If you came here after hearing about Couchsurfing for the very first time and wanted to find out what Couchsurfing is, you have come to the right place. But also if you have a rough idea but have never used it there is a lot of information for you here to find.
Let’s jump right in and answer the question: What is Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing is a service that connects its members with travelers from all over the world. They can find people to stay with, people to host or just some people from all over the world to hand out with and make new friends.
The company was founded in 2004 by four friends who shared the same values:
- Share Your Life
- Create Connection
- Offer Kindness
- Stay Curious
- Leave It Better Than You Found It
The website and app connect 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities all over the world. It now enables social travelers to stay with locals in every country on earth and experience the world in a way money can’t buy. If you share these values mentioned above, then you are also a social traveler and you will love Couchsurfing and the doors it can open for you.
Notice how none of the five values is “Save money to travel longer”. That’s because it is not the mission of Couchsurfing to find you a free place to sleep. The mission is to create connection, to find someone for you to share your life and travels with and to make this world a better place by being kind and curious and learning about the places to visit. For me these values are not only the values of Couchsurfing but also the values of every social traveler. And they should be the reason and motivation to Couchsurf.
There is one big misconception going around about Couchsurfing. Before we jump into all the functionalities of Couchsurfing I would like to give you some ease of mind. The misconception is:
You have to sleep on a couch.
While it might be a couch or sofa in some places it might as well be a normal bed, a mattress or anything else (an air mattress or the floor).
You can just check with the potential hosts if you are really against sleeping on a sofa (or the floor). There are hosts who even offer you a private room, all for yourself.
App and Website
I find the website is easier to use, but if you are on the road it is practical that you get notifications on your phone and can respond to any requests or replies right away. The App is especially useful if you want to hang out with people (more about that below).
As I explained above Couchsurfing connects people from all over the world. The main concept was to connect guests and hosts easily, but by now Couchsurfing connects people even if they just want to meet someone to share an experience (hangout), have a question about their destination (discussions and local advice) or are just looking for a community where they live (events).
Set-up your Profile
You start by signing up using either your Facebook account or email address.
Next, you should upload a nice looking picture of yourself. Make sure you show yourself from your best side and don’t upload a picture of your dog or a nice flower or landscapes. Being able to see your face builds trust, and on a website that is predominantly built on trust you should make sure that you come across as likable, so aim for leaving a positive impression with your picture.
Also, take time to write your profile. This should be a task of about 10 minutes, so write full sentences and be yourself. There is no right or wrong, so write as much or little as you like, but I find profiles with only one or two words bullet points much less appealing than someone who conveys a personality through wholesome sentences (even if they are not in perfect English).
It is really easy to connect with other surfers through interests so mention your favorite TV shows and music genre on your profile, there are designated areas for this purpose.
If you are not sure what to write why don’t you go and check out my profile once you have signed up.
There is an option to verify your account in exchange for payment. If you pay you will become able to verify your adress and phone number as well.
Why Verification makes Sense
If you just pay for verification and are not planning to register your address and phone number, you can save the money and use it for something else.
A verified member with registered home and phone number can be made accountable for their actions and therefore there is a much lower risk of something bad happening if you stay with or invite a verified member. But this is only the case if there are an ID and phone number. Not every verified member does this so if you are out for safety, make sure to check what kind of information the person has registered in their profile. Following this logic and the need for safety of many Couchsurfing members a person with a verified account with address and phone number registered has a much higher chance of finding a place to stay than one who is unregistered.
Get Verified for Free
There is one thing I hadn’t mentioned before. You can become a verified member by hosting other Couchsurfers at your place. Every unique guest will give you 3 months of free verification that can cumulate up to one year into the future.
In my mind, this is the best option to get verification, and also the one that is most fun! Of course, I understand that circumstances are different for every person and there are many that are not able to host people at their place. Or who don’t have a place of their own. For these members, I recommend buying verification if they are planning on using Couchsurfing a lot in that year.
Become a Guest
So, let’s get to the core part of Couchsurfing. If you want to stay with someone somewhere in the world. How do you go about it? There are two options for you on Couchsurfing.
- Create a public trip
As you can see in the screenshot above you can create a public trip with information when you are going to visit a certain city, how many people your party will have and then some space to write details.
This way it will be possible for other Couchsurfers, Hosts and Event organizers to contact you or invite you to handout with them, stay with them or attend one of their event.
- Send messages directly
You can also find people yourself and message them directly. The easiest way to find applicable hosts is to enter “Find Hosts” in the search bar and enter the destination. You can then set some more filters and look for people who are hosts. Read their profiles and send them a nice request. From my perspective as a host I suggest you try writing about 1 month to 1 week in advance. Too early and the host might not know if he will have other plans, too spontaneous and the host will have other plans (or maybe that’s just me).
