before, but not be quite sure about how it works. If you don’t know what it is at all, you will know all you need to know about Couchsurfing after reading this article. How does Couchsurfing work? I would say that this is a beginners guide to couchsurfing with all you need to know to start using it.

Let me start by explaining some more about this web page and now also, Couchsurfing app

What is Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is an app and web page, couchsurfing.com. It was made in 2004, but the idea came to life in 1999 when founder Casey Fenton, hacked a database and e-mailed 1500 students in Iceland asking for a homestay. This was a result of the fact that Fenton got himself affordable tickets from the US to Iceland but didn’t have a place to stay.

Like the actions that inspired the couchsurfing page, the global couchsurfing community evolves around the idea of sharing your home with travelers. It’s a homestay of sorts and an opportunity for cultural exchange. So far couchsurfing has more than 14 million members in more than 200,000 cities around the world.

Couchsurfing logo courtesy of couchsurfing borrowed by www.whynotju.com
Photo courtesy of couchsurfing.com

How does Couchsurfing work?

Basically, couchsurfing is based off the idea of sharing your homes with travelers in exchange for the company, stories and maybe new friendship, often shared over a homecooked meal or a beer out in town.

Couchsurfing experiences are never the same and really depends on both the couchsurfing host and the surfer. I’ve couchsurfed at places where I just saw my host a few times at their place and came and went as I wanted. However, I’ve also had hosts taking me around town, taken me on day trips, BBQ with friends and so on. And I’ve most definitely left almost every couchsurfing stay a friend or two richer.

You don’t necessarily sleep on a couch even though the name of the site might suggest so. I’ve gotten to sleep on a yoga mat, a mattress on the floor, bed, in a tent, a bed and my own room, and of course quite a few couches. Still, one of my most memorable couchsurfing experiences to date was when my boyfriend and I got to sleep in a theatre in the old town of Montevideo for a few nights.

An introduction to couchsurfing

A lot like facebook, you make a profile on Couchsurfing, telling a little about yourself and why you’re on couchsurfing. You might add a little about what interests you, cool experiences you’ve had while traveling and so on. You can also add photos, and info about your “couch” if you want to host people.

What to include in a couchsurfing profile

I would recommend filling out all the sections when creating a couchsurfing profile. My advice is to try and let your personality shine through in your “about me” section. This way people would want to get to know you after reading your profile. The sections in a couchsurfing profile as of 2019 are:

  • Full name
  • Preferred language and languages you speak and are learning
  • age and sex
  • home address or location, city
  • About me section
  • Why I’m on Couchsurfing
  • Interests
  • Music, Movies, and Books
  • One Amazing Thing I’ve Done
  • What I Can Share with Hosts
  • Countries I’ve Visited
  • Countries I’ve Lived In

Remember to add at least a few photos of you from your travels. People want to see who they are hosting too.

List your couch on Couchsurfing

You also choose if you want to list your couch. You can choose between “no”, “yes”, and “maybe hosting”. Thereafter you can add some information about the sleeping arrangement available. Some people even add photos and some house rules, but that’s completely up to you.

If you want to see an example of a couchsurfing profile you can check out my profile.

how does couchsurfing work? Couchsurfing profile example whynotju.com

Events

Couchsurfing has an “event” section for each city registered on couchsurfing.

The amount of events on the event section really depends on where you are as it all depends on members engaging and voluntarily making events for courchsurfers, or registering their events on the couchsurfing calendar. Some cities may have close to nothing going on in their event section, and others might have a big selection of events to choose from.

My best experience with couchsurfing events was in Berlin. I stayed there for a month and discovered that Berlin has a wide variety of couchsurfing events to choose from. I attended cub crawls, language exchange meetups and made almost all my friends in Berlin through the couchsurfing events. I’ve also seen yoga classes, walking tours and dance glasses among the events published on couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing Groups and “Locals advice”

Couchsurfing isn’t just a place to find a host or offer up a couch, there are also forums called “locals advice” where you can ask questions, and couchsurfing groups that you can join.

The forums are connected to the different cities and locations and are a place to get locals tips on things regarding your trip. You can also announce your travel route there and seek out travel partners.

