A Guide to Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

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 ClubGlobal FreeloadersPlace2Stay, 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.

Remember

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.

My Experiences

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.

12 Comments

  • Hi Jamie,

    Great points! My friend and I are planning on couch surfing for the first time this Spring. We created a joint profile on CS and have sent out a few requests. No positive response yet. Could you please have a look at our profile and give us your feedback? We would really appreciate it!

    https://www.couchsurfing.com/people/aarthisanchita

    Thanks so much! 🙂

    Sanchita

    • The profile looks fine to me, you just need some references. Get other friends who are already on CS to leave you references and maybe host people or meet up with local CS people to build some references. References build trust and this is where CS thrives and why people trust you without meeting you. Additionally, if you are trying to get hosted in popular locations (eg Paris), it is much harder to find a host. I never send out requests more than a week or so in advance as people’s plans change and they are less willing to accept someone who is not visiting until many weeks in the future.

      • Thanks so much, Jamie! Will definitely get some references and try to host someone before we leave. Last question, would getting verified make a huge difference?

        • I honestly don’t know, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing. I got verified when I first joined and got some friends to write me references, then I started finding hosts quite easily. That was about three years ago, but I imagine it should still work the same.

  • Actually I am rather a new comer on CS. One significant disadvantage is I don’t have any reference. Worrying if I’d never start as others will accept me.
    Some days ago a guy asked if I wanted to grab a coffee in the evening (kinda late). Wasn’t sure he meant only a meet up. Does it happen to other CSers too?

    • Once you get references, it does make things easier. Some CSers do like to arrange short, social meet ups, so it shouldn’t be anything strange. Doing this might be a good way for you to build up references. Just do what you are comfortable with and if you are concerned, take a friend with you.

  • nice post! it helped me with some doubts i had

    I just downloaded the app and want to start using it in january. But how could I do so if I haven’t got any feedback yet? Is it usual to accept people who just joined Couchsurfing?

    Greetings from Peru

    • The more reviews you get, the more likely you are for people to accept you. It’s a trust thing so keep on asking and try to build up a good profile, then everything becomes easier.

  • Hey Jamie,
    Nice post on CS. I know its a naive question, but I’m 26 from India and I I’ve not traveled much before but want to start traveling both within India and outside.
    Could you add a post / some tips which advice a beginner traveler on the dos and donts on traveling ?

    Thanks,
    Krishna

    • Do: Start! Everything else falls into place one way or another.
      Don’t: Plan too much – just see where you end up.
      Also, pack light and smile. Very basic, but this works for me and covers almost every journey I ever go on.

  • Cool intro! We love it too 🙂 and believe common sense should be enough to keep you away from danger. Keep enjoying your CS experiences!

    • Common sense does ever so much in life to keep you safe. Another great thing about couchsurfing is that it now includes safety features such as references and verification in order to help you stay safe as you travel the world.

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