What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a community of over 5 million members from every country of the world. It allows travellers and locals to connect with each other online, in order to meet offline so that they can share hospitality, cultures, and adventures. It can be used to meet people both locally or on the road. Most commonly, couchsurfing is used to find another member who can host you (let you sleep at their house) for free.
How does couchsurfing work?
Users create a profile and use this to contact other members. It is also possible to create or join groups and activities related to personal interests or locations. If looking for a place to sleep, users can search for members by location and contact them directly. Other ways to find a host are using the open request function or group pages, as detailed below.
Why would you use couchsurfing if you can afford a hotel / hostel?
Couchsurfing is not simply about a free place to stay for the night. It helps you to meet great new people in new places and they will often show you interesting parts of their home area. I have been to gigs, restaurants, houses, and events that I would never have heard about if I had not been couchsurfing. When travelling, it can also be refreshing to get off the tourist trail and start spending time with locals.
Is couchsurfing the only website that offers this service?
No. Couchsurfing is my personal favourite and in my opinion, the best site to use. Other websites such as Hospitality Club, Global Freeloaders, Place2Stay, and Travelers for Travelers offer similar services.
Why do you recommend couchsurfing over the other sites?
I have successfully used couch surfing many times in the past (see my profile) and have had many wonderful experiences. Couchsurfing is bigger than the other websites that I listed above and you should be more likely to find a host anywhere in the world. It also has a rating system (for increased safety) and recently updated it’s interface to become more user friendly, as well as adding features that allow hosts to contact you.
Is couchsurfing dangerous?
In my (and many other people’s experience), no. Couch surfing uses a feedback system. After staying with someone, leave either a positive, negative, or neutral feedback so that other users can see more about the person in question. Look at a users feedback, pictures, and profile before deciding to stay with someone. If they have all positive feedback, you can assume that they are a good person to stay with. After agreeing to stay with someone, you can also post the details to Facebook (or anywhere) so that the whole world knows where you are staying and who with.
Where do you sleep?
It all depends on the individual involved. My experiences vary from a private apartment through to a floor space with 3 others. I have stayed in barns and squats while my hosts have varied from individuals of all ages through to families. Look at each profile for more information about the sleeping arrangements and it will be detailed there.
How do I start using couchsurfing?
Go to http://www.couchsurfing.org and sign up. Create a profile by filling out all of the information. This is important because users will look at this information when deciding whether or not to host you / be hosted by you. Bare in mind that everybody is ‘open minded,’ ‘easy going,’ and ‘enjoys travelling.’ You do not need to put them on your profile. Upload a few photos that show you in different environments with at least one that shows your face clearly. When using couchsurfing, I sometimes accept or reject invitations based purely on their photos. If a person does not have photos, I probably wouldn’t stay with them or let them stay with me.
How to find a place to sleep once you’re registered
The normal way is to press ‘Surf’ and then search for the location in which you want to stay. It will bring up a list of people’s profiles and you simply click them to see more. When you like a profile, send them a CouchRequest. Be thoughtful and polite and send out a few requests for each place that you would like to visit. Often people are busy or don’t check their messages in time. They may already be hosting at the time that you want to visit. When sending a couch request, you can also check the box that says ‘Other nearby hosts can send me invitations to stay with them.’ This creates an open request.
What is an open request?
An open request indicates that you are still looking for somewhere to stay in a certain area. It means that hosts can contact you if they are looking to host someone. I use open requests all the time because it saves me going through many profiles and means that I am only in contact with people who can host me. The downside is that you are not guaranteed to receive any invitations at all. You can also create an open request by clicking the small symbol of a couch at the top right of your page, then selecting itinerary and adding details for your trip.
Last minute requests
If you have been looking and you really really can’t find anywhere, you can use the last minute groups. On the groups page search for the name of the city in which you would like to stay in and find the last minute group. They are often titled ‘Emergency Couch [CITY].’ Here you can post why you haven’t been able to find a place and ask for someone to contact you. Do not use this as a normal method for finding beds because it is not fully reliable and also cuts down on the amount of emergency couch invitations for those who really do get stuck in a bad situation. You should only really use this option if it is less than 48 hours until you need a place to stay.
People are letting you into their home. It is not a free hotel. You should spend time with them and be polite. In rare instances, be aware of people who want to use couch surfing as a dating site (their profiles are easy to spot and avoid). If you are friendly, people will be friendly back. Often I bring a bottle of wine or offer to cook my hosts dinner. You do not have to do this, but it is a nice thing to do.
I love couchsurfing. Some of the people I have met will remain my friends forever. With others, I shared a few precious moments that are pleasant to remember, even though I will never see those people again. Enjoy your experiences.
This is just a brief introduction to couch surfing and not an extensive guide to using the site but I hope that it helps to give you a little outline. If you are looking for other ways to find free accommodation, please visit my Free Accommodation Around the World post.