Couchsurfing is a traveller’s best friend, but… What is it? How good is it? How can I join? All these questions will be answered, as well as a review and some stories about using Couchsurfing.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing (IOS/Android) is an online community of travels who host other travellers in their home. In other words, it’s a way to travel and sleep in people’s homes for free. Another reason people choose Couchsurfing, other than being free, is that they get to feel like a local and experience the country with the help of the host.
Getting started on Couchsurfing
First, register and complete the profile. When it comes to the profile ‘the more detail the better’, but don’t go crazy and write an essay because no one is going to read that. However, write enough so people get an idea of the kind of person you are. Join some groups of your interest, by using the search engine and selecting ‘groups’. That’s also a good way to talk with people, plus it’s on topics that other people have in common with you.
Selecting a host
Begin by searching for the place you’re planned to go and select a host. You’ll get a ton of hosts in the area of your choosing. Thus choose hosts that are more likely to reply to your request. These are people who say ‘accepting guests’ next to their name and check how recent they’ve been active on the site; this is stated next to their profile. Instead of looking through hundreds of profiles, use the filter feature at the top of the page. You can choose options that include pets/no pets, share room, public room, private room and more to narrow down your search.
Asking to be hosted
- Address the host by their name – yes an obvious one by if your cutting and pasting to more than one host this can be forgotten.
- Tell them why you want to be hosted. For example, to travel, to learn about a culture, to learn a language.
- Offer something in exchange of being hosted, for example, a skill, cooking or cleaning.
- Add details of your next trip on your profile. Click ‘create public trip’ and write the country and dates your going. Thereafter, hosts in the country can see your trip and can click to offer to host you.
I’ve found hosts using both methods, but I do prefer choosing the host rather than the host choosing me – just a personal choice.
Once offered a place to stay
I’ve used WhatsApp because it’s the quickest and efficient way of communicating with the host. I’ve found communicating through the site is not the best way for arranging the final details of your stay with the host, as it’s slow. The other advantage of using WhatsApp is that you’re able to message and call them via wifi. Most airports and café shops have wifi, even if it means you have to buy a drink.
At your host place
Once you’re in your host’s house, respect their place – again obvious – and offer to do something they said they would like to be offered on their profile or anything else you’re able to offer them. At the end of your stay, you can give them a present. (I like to do this. I usually give them a fridge magnet from London.) It’s a good idea to give something your host will like or doesn’t have.
Using the app feature ‘hangouts’
On the app, there’s feature called ‘hangouts’, where you can see the people in your local area who are using the app and want to hang out. In each group, it’ll show you the profile picture of people in the group and what they want to do, e.g. I want to explore or I want to have a coffee or tea, just below the picture. On the app click ‘browse hangouts’ and you can click on a group. Once a member of the group accepts you, join the conversation. If you want to create your own hang out just click ‘create hangout’ and you can describe what you want to do using the default comments.
Couchsurfing is a great way to meet people from all over the world. And as a traveller that’s exactly what you’re looking for; meet like-minded people – fellow travellers. You’re able to talk about your travels, share tips of places to go and what to do in places. What more could you ask for? When you stay with a host you feel like a local. AirBnB is the only site that even comes close that makes you feel like a local but still doesn’t compare to Couchsurfing.
The site has far more men than women, thus as a female if you ask to be hosted or use the hangouts you are bombarded with messages from guys. The few women that are on the site either say no to hosting or don’t reply at all. The site can attract creepy men who think it’s a dating site like Tinder, along with the lonely people who send a friend request to tons of people hoping to make friends. I’m not saying friendship is not a good thing; of course it is, but along with dating it’s not a friendship site. If these things happen as a result of using the site then fair enough but it’s not the sole purpose.
The ugly – stories that were told to me by other couchsurfers
A host told me about a woman’s experience who stayed with him. When the woman was sleeping the man, who was hosting her, would come into her room and watch her sleep. The following day she left. Good on her! I say.
When I was going to Rome, I received an offered from a host. I looked at the guy’s profile and the feedback left by a couchsurfer who’d stayed with him. It wrote: there wasn’t any room thus he offered to share his bed with me and while in bed he tried to have sex with me. However, feedback given after this woman was positive. Plus the host responded denying the comment. All in all this case doesn’t seem straightforward, additionally why you would get into a guy’s bed? I don’t know.
