Continuing our Travel Tips week, after our Simple Guide to Italian Trains, we want to share with you our best tips on how to be an amazing guest on Couchsurfing.
We love Couchsurfing. We have been members for four years now and, as we usually say, we have had 80% amazing experiences, 20% super-amazing ones. We’ve met two of our best friends on CS and have no words to say how happy we are that CS exists.
True, it’s all going kind of corporate now, but it’s still a great way to travel on the cheap and connect with like-minded people around the world.
What is Couchsurfing? People sometimes ask. It’s besides the point of this article, but in a nutshell, Couchsurfing (or CS) is a platform that allows travellers to connect with people willing to host around the world. For free.
Yes, it is actually for free. No, it’s not dangerous. At least, not in our experience.
So, how do you do it?
1) Fill in your profile
Whether you want to be a guest or a host on Couchsurfing, you have to complete a profile page. It is not unlike a Facebook or Google Plus profile, with a profile photo and personal description, and other categories, such as Philosophy, Music, Movies, Books, and Types of People I Enjoy.
Your profile is the first (and perhaps the last) thing your potential hosts will see of you. Kind of a CV to an employer. So, do you want to be chosen? Spend some time on it, fill in all the categories, be as detailed as possible but don’t rabbit on. Which takes me to the next point…
2) Be Yourself!
It’s very easy to fall into the trap, and try and look awesome by showing off in general. Don’t, that’s all I can say. The first goal on CS is not scoring a free night, is having a good time. And you want people to appreciate you for who you are, not for you pretend to be. If you like each other, it’s great. If you become friends, it’s a winner. Which is why you should…
3) Choose your potential hosts wisely
Think of hosts not only as your friends, but as people you’ll be sharing your life with for a few days. If you love partying, don’t contact hosts that like quiet nights in. If you’re not comfortable sharing a room, choose a host that offers a private room. Use common sense!
Read your potential hosts’ profiles carefully, and if you think you won’t like them, don’t contact them. Only write to people you would genuinely like to meet. And when you do write to them…
4) Send them a nice, personalised message
CS has a guided format to messages; first you’re supposed to enter info about your trip, then about yourself, and finally say why you would like to stay with that specific host. Sometimes it’s hard to score a couch; on my holiday to Sicily last year, I have sent over 80 requests before receiving a positive response.
It took me ages, considering I always customise each and every request, but it’s not that difficult. Just include some references to the host’s profile, showing that you have read it. Sometimes all is takes is a simple ‘Hey! I have seen you have visited X, I have too/I would love to go’ or ‘You like X (insert band, movie, book), I do too’. It definitely increases your chances of being accepted. And don’t forget…
5) Don’t EVER send copy paste messages
I have been a host and a guest on CS, and let me tell you, nothing is worse than copy-pasted messages. They just scream ‘Hey! I’m a freeloader! I don’t care who you are and what you do, so long I can crash at your place’. Really annoying for someone who genuinely loves CS.
By all means, you can copy paste the part about yourself. After all, that doesn’t change, right? At least not until your next birthday. I have received so many ‘Hi There! I am X from X, I am visiting Milan and would love to crash on your couch. I was really impressed by your profile. Let me know, Thanks.’ Now, why would I want to host someone that didn’t even take the time to write ‘Hi Margherita’?
6) Stay more than one night
I personally don’t like to host people for one night. CS is not a free hostel platform; it is a way to meet people. How can you connect in just one night? I mean, there are exceptions to this of course, but I love to stay (and host people who stay) for at least three nights. If you need to find a place for one night, book a hostel. This is just my opinion, feel free to disagree.
7) Be respectful
This goes without saying. You are a guest. Respect your host’s culture and house rules. Take your shoes off if they ask you to, don’t smoke inside unless they do so, don’t bring meat products in a vegetarian home.
8) Don’t be a freeloader
Don’t come with high expectations. You may be offered breakfast or dinner, then again you may not. It’s not a big deal. If you go out at night, don’t expect your host to pay for you. Do offer to pay for them if you wish to, but don’t feel obliged. I always like giving a gift to my hosts, perhaps a bottle of wine or some food from Italy. Again, you don’t have to. It’s just nice.
9) Leave a review
CS has a review system, similar to ebay. If you get lots of positive reviews, people will want to host you. If you are given a negative or neutral comment, maybe not so much. Leave a review for your hosts, and they will generally leave one back for you.
If you’ve had problems, think twice before leaving a negative or neutral review. What kind of problem was it? Was it simply that you didn’t get on? In that case, maybe it’s no one’s fault.
10) Be open-minded and positive
The best thing about CS is that it allows you to live like a local for a few days. We never say no to experiences and recommendations. Thanks to CS, we have spent a night under a canopy on a riverbank, experienced village life in Romania and eaten a scorpion.
Need I say more?
If You would like to know more about it, check out The Broke Backpacker’s guide to Couchsurfing – with stories about sleeping in a cave in Jordan and some more CS tips!
Have you ever couchsurfed? How was your experience? I would love to hear about it!