A Simple Guide to Couchsurfing: For Guests

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.

couchsurfing massi marghe ivrea
Me and Massi, our host, before the night parade at Carnevale d’Ivrea

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…

couchsurfing lena primosz
On the couch with Lena and Primoz, our hosts in Ljubljana

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…

couchsurfing tsvetan nevena nick
Nick with Tsvetan and Nevena, our hosts in Sofia, enjoying a Bulgarian-Australian-Italian dinner

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’?

couchsurfing mario marghe
Margherita and Marius, our host in Brasov

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.

couchsurfing geanina and mircea
Sitting nicely on the couch with Geanina and Mircea, our hosts in Bucharest

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.

CS is a wonderful way to keep your costs down on a long trip. If you’re planning to be away for extended periods of time, read this post on how much it costs to travel the world – full of excellent money saving tips!

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.

couchsurfing marghe lilia hasan
Margherita and Lilia, a fellow couchsurfer, with our host Hasan in Diyarbakır

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 ti

Have you ever couchsurfed? How was your experience? I would love to hear about it!


53 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Couchsurfing: For Guests”

  1. Wow this is a really great post, and so useful! We’re pretty new to couch surfing, having only done it three times. We loved it two of the times, but the other time the guy was a bit dodgy! No way of knowing from his profile – he had loads of great reviews. HOWEVER, it definitely hasn’t put us off at all, we think couch surfing is an amazing creation and intend to do it more.

    Thanks for such a helpful and wonderful post – with great pictures!

  2. We love couchsurfing and while we are currrently travelling are already missing hosting lile you Injate surfing and hosting for less than 3 days. I always say it is about accepting what hosts have to offer without judgement.

  3. What a great post and I totally agree with everything with you! 🙂 I’ve had a profile in CS for about 3 years now. I haven’t surfed that much but I really like hosting people. Now that I live in a smaller apartment than before with my partner and a dog it’s not as easy to host people as it was before when we had an extra room for surfers. So far my experiences have been good, except once when we got a no-show from a surfer.

    For a budget travellers CS is a great option – to travel more cheaply and of course you get to make a lot of new friends! But in the end the free accommodation shouldn’t be the only reason to surf – and I think that people who think like that, won’t be getting too many accepted couch requests. 😛

    • Hey Anne! Thanks for your comment. Great to meet a fellow CSer… we love CS so much that despite recent criticism we’ll never give up on it!

  4. Some sound advice… I’ve recently seen a post in the CS group on Facebook about the increasing frequency of CSers not leaving reviews. I think that is so important for both the Host and CS. I really like your points, especially #9.

    • hey Rashad! Thanks for your comment. I hate CSers just ‘taking’ and not ‘giving’, goes against the spirit!

  5. I love this article! Yes CS is amazing, such a great way to meet like minded folks and build new friendships 🙂

    I’m a CS ambassandor and member since 2009. I host weekly vegan CS dinners in Lisbon and I have to say that the people I’ve met so far are 99% AMAZING!

    • Hey Yara! Great to meet a fellow CSer! Same here, we’ve only ever had good experiences with CS. Love the vegan dinner idea!

  6. I’ve never done this, but it looks like you have met some great people through CS in your travels. I will definitely be passing this on to any friends who might be interested. Excellent how-to!

    • Thanks! Do try CS if you can, Dave, we can’t recommend it highly enough. So many great experiences!

  7. These are fantastic tips for anyone interested in couch surfing. So great of you to share your experiences, knowledge & fun photos. 🙂

  8. We haven’t tried couchsurfing yet but I can see your list is very helpful – a lot of these pointers pertain to Air B&B as well which we LOVE. I remember talking to my dad about couchsurfing and his first reaction was “Why would you want a stranger staying in your house – and vice versa” however as a traveler mine was the complete opposite – what a great way to meet people and have an authentic experience in the country/region you are visiting! I guess it isn’t for everyone but your post is very helpful for those looking to get into couchsurfing 🙂

    • Hey Calli! Do try CS if you can in the future, it’s very similar to AirBnB, you’ll love it for sure. My dad said exactly the same thing as yours, and now he’s hosting CSers too!

  9. Sounds like a great experience Eva! We were the same when we started, just surfed for ages, now we’re hosting as well (though not as often as we would like) and love it even more!

  10. Great tips, thank you!! I really want to try couch surfing on my current trip, but the problem is we rarely know where we´ll be when until a day or two before we leave – any tips for last minute couch surfing?

    Also, does being a couple hold us back at all? I tried to find someone to surf with for Barranquilla carneval but only got negative replies, which put me off a little 🙁

  11. Hey Emily! I totally get your feeling, it’s hard to keep going when you keep getting negative replies. Do not despair, a positive answer will come sooner or later.
    As I wrote in this article, when I visited Sicily I sent over 80 requests before receiving a positive reply. You have more chances of being hosted outside of big cities, and it is definitely harder during festivals.
    In cities, you can always try posting your request in last-minute groups, there is usually one for each big city.
    We are also a couple, and it has never been a problem for us. Hope this answers your questions, feel free to write back if you want to know more!