Any couchsurfing user can make a group. On couchsurfing you’ll find groups of all kinds. There are groups for Solo travelers, solo female travelers, different travel communities like the “girls gone global” community. Groups giving advices to hosts and surfers, location specific groups and so on.

Couchsurfing hangouts

Hangouts is a part of the app and web page where you can registere where you are and what time you will be able to hang out with other people from couchsurfing. You can also add a few scentences of what you would like to do; go for a beer or coffee, visit a museum and so on. You can also see whos avaliable to hangout in your area and what they would like to do.

Couchsurfing public trip

Another of couchsufings features is the public trip publication. If you’re going somewhere you can publish a little about you and your trip with the dates and location. This way you will show up on the locations side and hosts and locals can contact you to offer to host you or meet up. I don’t use this feature too much as I feel like it doesn’t attract the right hosts for me, at least not traveling alone.

Get couchsurfing friends

As you travel and meet other couchsurfers, you can add them as friends on your profile. I also tend to add my hosts and the surfers I’ve hosted as friends, but its not a big concern of mine.

Couchsurfing reviews

After staying or hosting through couchsurfing, you get to write a review about the host or guest you’ve met. You can also write reviews to people you’ve just met up with, but not hosted or been hosted by. All the reviews get shown on your couchsurfing profile underneath the tabs “references”. The reviews are then divided in “from Surfers”, “from Hosts” and “personal”.

It’s common courtesy to always write a review about the person you’ve hosted or been hosted by. This is important as these reviews are very much taken into account when people are deciding if they want to host you or stay with you. Try to be honest in your reviews, if you had a bad experience, don’t be rude, but mention the circumstances so that others can take it into account.

Do you need to get verified to use Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is free and as some other free apps, like blablacar, it has the option to get your account verified. That means that you pay a fee, and that way you get access to more features on the couchsurfing site. You’ll get access to 24/7 support, unlimited messaging and it supposedly helps verify your identity and make you come across like more trustable. I’m not verified and I’ve met very few who are. The verification fee for couchsurfing as if 2019 is 60 $ US and is a onetime fee.

With that said couchsurfing does not cost money, and you’ll be fine using their free service. Still, you can say that there is a transaction being made, in the sense that you do a cultural exchange, it’s just not any money going into the app, unless you want it to.

Couchsurfing message and request restriction

The message limitation puts a roof on how many couchsufing requests you can send per week. The page will always tell you how many “introductions” you have left when you’re writing a message. Every couchsurfing user has 10 introductions to use every week. If you use it up you’ll have to wait for everything from 1-7 days to get your introductions refilled, depending on when you send your first request for that week.

According to couchsurfing this newer restriction that started from 2017, was introduced to motivate surfers to spend more time and effort into finding the hosts and writing them a proper message.

The biggest catch with not being verified is the limitation of messages that can make it tricky to find a host if you’re short on time, but if you spend more time searching and writing proper request, you’ll increase your chances.

Couchsurfing request example whynotju.com

How to be a good couchsurfing guest(surfer)

So think about couchsurfing as visiting a friend, and always remember that you are a guest in someones home.

Follow their house rules –
Keep tidy and show respect

If your host has house rules they are most likely stated on their profile somewhere, most likely under “my home” on their profile. If they don’t have any rules stated, just follow common manners and dicey. How would you like people to act being a guest in your home? Don’t make noise late at night, clean up after using the kitchen, and leave the space tidy and clean when you move on to your next destination.

Have time to get to know your host

We all get that you’re visiting a new place and you want to go and see what it has to offer. Still, remember that you’ll be staying in a strangers house and make sure you are available to hang out, share a meal, or go for a walk together.

Don’t make a full packed program, but see if the host wants to or has time to do something with you. Don’t expect to just have a place to crash and run 100% your own thing. If you’re not interested in getting to know locals/your host, you can use a hostel, airbnb or hotel instead.

It’s always nice if you as a surfer offer your host something as a thank you for letting you stay. I usually cook a meal or buy a beer/coffee out on town for them. Some surfers also like to bring small gifts with them. It can be anything like a small chocolate, postcard or something typical from your hometown. If none of this seams fitting, you can always write a little note when you leave, saying thank you. I’ve been hosted in quite a few people where hosts had “thank you” notes from surfers hanging on the fridge.

