Most travelers I know do not book hotels.
We love adventures and getting to know people and their traditions – first hand. Exploring a new culture through the lens of a local is always different (and way better) than booking touristy guided tours. It’s never as authentic and you rarely get to the really cool places. My solution to that was joining the Couchsurfing community.
I was 16 and willing to learn as much as I could about the world. I created a profile, uploaded a few pictures from the places I visited and started my adventure. Since then, I met people from all over the world, I showed them my city, taught them my mother tongue, hosted them, shared stories with them and surfed their couch whenever I happened to visit their city.
From real globe trotters to IT people who took a two year long vacation, from a pseudo-Gandalf Chinese hippie nomad to a half-Russian half-Italian chef who made his travel money from cooking for people on the road, I met every character you can come up with. My life would be emptier without all the stories I gathered in the past years of hanging out with the weirdest, yet most awesome people in the traveling community, so please join us, surf our couch and we’ll surf yours!
How does couchsurfing work?
Couchsurfing is an online platform that connects more than 14 million people across the globe. The community’s values refer to sharing your life (and your home), staying curious, offering kindness and creating connections. There are also no strangers there, just friends you haven’t met yet, so don’t be afraid to welcome people you don’t know into your home.
The platform offers you the chance to travel the world and find people to host you wherever you might want to go, experience their city as a local and all in all having an enhanced traveling experience. You can also give back to the community and become a host yourself.
You might also like: The solo female travelers guide to staying in hostels
If sleeping on a stranger’s couch or offering yours to a fellow traveller is not that appealing to you at first, you can catch a glimpse of what the Couchsurfing community is all about by simply attending the weekly or monthly events they organize. There could be language exchanges, dance classes, hikes and international dinners where you’re guaranteed to find new and really interesting people.
The process is simple. If you want to get a host in a city you are going to visit, you simply go on the website and search for hosts in that area. Then, you send them a nice request and hope they will accept it. You can also post a public trip and wait for hosts in the area to contact you and offer to host you.
How to find the best host?
Safety comes first. Meeting new people is great, but it could also potentially turn into a bad or even dangerous experience if don’t pay attention to whom you are contacting. Especially if you are woman on a solo adventure, you have to be extra careful when planning your Couchsurfing journey. Personally, I did not have any unpleasant experiences, so I will share with you my strategy for finding a good host.
Read the references!
First things first, look for people with lots of references on their profile. I usually don’t go for anyone with less than 30 good references. Also, beware of the negative ones and neutral ones and take them as warning signs. In this community, people don’t usually leave negative comments without a real reason. Moreover, you can even try to contact a few people who left the references and ask a few questions about their experience with your potential host if you are still not sure.
Establish a connection with them prior to your arrival
Once your host accepted your request and you’re all set, try to talk to them a little bit before you actually go to their house and become their guest. Try to share a little more about you and encourage them to do the same, so you start feeling safer. Also, you can check out more than just their Couchsurfing profile. Take a look at their social media pages to have a more complete picture of their personality and be willing to share yours. This way you’ll both feel a little more secure.
Be specific in your filter search
Narrowing down your search will eliminate a lot of people you would not feel comfortable sharing an apartment with. You can choose the gender, specific location, age and of course, the verification level.
The verification level refers to different methods of verification the website offers and the members can opt out for, such as an official verification of the name and address. Also, there is the vouching system, which started with the founders of the website who vouched for members they have met and trust. As a member, you can only start vouching for others once you have been vouched for yourself by three other people.
How to be a good guest?
Couchsurfing is a lot more than just free accommodation, so you should find a way to be kind to the members of this community and specifically to your hosts.
Create a complete profile
Just like you, your hosts deserve to get to know you better. Fill up your profile with things like hobbies, traveling experiences, interests and lots of pictures. Take a few hours, sit down and write. Try to be as honest and descriptive as you can and the people will notice you and want to exchange experiences with you.
Don’t be a passive guest
Treating your host’s house like a hotel is definitely NOT the way to go about your couchsurfing experience. You are there to share your stories and be part of a mutual exchange of culture and traditional wisdom. You are not in a hotel, you are in someone’s home, so try to be as helpful as you can. Offer to cook or go shopping for them, and always clean after yourself. Your hosts are not your room service, so don’t treat them as such.
Do something nice
As a rule, you should always remember to offer hosting back, whenever your new Couchsurfing friends will be in your town. On top of that, you should also buy something nice for your host as a Thank You. A bottle of wine, some chocolates or even taking them out for dinner one night are some ways to show gratitude.
Always leave a reference
References are just as important for hosts as they are for surfers. They help people get their request accepted a lot easier and make everyone’s life better. Always leave a reference for your host and try to be as descriptive and creative as you can. Nobody likes plain, generic texts.
With these few tips in mind, go ahead, create your own free account and become part of one of the coolest communities of travelers on the globe. If I ever send you a couch-request, please accept it! I’m cool, I promise! And I’ll surely accept yours!
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