Your Guide to Couchsurfing

We have tips on how to use the hospitality exchange website, such as couchsurfing.org if you’re looking for a place to sleep.

The advent of Internet has changed how we communicate and interact with people. Crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter.org and gofundme.com have proliferated, as have ride share apps such as Uber and Lyft. AirBnB.com has become mainstream and has garnered celebrity investors such as Ashton Kutcher. One site, Couchsurfing.org is a little different than the rest, in that people willingly offer their places to stay for free in exchange for nothing more than having a cultural connection with travelers.

Not surprisingly, many incoming international students going to study at urban universities, where housing is often limited or not provided, are clamoring to use the site for their transitional housing needs. Certainly, Couchsurfing has many advantages. First of all, unlike Airbnb, it is free, and we know most students need to be frugal with their finances. In addition, moving to a new country is stressful, and having a host who is genuinely interested in helping can make your transition much easier because he or she already knows the ins and outs of your new city. With that being said, here are some tips and tricks, and advice on staying safe when using a site such as Couchsurfing.org to help you with navigating the site and your new life as an international student.

Tip #1 Spend Time Exploring the Couchsurfing Site

 It is important to familiarize yourself with the website itself. There are many links to videos and testimonials regarding the website coupled with links to Couchsurfing’s Facebook, Instagream page, and blog. Furthermore, many additional tips and FAQs are available.

couchsurfing website international student voice magazine

Tip # 2 Creating a Profile:

I cannot stress how important this part is. If people are going to trust you into their homes, they want to know who you are. Often people select their surfers based on common interests, so fill out everything thoroughly and post several recent photos. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words.

Tip #3 Make Connections Before You Leave

Like many Internet websites, part of Couchsurfing’s success in how people are so willing to trust each other is based on each users’ references. When you’re new to the site your profile can look pretty lonely, and a potential host may be hesitant to trust you without any references. However, do not despair because there are plenty of ways to make connections before you leave. First, see if you have any friends who already use Couchsurfing. You can do this by using social media sites such as Facebook, which Couchsurfing has a way to integrate the two. If you do then make sure your friends write a reference to verify his or her relationship and level of trust with you. Also, remember to write one back for your friend.

If you don’t have any friends then don’t despair. Couchsurfing is well known for its members hosting many gatherings around the world. Find a gathering in your area and attend. This is a good way to ask questions to seasoned members on how to use the site. If there are no local gatherings then do a search for nearby Couchsurfers in your city and message a few to meet up for coffee. Even if these connections are short, they still will provide potential hosts with more information about you.

Tip # 4 Download the Couchsurfing App

Like many apps the Couchsurfing App is interconnected with a GPS, which could be useful when looking for locals. It has many of the same features as the mobile site.

cell phone app international student voice magazine

Tip # 5 Reading Potential Hosts’ Profiles

Make sure you thoroughly read your potential host’s profile. A better experience will be had if this person seems like you will likely connect with him or her. Couchsurfing is much more than having a free place to stay; it is ultimately about making cross-cultural connections. Furthermore, have a good understanding about where your potential host’s location is and actual couch or sleeping area. Couches run the gamut on the site. I have surfed places where I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag to having my own apartment, and even once sleeping on a sailboat. So yes, all experiences are unique and are not necessarily couches. Lastly, read your potential host’s references carefully, especially if they have less than 10 references. Most people are genuinely kind and hospitable on this site, and this site restored a lot of my faith in humanity. I have even met some of my best friends off this site, but that doesn’t mean unfortunate things have not happened. So, please be careful and read more below about staying safe.

Tip # 6 Writing a Request to a Host

Since I joined Couchsurfing in 2006, a lot has changed. At the time it was a relatively new concept and a rather intimate site, which meant finding a host was easy. Now with as many as 7 million members, it can get quite competitive to find hosts in popular and expensive urban cities. Therefore, it is important to write a good message that at least shows that you read your potential host’s profile. In addition, try to message your hosts several weeks in advance. There is nothing wrong with a last minute request, but again finding a couch is becoming competitive, and if you are unable to find one this leaves you time to make alternative arrangements at hostels, hotels, or Airbnb. All of this this may seem tiresome, but it will ultimately pay off in the end.