If you want to know what you can experience being a guest read my first Couchsurfing experience as a guest.
Become a Host
In your profile, you have three options to choose from for your hosting preferences.
- Not hosting
- Maybe hosting
If you are absolutely not interested in hosting other Couchsurfers, choose not hosting. If you might be interested in hosting, you are free to choose between maybe hosting and hosting. The opinions differ. Many people say if they don’t set it to hosting they don’t get any messages at all. I have the experience of receiving about 1 to 2 requests per week setting it to maybe hosting, but this might be also dependent on your location. Living in central Tokyo makes my place a quite popular place to stay and many try their luck.
Whether you put yours to hosting or maybe hosting, don’t feel pressured to accept just any guest. If it doesn’t fit your schedule, say so. If you just don’t feel like hosting that particular day, say it doesn’t fit your schedule ;-). If the person seems disagreeable or sends you a weird message be polite, but your best option in my mind is to say it doesn’t fit your schedule, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
I for one try to answer every request. There is nothing more annoying on Couchsurfing than having to wait and guess if the person has seen it and if they want to host you or not. I would rather have a simple no so I can move on.
Most of my answers to requests are a declination because I am busy working and I value my free time on weekends. So it just has to fit on a personal level for me to accept a guest.
My hosting experiences so far were all really good ones. I have had guests 3 times, all staying for one night at my small apartment.
The first was a couple from Tasmania, Australia. We really had a fun night and day together. You can read the full story here.
My second guests were two friends from Czech Republic. who came to Japan to backpack and pilgrim through the country for 3 months with Tokyo as their first stop. I had the opportunity to teach them a lot about places they should visit on their trip, but I also got new ideas on how to spend my time in Japan and what kind of experiences I hadn’t even though of, that are available in Japan. For example, they are going to stay in a Zen temple for a couple of weeks. They will work there in the garden and kitchen in exchange for free board and food and can even take part in the daily life of the monks living there and learn about meditation and Buddhism. In my mind an amazing experience and a really unique way to get to know a culture and religion first hand.
Participate in Events
If you have just moved to a new city or even country Couchsurfing events are a great way to get to know new people. In Tokyo, for example, there are weekly Couchsurfing Meetups, regular jogging events and other kinds of events you could participate in and make new friends that way. Participants are a colorful mix of locals and travelers and you never know who you might meet next.
Using your phones location tracker, you can now find people to hang out with in real time close to you. Just switch your status on hangout to one of the below. I want to…
- …grab beers
- …go hiking
- …drink tea or coffee
- …explore the area
- …go out & party
- …get some food
Depending on where you are you might find someone to join your activity right away. Of course, if you are in more remote and out of the way places it might be harder to find fellow Couchsurfers, but I would advise you to try anyway. Wouldn’t it be cool to meet another Couchsurfer in a small town in France or China?
You can also give or ask for advice on any question related to a destination. If you are for example wondering where you can get vegan food in Tokyo than you should ask for Local Advice on Couchsurfing. The nice Tokyo locals will then answer your question and tell you about your options.
Other Things you should know
There are some people complaining that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a couch as a solo male traveler. The reason seems to be that many female hosts are reluctant to invite a male stranger into their homes and many male hosts rather have female guests than male ones.
I think this all comes back to trust and how much effort you make to connect with the person you want to stay with. If you just send a message that says
“Hey I am XYZ from ABC and I will be in your city from first of November to 10th of November. Please let me stay with you”
then chances are high you won’t even get a response, or if you get one it will be a declination.
You have to give your hosts a reason to open up their homes for you. They don’t get any money so you have to give them something in return. And I am not talking about gifts (although a little acknowledgment from your home country is highly appreciated). I am talking about giving yourself. Connecting.
Writing something like this will greatly improve your prospects of finding a couch, at least if the host is thinking similarly to me:
“Hey, Lena I am XYZ from ABC. I will be staying in your city from first to tenth and would be grateful if you opened up your home to me. I saw on your profile that you are interested in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. I love them too. So if you want to we can watch some together. I would also love to cook something from my country for you. Or we could cook something together if you want to learn the recipe. If you want to we could go and explore your city together, but I am totally okay to do it on my own if you are busy. Let me know what you think. XYZ”
I admit that this way you can’t send 30 messages in 10 minutes to have a great reach, but I think quality over quantity will definitely work out well for you.
What have your experiences so far been using any part of Couchsurfing? How often are you using it? I would love to publish more stories about great Couchsurfing experiences in my Social Travel Stories. If you have a story to tell, please contact me!
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Lena is the creator of the Social Travel Experiment. Planning her trip around the world took a lot of effort. To make it easier for future world travelers she has made it her mission to teach others how to have an unforgettable trip around the world, through short stays with locals, without wasting valuable time or money.