My experience using Couchsurfing
I haven’t experienced anything really bad using Couchsurfing. In fact, my first time using it was, when I was on my first solo travels in Mexico, and it was excellent. The Mexican host was a lovely guy. He had a cat and dog, I’m not an animal lover, but the animals were no trouble. In fact, the dog followed me around the house, which I thought was cute. I had my own room and chilled with me at the beach on his day off. Furthermore, he allowed me to stay for a few extra days than planned, as I couldn’t get an earlier flight.
My second Couchsurfing was in Canada, as I had a 22-hour layover from Mexico to London. The host picked me up from the airport, and coming from Mexico I was ill and helped me out in a tight spot. Other guys would have just laughed at me, but he was a gentleman. Furthermore, he cooked for me and another couchsurfer dinner, plus he took us out to meet up with other couchsrufers in the area. The following day he dropped me back to the airport. What an amazing guy! I hope to bump into him again.
For the Christmas holiday, I went to Malta and Rome and booked hostels as I got no replies from Couchsurfing. Close to my holiday, I got an offer in Malta. The plan was to stay at the hostel for the time I booked it for, and then go to this host but things didn’t go to plan, as he got creepy. He wanted to know where I was staying and the name of the hostel. Then he asked if he could see more pictures of me. By this point, I no longer replied to him and reported him to Couchsurfing. However, this didn’t send the message as he What’sApped me, I blocked him. Then Facebooked me, I ignored him and deleted the message.
When using the hangouts feature on the app, a woman at the hostel, I was staying in, organised a meet up at the bar/restaurant. This guy who called himself ‘Dollar’ and had a profile of his haircut appeared in the hangouts conversation. I laughed as this same guy sent me a message saying, ‘hi’, which I didn’t reply to as I thought this was weird. Every hangout the woman or I was on this guy would pop up in the conversation. He was ignored by both of us.
Another time I used hangouts was in Rome. Through the feature, I met up with 3 people who were good company. I had dinner with a person and the other 2 we walked about the city. However, when talking to another guy to arrange to meet, during the conversation there was a request to join the hangouts but the guy rejected it. I didn’t think this was a good sign because the idea of the hangouts is ‘the more the merrier’. I lost wifi coverage shortly after, in the end, I was quite thankful for.
Advice when using Couchsurfing
- Always have a Plan B – i.e. a hostel that you can book. In case something goes wrong i.e. the host is not what you expected or for whatever reason, the host had to cancel at the last minute.
- Look at the person’s profile. If they haven’t been bothered to spend the time to complete their profile and tell people a little bit about themselves don’t ask them to host you. If they’re not bothered to complete a profile that should take about 30 minutes, what makes you think they’re bothered about hosting or meeting like-minded people.
- Look at the person’s profile. Another thing. When reading a profile and you find something that makes you uncomfortable or you don’t like, don’t meet them. It’s better to find out about a person beforehand than when you meet them, by that time it’s too late.
- Don’t expect a free place to stay. Yes, Couchsurfing is free but you can’t just stay in a person’s place with doing nothing in return. Read the host’s profile and do a task or two that’s from their profile. Basically, give something in exchange for your stay.
- Don’t use Couchsurfing just for a free place to stay. This is one the biggest pet hates from hosts, are people thinking it’s a free place to stay and pay no interest in the host or having nothing to offer in exchange for their stay.
Advice for women
Don’t accept a host or meet up with a guy who…
- Comments on your appearance – it’s a sign for what he really wants.
- Sends you a message that you find to be unusual or makes you feel uncomfortable – if he’s making you feel uncomfortable through social media what makes you think he’s going to be any better in person?
- Asks to be accepted to all the hangouts you are involved with – AKA a stouter.
- Asks for more photos of you – again it’s a sign for what he really wants.
- Sends you tons of messages in a short space of time – plain desperate.
- After you have send no, still messages you – simply creepy.
- Asks you where you are staying and wants the address – simply creepy and a stouter.
If any of the following happen to you report it the site and don’t reply to the messages.
Overall Couchsurfing is a great site to meet other travellers and locals from around the world. It has its bad bits, but I think CouchSurfing is a working process. Speaking with other travellers who use the site, they believe it hasn’t yet figured out what’s about like Airbnb. I agree with this option. I think we should stick with the site, however, be vigilant and weed out the weirdos, in the meanwhile.
Let me know if this post helped you. Tell me opinions – anything to add – did I get anything wrong? – again let me know.
Will you be using Couchsurfing?
What’s your experience using Couchsurfing?