Tip # 7 Couchsurfing

When you meet your host for the first time, sometimes it can feel a little awkward or sometimes he or she may feel like you are old friends. Once your sleeping space is established, it is important to try to make an attempt to try and get to know your host. Many hosts may be busy and most likely are working 9-5, but a little bit of time for chit-chat and personal connection time will make both your experiences all the better. Lastly, while gifts or tokens of gratitude are by no means required, I personally believe they can go a long way. I always bring my host a small gift of something such as chocolate, or at the very least treat him or her to a meal or coffee.

Tip # 8 Writing a Reference

This is an extremely important part of Couchsurfing and not one to forget. References provide verification of trustworthiness for your host and yourself. It is equally important to be honest and tactful when writing a reference. If your experience was positive then leave a detailed reference regarding your host and your host’s couch. If it was neutral or negative this is also equally important to leave the information. If problems arise, my recommendation would be to contact Couchsurfing’s safety team and a local Couchsurfing ambassador in the city you are staying in.

couchsurfer1 international student voice magazine

Tip # 9 Staying In Touch with a Host

Don’t be surprised if you bond with your host because sharing an experience based on such a high degree of trust will bond people. If you feel this then don’t hesitate to keep in touch with your host via social media sites such as Facebook. Many of my current Facebook friends were people that I met off Facebook. Again, more than a free place to stay, Couchsurfing is about making rich connections.

Tip #10 Safety

 As much as Couchsurfing is a wonderful idea that has brought a lot of joy to many people, the reality is that it is not 100% safe. The Couchsurfing website provides a concise list on safety here: https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/safety.

In my personal Couchsurfing experience, I have relied heavily on the referencing system and rarely ever stayed with people who had no references. Don’t be afraid to exchange validating each other’s IDs when you arrive. Also, for new women travelers I would suggest staying with other women and families. Life certainly has risks and it is important to trust your instincts if you feel uncomfortable without worrying about being rude to your host. Be ready to have alternative plans and report any issues of misconduct to the Couchsurfing site.

Overall, my experiences with Couchsurfing have been great, and it has left me with very memorable experiences around the world; not to mention life-long friendships. I believe the site can be an absolutely useful tool for the newly arrived international student. However, my recommendation is should anyone decide to utilize the site would be to please do so responsibly.

 

Katherine Murrin international student voice magazineKatherine Murrin

ISV Ambassador

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2 comments

  1. i think we should try that ..

  2. Thanks for sharing, Katherine.

    My brother and I just returned from Spain and had our first CouchSurfing experience in Barcelona for 3 nights. We stayed with a couple and I thought they were great! Their apartment was in a good/safe location, and we had bunk beds to lay our heads at night, as well as a bathroom to freshen up. Towels and sheets were provided free of charge, too – which, was great, because many hostels would charge you for these items. No Wifi, but we survived!

    The couple made us scrambled eggs one morning, took us to a local restaurant with lots of yummy foods for a cheap price, as well as the Olympic Village for a night out. Furthermore, they helped us navigate the city telling us which metros stops to get off at for certain landmarks, and aided in looking up train times/prices to Montserrat – and, they also provided packed lunches for our day-trip!

    We were unsure how to “thank” our hosts throughout our time, but bought admission to one of the Guadi apartments for one of the hosts who wanted to join us, and also paid for a couple of meals out – which ended up being a bit more than I think others would provide for their hosts… But, we figured it was the least we could do.

    On the other hand, my brother didn’t have the same connection with the hosts as I did. He didn’t agree with some of their political views or personal opinions on certain things. I try not to get involved in politics, so I didn’t let it bother me.

    I suppose the thing to note is that everyone has different tastes and expectations of their CouchSurfing experiences. For me, as a first-timer of CouchSurfing, I was very satisfied with the arrangements. I should also mention that my brother and I were the couple’s first CouchSurfing hosts!…So, we were all new at this.

    I think all in all, we all learned a little something about each other, as well as CouchSurfing.

    I def recommend others to give it a try, for the sake of trying something new; and, maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Worst case scenario is that you get a free place to stay, and hopefully a shower. Not too shabby, right? Just be safe when choosing your host; and don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.

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