Couchsurfing.com is a website platform for connecting a global community of travelers, facilitating stays with locals or opening your home to visitors. Sometimes hosts can offer a private room and bathroom; sometimes it’s literally nothing more than a couch upon which to crash for a night. It is also a place to organize events in cities around the world.
We have used this platform to host eight amazing travelers, and we have also been hosted once abroad in Norway. All of the people we met through this platform were incredible. They all came from different walks of life, and they shared their own travel stories and cultural experiences with us (like teaching us how to drink like a Russian!).
We are the type of hosts who like to treat our guests to local Portland activities, hikes, and even trips to the coast. We enjoy meeting new people, and every experience is completely unlike the last. There are many reasons to love this platform.
Over our many hostings and stays, we’ve learned a lot. Here are five tips for mastering Couchsurfing.
1. Set Up A High-Quality Profile
As a host or guest just starting out, you need to create an in-depth profile. This includes an about page which goes through why you are on the platform, what your interests are, and what you can share with other travelers. The more detail you can put in here the better. Show other couchsurfers that you are human and have something interesting to offer your guests and hosts. Be honest about yourself. If you cannot show others why you’d be a fun individual, then you will not get the stays.
There is also a section that describes your home if you want to host. Here you can put in some details such as the maximum number of guests you can accept, whether or not you have pets, if smoking is allowed, and the sleeping arrangements for your guests. Again, pack in as much detail as possible. If you are near public transportation, mention that. If you have roommates, kids, or a sick dog, make sure that’s included.
- If you find you’re not getting quality requests, consider adding a code word near the end of your profile page. Instruct other surfers to include it in their requests in order to be considered. This ensures that they aren’t just putting out the same message to a dozen people and actually read your profile.
- Include some photos of the home or at least where guests will be sleeping.
- Set expectations for your guests’ behavior. If you’re an early riser or would prefer guests not use your kitchen, make that clear.
2. Be A Good Host or Guest
This platform is reference-based so it is good to be on your best behavior. If you have really bad reviews, it isn’t likely you will get stays. These tips should be common sense.
- Communicate well with your guests or hosts. If you are going to be later than a previously established expectation, let them know. If you’re hosting, provide advice on how to get to your home and what they need to do when arriving. If you’re visiting, let your host know if you’ll be joining friends for a dinner out or coming back early for a power nap mid-afternoon.
- Keep your space clean and tidy. Don’t leave dishes out or trash lying around. Treat your guest like a family member (that you actually like), and have them participate in the household. As a guest, don’t bring friends back to your host’s house without checking with them first. Pay attention to what your host does, and try to follow suit (if they take their shoes off at the door, turn off lights when they leave a room, use coasters for their beverages, etc.).
- Offer your host something like a small gift from your hometown, or make dinner for a night. Consider putting out a small bowl of nuts for your weary traveler guests who might very much appreciate a small snack after a long day of flights. These small gestures go a long way and make for more memorable experiences.
3. Make Quality Stay Requests
No one wants to see a generic message that was just sent out to 50 other people asking if you can be hosted. These are impersonal and make you look disingenuous. Be yourself, read their profile, find things you have in common, and mention those in your request.
After all, while Couchsurfing might sound like nothing more than free lodging, it’s actually all about meeting fellow travelers. You want to stay with others who have similar interests. And no host wants to be treated like a hotel. If you don’t want to interact with your hosts, stick with something like Airbnb.
A Couchsurfer can become “verified” through either hosting or by paying for a membership. We started out hosting and got enough reviews to earn some free verification. Each “stay” (a guest or guests stay with you for any number of consecutive days) earns you 3 months.
Verification isn’t necessary, but this extra step adds credibility to your profile and lets you stand out on Couchsurfing, especially when combined with good reviews. In other words, it cuts out the casual members who might not be as committed to the Couchsurfing mission. Generally, enough reviews and the above steps will get you the stays you need. People want to feel safe in their decision to stay with you (or have you stay with them) and know that you aren’t an axe murderer.
5. Leave an Honest Review
Reviews are key to this process. The host and guest review each other and will not see the reviews until they are both submitted. This way there is no backlash built into the reviews if something didn’t go right. If you had an amazing time, put it in the review with as much detail as possible. This helps your host or guest get stays in the future and acts as a big thank you to them.
As a guest, be sure to review your host as soon after your stay as possible. There is a limited window for your host to earn free verification months from each stay, and verification is triggered by completed reviews.
Tips For Hosts
- Be clear about what you are offering your guests.
- Say no to those who didn’t read your profile.
- Read the profiles of potential guests carefully.
- Trust your instincts. If you have a bad feeling, go with your gut.
- Block out your calendar for days you can’t host.
Tips for Guests
- Don’t overstay your welcome. Around 3-4 days is what is typical for a stay.
- Keep your host up to date on your daily plans, especially if they change, so they know when to expect you home.
- Stick to the hosts’ schedule. Don’t arrive when they aren’t home. If they are early risers, be very quiet after they go to bed.
- Share food and stories. Don’t hole up in your room for the entire stay.
- Don’t waste water or electricity.
- Cook a meal for your hosts, give them a gift, or take them out somewhere to thank them.
There are plenty of other ways to be successful on this platform, but these should help you get started. Overall you just need to be a respectful and genuine human being. If you aren’t sure about the ground rules, ask your host. Communication is key.
Now get out there, and get involved in the Couchsurfing community!
What are some tips you have for using Couchsurfing? Tell us in the comments below!
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