How to Use Couchsurfing to Travel the World

Couchsurfing

Picture this… You arrive at a city you have never been before and enjoy your day sightseeing and having fun.  Then, you head to someone’s house, someone you’ve never met before in person, and stay at his or her house as a guest.  Sounds crazy, eh?  Well, it’s not as crazy as it sounds.  It’s usually called CouchSurfing; a way to travel on a budget and with a more local perspective.

Here are some of the most common questions regarding the whole CouchSurfing experience.

So, what is Couchsurfing?

CouchSurfing.org is technically a social networking site that focuses on connecting like-minded travelers.  It is a platform that allows you to meet and even host other travelers.

According to the site, it is “a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit.” In other words, it is a way to see the world with a local perspective by staying at a local host house/apartment as a guest and in some cases having them as travel companions during your stay. It’s a way to intimately experience the real culture of your destination’s everyday life.

And, did I mention it is free?!

Why should you CouchSurf?

There are dozens of reasons! First and foremost it’s a free place to stay during your trip.  But, even when that is a big deal for budget travelers, it is not the main reason to CouchSurf.  It is an incredible way to experience the hospitality of a new destination with the inevitable local touch provided by your host. It’s a way to make friends on the road, to experience the local culture from a local perspective, to escape typical tourist traps, and more.

How to CouchSurf?

In order to CouchSurf, you have to become a member (for free), and fill out a profile with certain personal information, hobbies, interests, and other information you’re comfortable sharing and that gives a sense of who you are.  This is basically the most important step to become a CouchSurfer.  It will make or break your chances of being hosted or being considered as a host.

You should also set your preferences of the extent of your participation. (ie. willing to host, just give advice, meet for a drink, etc.).

Even though it’s called couchsurfing, not all hosts do have a couch.  Many have an extra bed, air mattress, sleeping bags, a separate private bedroom, and of course, a comfy couch, among others.  It varies drastically by host and they usually state it on their profile.

Couchsurfing

How to find a host?

Finding the ideal host is not as hard as it seems. It all starts by using their search tool to find matching profiles according to your destination.

Here are some tips that will help you find the best hosts.

  1. Spend some time filling out your profile – Whatever you decide to include in your profile, it should be honest! Let that other person know enough of you in order to entice them to make contact with you.
  2. Upload many pictures of you, of your “couch” if you have one, and even of you with other CouchSurfers – Putting a face to someone is part of establishing trust.  Likewise, you should only look for hosts with pictures.
  3. Be specific on how you filter your search – The more specific you get, the most likely it is that you will find a host that will be a good fit. You can use many of the filters their search provides, like; gender, location, verification level, keywords, age, and others.
  4. Read the full profile of potential hosts – Once you narrow down your search, you should fully read their profiles before considering contacting them. Also read the location they’re in.  Is it close or far from where you want to be?
  5. Request to “surf” with a personalized message – Once you have a short list of potential hosts, it’s time to message them with personalized messages.  Include something that lets them know you’ve done your research.  Do you share a hobby?  Like something in particular? (often turns out into a good sharing experience with your host). Also, briefly describe yourself and why do you want to CouchSurf with them.
  6. When you have your host, establish an additional contact method – If possible, exchange phone numbers to facilitate communication. I personally like to add my hosts on facebook after we’ve agreed to CouchSurf or just meet for drinks.  This is also a great way to know them, since most people have their “lives” publicly displayed there. Plus, it’s the simplest way of getting to know “who I am”.

Couchsurfing

Can you trust these random strangers you’re contacting online?

This is a concern most people have when considering to CouchSurf or not.  And it’s totally valid.  You feel like you are going to stay at some random stranger’s place, but think of this, that random stranger is opening his/her doors to an equally random stranger.  This is a community of like-minded travelers looking for a different way to travel.

But still, there are some “security and verification features” the CouchSurfing community has adopted to build confidence among its users.  Among those is the “official verification”, where the user donates a minimum of $25 dollars to verify their name (through a credit/debit card) and address (by entering a code mailed on a postcard).

Another lever of confidence is achieved through references of previous hosts and surfers.  The more detailed the reference, the more genuine it feels and it lets you know better how they interact with their host/guest.  And, there is also the Vouching system.  This started with the founders who vouched for the people whom they’ve met and trusted, eventually creating a “vouching” chain among active users that adds another layer of trust.  As a user, you can only vouch for others once you have been vouched three times.  So, look for other CouchSurfers who have been vouched before.

Once you’re hosted, is there anything you should do to repay the favor?