  12. I’ve always been intrigued by couchsurfing, it looks like you’ve met a lot of great people. Have you had any negative experiences?

    • Hey Brianna! I have never had a totally negative experience. Sometimes I stayed with *weird* people, but that also made for some good travel stories. A couple of times the host and I didn’t quite see eye to eye, and another time we had some logistic mishaps. I have had a total of about 40 experiences surfing and about the same hosting, so it’s not a bad average! Definitely try CS if you can!

  13. Great tips! CS is such a fantastic way to travel. I think the biggest bonus with CS is the people you get to meet and the interaction with local culture.

  14. Totally agree about the common sense! So many people get so caught up in the problems that COULD occur but can easily be avoided if you just use a bit of common sense! I’m not personally a huge fan of couchsurfing, but I know that is just down to my personal preferences and not from any negative experience. It is a fantastic way to travel for many and this is a great post for those who want to try it.

    • Hey Michael! You’re 100% right. I agree CS is not for everyone but those who are intrigued by it should definitely have a go. I have recommended it to countless people and those who tried it loved it most of the times. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Thanks for this article! I’ve been thinking about CS for a while however never got around to actually taking a proper look at it. Still not sure if I would try it since I can be somewhat of a loner during a trip, but who knows, one day…

    • Hey Antonette! I think you should try it one day, it can be a really amazing experience, in fact it normally is. If you love experiencing life as a local for a few days, CS is the most fun (and economical) way to do it. Most hosts will let you explore the city during the day, nobody usually forces their company if you feel like being alone for a while. Do contact me if you have any questions!

  16. Great post. I have been wanting to learn more about CS for a while now. My friends parents actually use it a lot for travelling around Europe. One day I will get the carriage to try it. Until then its Airbnb or hotels…

    • hey Bianca! Thanks for your comment! Grab your courage and have a go at CS, it will be a great experience!

  17. I have never couchsurfed so far but after I read your article it sounds more and more appealing. Maybe we should give it a try soon.
    Thank´s for sharing this great tips.

    • Hey Christina, definitely have a go at CS if you’re intrigued by it, you’ll love it! Don’t forget to write me to let me know how it went when you do try it, would love to hear about your experience!

  18. Guess I’m more at the age where I wonder if my kids will do this in a few years, rather than wonder if it’s for me. I’m glad for everyone’s sake the network is a little formalized. Takes a bit of worry away. Glad your experiences has been good. Common sense goes a long way. Happy travels!

    • Hey Jennifer, you’ll be surprised, I’ve CSed with people in their sixties and hosted several middle-aged couples. Never too late!

  19. Looks like you’ve met some great people CS! I have never done it myself, i think I’d be a bit nervous to! I often travel with my partner and he’s very meticulous about where he stays so I’d be a bit worried about him! Have you ever had a bad CS experience?

    • hey Samantha, one day you should muster your courage and try CS, you won’t regret it. Thanks for your comment!

  20. I love your CS guide post! I also use it a lot… I´ve been using it together with Hospitality club (which I haven´t used for more than 5 years now) for more than 10 years and most of the time it has been great. I have to admit that negative experiences are possible too so it´s really important to choose your hosts and guests very precisely but I´ve met some of the most amazing people in my life just because of CS!

    • Totally agree Elena. Negative experiences are possible, especially for solo travellers. We’ve had about 40 experiences surfing and about the same hosting and it was always good. Let’s hope it continues that way!

  21. I’ve never done couchsurfing before but I’d love to try it sometime. It’s definitely an easy way to meet new people while traveling

    • Hey Jon! Not in my experience to be honest, a gift is appreciated but not implied. I have used CS both during short breaks and longer travels, generally I would only take a gift when I wasn’t on the road for too long. Thanks for the comment!

  22. Great tips! I’ve never tried couchsurfing, but I’ve always been intrigued by it. We typically rent apartments or use points for free hotels, but I’ll have to keep this in mind as well. It’s always great to meet up with locals and create a network of friends around the world!

    • Hey Jenna, it is amazing indeed. I love how you get to experience life like a local for a few days, that’s why we love it so much I guess. That, and the amazing people you meet.

  23. I couldn’t have said it any better! We love and use couchsurfing a lot and I totally agree with what you said in this article. CS is such a lovely community and one of our best ways to get to know the local culture through the people we meet 🙂

    • Thanks Franca. It’s so true, and even with the bad press and the horror stories that have been happening recently, I still love CS! Thanks for your comment!

  24. I am newbie in couch surfing i did not ever but i am very curious about it and and i want to imagine about couch surfing feelings i get some useful information by this article which is gives me more courage and inspiration.

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