How to write a Couchsurfing request

So basically you need to convince them about why they should receive you as a guest in their home. What do you have to bring to the table? Remember that it’s supposed to be a two-way street where both of you can gain something from the “exchange”.

Read the profiles

This goes without saying, but read the profile of the hosts before you send them a request. Not just to figure out if you have something in common and see if it’s a person you would like to stay with, but also to see what your possible host has done. Where has he/she traveled or done? Is there something in their profile you can comment on in your couchsurfing request?

Do not just copy paste

I mean, it’s totaly fine to copy paste the introduction about you, but tweek it a little. Show the person youre writing to that you read their couchsurfing profile. Maybe comment on a picture you saw in their album, a country they have been to, or a common interest you would love to chat about.

Show interest

Like mentioned, show that you would like to get to know your host, not just have a place to crash. If you show that you want to connect and learn more about how it is to be a local you’re more likely to find a host.

Don’t start looking for a couchsurfing host too far ahead in time

Sometimes I receive requests as far as 8 months ahead of time, and to be honest it’s pretty much impossible for me to know where I will be by then. I would recommend to start looking around for a host 2 weeks to 1 month ahead of time, maximum 1,5 month.

Cooking with fellow couchsurfers in Buquete, Panama
Cooking with fellow couchsurfers in Buquete, Panama

Advice and information for couchsurfing hosts

Use the Couchsurfing calendar

The couchsurfing calendar is great to blook out dates where you dont have the possibility to recive guests. That way you minimize the couchsurfing requests you’ll get for the time you’re unavaliable.

Remember that your Couchsurfing guests are also tourists

Most couchsurfing hosts at least want to spend some time with their guests. Exchange travel stories and knowledge over dinner, take a walk around town or grab a beer at your favourite bar. Still, rememeber that your chouchsurfing guest is visiting a new place and also want to have time to do touristy things and get to know the city.

Additional information to note regarding couchsurfing

I would say that how to use couchsurfing is pretty clear from the web community set up. It’s easy to get around on the web page and the design is pretty simple. Still, there are always a few people who will try to take advantage of the couchsurfing community.

Couchsurfing is not a dating app

Couchsurfing is not a dating or hook page, if you ask me, this goes without saying. However, there are still people out there who get it wrong or wants to get it wrong(?). Some hosts think they can expect something from their surfers because they are offering up a place to sleep. Still, this is definitely wrong and not how it’s supposed to work. If you ever find yourself in this situation, know that you are in the right and make it clear that that’s not why you are on couchsurfing. I’m under the understanding that this happens more frequently to women couchsurfers.

Unfortunately, I’ve had this happened to me, but after letting my host know that I’m purely a couchsurfer looking to get to know locals and the place I’ve been visiting, I haven’t had any troubles. With that said, for me it was a one in maybe 25 couchsurfing experiences, so don’t let that put you off couchsuring. Just be aware.

You can always delete your Couchsurfing account

If you ever would like to delete a couchsurfing account it can easily be done from both the webpage and app. To delete your couchsurfing account simply log into your couchsurfing profile, click on “Settings” then click “Account and Settings” scroll down and click “Deactivate my Account”.

Follow your gut – Couchsurfing safety measures

That brings me to my next point that is, follow your gut and take some safety precautions. Definitely make use of at least one of these advices before couchsurfing alone.

  • Prior to any couchsurfing stay, be sure to check out their profile and reviews to see how others experiences have been. If something feels off, try to find another host, or check into a hostel.
  • Meet your host beforehand – Safety definitely comes first so always have a backup plan if something doesn’t work out with your couchsurfing. An idea can also be to meet the host beforehand in a public space, to check that everything seems ok. I did this the first time I couchsurfed alone.
  • Let someone at home, or a friend, know a little about your host, just to feel safer. Couchsurfing is a webpage, and like everywhere there are bad people or people trying to take advantage of communities like this. Like mentioned I’ve never really found myself in a situation where I had to look for other options or felt unsafe, but it’s always good to be prepared.

So all in all, couchsurfing is a great platform for travelers, for budget travelers and travelers who want to get to know a city from a locals perspective. No couchsurfing stay is the same and you have to take into account that you’ll be staying with someone. I hope you found these couchsurfing tips useful.

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