Not really.  But it is always appreciated to help with certain chores like cooking a meal, doing the dished, or any other way to express your gratitude.  But, in my opinion, a must is spending some time with your host.  Share stories with them, explore things they might recommend, or whatever might come along the way.  Remember, this is an exchange experience, not just a free stay.

Couchsurfing

Do I need to host or surf in order to be part of the network?

Even though hosting and surfing is a big part of the CouchSurfing experience, it is not the only way to be part of the community of over 2.5 million CouchSurfers worldwide.  You can use the website to find locals willing to meet for dinner or take you around the city for a day.   There are also many CouchSurfing groups per city that meet once a month or so.  This is another great way to meet travelers while at home or on the road.

Check out Adventurous Kate post on how to CouchSurf without CouchSurfing.

I’ve personally had great experiences with CouchSurfers whom I’ve hosted and whom I’ve surfed with, and whom I just met for a few drinks.  Some of them have turned into real friendships.

I honestly think this is a great and authentic way of travel.

Ready to CouchSurf?  Head over to couchsurfing.org to get that CouchSurfing experience on your next trip or at home.

Images 1, 2, and 4 from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Comments

  1. Ayngelina says

    I would never visit a country without couchsurfing at least once, you find out all the things you could never find on your own.

    And while I´m comfortable staying with people I also just visit the forums and participate in events like free day tours or social nights out.

    It´s an amazing way to immerse yourself in a country. Ironically the post coming up on commentluv features a day I met some couchsurfers and they taught me how to make pisco sour.

    • Norbert says

      I try to do that too. Couchsurf everywhere I go. It’s a great way to get more “intimate” with the destination. Btw, your Pisco Sours post is great. What a way to drink it! See, one of the great things about couchsurfing! :)

  2. Ira says

    I have grown to become a real fan of Couchsurfing. I have had the most fantastic experiences with most of my hosts and surfers. I’ve lived in Berlin for only 1.5 months and yet already I have a lot of buddies that I met through CS and I met somebody who has already become my friend and partner in crime in discovering Berlin (although she actually lives here). I’ve never come across so much generosity and trust as I have on CS.

    I’ve attended a couple of events and organized one myself last month and it’s never been easier to just start talking to people, share thoughts, ideas, etc. I guess I might sound like a commercial or something, but since I only have good things to say about CS, I might as well go for it. ;)

    http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/weltmensch/

    • Norbert says

      Hey Ira! Thanks for stopping by. I agree, the generosity is beyond what would anyone expect! BTW, one of my first couchsurfing experiences was in Berlin. My host was great and he showed me around so many cool places I would have never known otherwise. Last year I hosted him when he came to NYC, so I did the same for him. Great way to reciprocate, plus now we have a good friendship.

      It’s so cool the many experiences one can have through the couchsurfing community! :)

  3. inka says

    I really need to stop being such an old woman and start getting my head around this couch surfing concept. I don’t really want to sleep on some one else’s couch but I might start dipping my toe in by meeting for a meal or drinks. You have encouraged me Norbert.

  4. Grace says

    This post is perfect timing Norbert. I was just thinking of signing up on Couchsurfing.org. I’ve been hearing about it forever just wasn’t sure how safe it was! Based on the comments here…looks like I have missed out!

    • Norbert says

      Hey Grace, so nice to see you around! Go ahead and signup! Even if you just use it to meet people for drinks or just to tour around the city, you will love it! In my opinion it is pretty safe as long as you take careful consideration on the person you pick to host or surf with. In the end, we are dealing with people that are like minded and are looking for the same things we do… a great experience and a different way to get to know a new place.

  5. Cathy Sweeney says

    I haven’t couchsurfed, but think the idea is great. Just might try it sometime — even if it’s just meeting up for dinner or coffee. Meeting locals is such a wonderful way to experience a new place. Good to know about security and verification — always a good idea to check references before putting yourself in what could be a vulnerable position.

    • Norbert says

      Indeed, great way to meet locals and the local way of life. Yes, checking references thoroughly is a must for me (as it should be for everyone). I need to know up to a certain degree to who I’m exposing myself to. But, so far all my experiences have been great. I recommend you check out the groups in your area and subscribe to them so you can get notifications of the next meetings.

    • Norbert says

      Hey Rafael, great seeing you around! I definitely recommend you give it a try, at least to meet people for drinks or by going to the couchsurfing meetups in your area. If you’re comfortable with hosting/surfing… go ahead… you’re gonna love it! :)

  6. The Dropout says

    Wow, Norbert, it sounds like a great community indeed.
    I’ve had vague plans in the past to offer our daybed (which is slightly larger than a couch). I should get off the couch and investigate.

    • Norbert says

      You can couchsurf for as short as one day or as long as you and your host agree. I know of people that have couchsurfed in a single place for over 3 weeks. But the norm seems to be between a couple days to a week.

      I personally don’t stay for less than two days at a single place since I want to spend some time there to actually interact with my host. If I need a place for just one night, I just look for a hostel but still am open to meet for drinks or walking around.

    • Norbert says

      Hi Victoria. Good to see you around. It’s possible to stay with a host for one month, but it all depends on what you and your host agree beforehand. Most hosts are willing to share their space and time for up to a week, but there are a few that are really open and give you the freedom of staying for longer periods. Another option is to stay with 4 different hosts, one week at a time, during that month.

      When you’re looking for hosts, read their profiles because many of them state the maximum duration of stays. Then, it all comes down to what you both agree with. :)

  7. Shirlene from Idelish says

    We’ve not tried couchsurfing before! Probably because of all the uncertainty surrounding it for us. But now with so many blogs touting couchsurfing as the way to travel and with so many providing such useful information such as in your post, we’re starting to think we should give couchsurfing a go!

    • Norbert says

      Shirlene – I totally understand the uncertainty behind staying with strangers, but honestly, the people that agree to host you are likeminded travelers that love the sense of community and love to give a hand. Give it a try in your own home town, if you don’t feel comfortable, it will be easy to walk out. ;)

  8. Christine |Grrrl Traveler says

    I’ve still yet to successfully use CS and I’ve no doubt it works great. I made a few attempts on my recent 7 month trip, but I found it difficult, like a job interview or an online dating service. I’ve been noticing more profiles saying that they don’t want to just be a couch or a hotel, so it gets down to the dating process of writing about yourself, yr hobbies, CS style, etc…. I guess you need to put in the time if you want a free place to stay and friends have said it works better when you have references and friends already on it. Thanks for the positive light on it; it might reboost my batteries on the experience.

    • Norbert says

      Hey Christine – Well yes, the beauty about couch surfing is that it is not just a couch or a place to crash and go. It is like a social network of travelers. They help you experience the city with a local perspective and share with you their experiences and more. It is a great experience and if you’re open to it, I’m pretty sure you will like it. ;)

  9. Sam says

    Hey!

    Really enjoying your site – its very helpful!

    I was wondering if it is possible to “couch surf” as a couple?

    Cheers !

    • Norbert says

      Hi Sam –

      Thank you! Yes, it is possible to couchsurf as a couple. When looking for a host, make sure they state on their profile that they can host more than one person at the same time. :)

      Feel free to let me know if you have any additional question.

      Cheers!

  10. Sam says

    I really admire you! (if thats the right word..)
    I would love to just travel, it seems life is just in the way!
    HUsband, mortgage, setting up a business!
    I will just have to live through you! haha!

    • Norbert says

      Thanks, Sam! I understand how travel can get challenging when one has grounded responsibilities. Still, I do recommend you that if you have a passion for travel, do take your time to create a plan where you can either separate even a little bit of money to a travel fund and have a goal that “on X date I will go to X place!”. Be really persistent on it, work hard for it, and something will happen! ;) I don’t know what your business is about, but maybe it could be the door that could allow you to travel! Do not lose your drive on your business goals either, as they could go very far. Do follow many travel blogs, as they will keep you inspired and help you keep on focus, not just with travel, but with many things in life. :)

      • Sam says

        thanks :)

        we are off to Thailand for 24 days next tuesday which will be nice … its all lux travelling no backpacking :P its one last hoorah for a few years so we can get the business (paintballing) set up and my plan in to travel around Europe for 5-6 weeks in a few years (maybe a bit longer but we will see how things go) thought if i have a plan im more likely to work to it :)

        Congrats on living the dream!

        • Norbert says

          Love it!! Love that you’re going to Thailand, the paintball business (super cool!!), and that future Europe trip. Keep that mentality, because having those goals present will keep you working hard for them. Wish you the best on everything in life, and I’m sure your upcoming trip to Thailand will be an amazing experience! I LOVE Thailand! :D

          • Sam says

            Thanks!
            We went to Phuket for our honeymonlast year now we are going to Bangkok, Koh Samui and Phuket.
            Love Thailand! its so cheap!!
            Thanks again!

  11. Nhung - life is adventure says

    Couchsurfing changed my life. My English is better, I have many interesting friends from all over the world. Specially, I can travel with very tight budget and meet many locals.
    After 5 years using it, couchsurfing becomes a very special part of my life. Thanks for your great posts.

    • Norbert says

      Wow, I like how you say that couch surfing changed your life! It has certainly helped me make friends all over the world and get to know different cultures, but I think for you I has had an even deeper impact in your life. I’m really happy your experience has been very positive!

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