Being an IT nomad, I travel to many places by myself. While this of course is an awesome experience, it does mean that I arrive in places not knowing anybody at all. There are many ways to meet new people, but for me, couchsurfing is the number one to go for meeting new
I‘m very often asked about Couchsurfing by people that don’t know it. Most of the time they are skeptic, wondering if I’m not scared that the host might not show up or turns out to be a complete weirdo. Even worse, some go as far as wondering whether I’m not scared to get robbed or raped, often concluding with the notion they will never ever do such kind of thing.
For me though, it’s the best source for new friends and experiences. So far all my Couchsurfing meet-ups and hosts have been amazing. So I decided to spend some time to explain what Couchsurfing is all about. More importantly, I will go over the different options to get introduced to Couchsurfing and some very useful tips to make it a safe an pleasant experience.
What is Couchsurfing?
The term couchsurfing is actually a neologism describing the practice of moving from one to another’s place and sleep in whatever space available. This could be a couch or even the floor. Generally the stay is just for a couple of days before moving on. It’s a way of travelling where you are not staying in a boring, expensive hotel but instead meet local people and exchange stories, skills and experiences for free!
But how do you find those people where you can stay?! Well, that’s where Couchsurfing.com comes in. This is the social network for finding a place to stay or just simply to meet up with locals and fellow travelers.
Couchsurfing offers different options. You can just meet up with locals by posting a request of your trip or write members directly. The mobile app now also features ‘hangouts’, a place where you can meet up with other surfers right at the moment for, for example, a drink in a pub.
Best though, and main service, is hosting or being hosted. You can search on different criteria to find a host in the place you are visiting. Usually the bigger the city, the bigger the chance you find a nice host where you can stay for a couple of days. And if you’re not traveling, you have to option to host travelers from all over the world at your own place. While of course you don’t have to, it’s a great way of getting a ‘holiday’ feeling while you are at home.
History of couchsurfing.com
The idea of the Couchsufing community and website comes from computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999. When he flew from Boston to Iceland he did not want to stay in a hotel. He hacked into the database of the University of Iceland and randomly e-mailed about 1500 students asking if he could stay with them. He received about 50 to 100 offers back. This is when he came up with the idea to make a website, registering the couchsurfing.com domain in 1999.
From 2006 to 2011 development and improvements on the Couchsurfing website was done by getting groups of couchsurfers together on so called ‘Couchsurfing Collectives’ events. After reorganizations, making Couchsurfing a for-profit organization, these collectives no longer took place as volunteer labor is forbidden in commercial enterprises by the US federal government. Today Couchsurfing is serving over millions of users looking for a place to stay or simply just to meet up with locals and fellow travelers.
The essentials for Couchsurf success
In order to do any of the Couchsurf possibilities, you are going to need a profile. Signing up is for free and you can get started from the get-go. Make sure you take the time to complete your profile. A single picture and no story is not a good incentive for other travelers to meet you, let alone host you. Remember, while the Couchsurfing community is a very friendly and open place, you are still a stranger to everybody, just as they are to you. Couchsurfing helps you completing your profile by dividing your profile in topics. All you have to do is fill them up!
If you really want to go the extra mile and use it a lot, it’s recommended to verify your profile. This means verifying your phone number and perhaps get a payed membership. It doesn’t cost much and you’ll support the team of Couchsurfing to build enhancements to our service, provide customer support, and grow our amazing community.
If you are planning on hosting you can even get your address verified. Couchsurfing will send you a post card with a code you can then enter to verify your location. Note that your address is never public so no one will be able to see this.
Last but not least, take some time to meet up, host or be hosted and write references. It’s probably the most valuable way of verification that you’re a true Couchsurfer with the right spirit and attitude. Besides, it’s very nice to read back the positive feedback you receive from the people you met.
How to find a host
So you are going on a adventure? Backpacking? Citytrip? No matter what it is, get involved with locals and experience your destination as it truly is. Finding a host to stay at can is a task on itself. Depending on your destination there might be very little options so starting in time is a good idea.
Couchsurfing offers the option to create a template. While I use these to send request to many people, I do definitely personalize them! Usually, I describe the main lines of my trip. Explain why you are travelling to that location, who you are and why you want to surf at a couch. When sending this out to hosts, personalize it to this specific host. Explain why him/her and what you have in common.
Now how do you know who’s genuinely nice and cool and who’s not? Here’s how I do it;
1. Search hosts
Browse the hosts in your destination. Apply filters to get better results that match what you are looking for. Very important to me is language, I want to be able to communicate. Other than that I check age and often a very helpful one is to choose a last login date in the near past. In that way you get the currently active members. But try out all the other options. The less filters, the more results, but the less of a chance on a really good match.
2. Check the hosts profile thoroughly
Read the profile of the host carefully! The more complete and up to date, the better. There should be some pictures too so you know how the person looks. Other than that, verification and positive references are a very good clue on how well this host might be. Did I mention to read the profile?! You don’t want to arrive at your host only to find out he/she has pets while you are allergic. Or that the host smokes in his/her apartment while you can’t stand it. Usually this info is in the profile.
3. Send a good hosting request
When it feels positive, go and send the host a request. As mentioned, be elaborate. Why are you visiting the place, why would you like to be hosted by this person and what do you have in common or what can you share?
4. Getting a response
Now wait for responses. Don’t expect an answer from everybody and if you do get one and your request got declined with a response of a few lines, don’t take it personal. Some hosts get many requests a day, so a response in general, even if it’s a decline, is actually a positive thing. But if a hosts accepts your request, it’s real! You are about to have your first experience!
Personally I appreciate it to have some contact with the host before travelling. While Couchsurfing does not recommend sharing phone numbers and only to communicate trough their platform, I often feel much more comfortable when I can chat or even call the host on forehand, just to hear and have a chat. In this way, if it does start to feel awkward, you can still cancel. For me, it even adds to the fun getting to know the host a little bit on forehand so you are not all completely new when you meet each other.
Other ways to use Couchsurfing
If you’re not traveling you can host travelers. In this way you invite to holiday spirit into your own house. An other option is to go out and meet people from all over the world in your backyard. On the website, you can find travelers that just want to meet up. You can also join member organized Couchsurfing events in your backyard or while travelling. Join discussions and answer questions or give and get helpful advise, all to be done on the website.
Other than that, Couchsurfing has a great app for both Android and Apple, a very useful tool for on the go. It offers a great feature called ‘hangouts‘. When you activate it, you can see who’s in the neighborhood and what they are up to. In this way you can meet a traveler in a matter of minutes to grab a beer, check out a museum or any other activity. There is no reason what so ever to be alone while traveling anymore!
Now try it out and meet new friends for all over the world! Me? You can find my profile right here.
Get the app!
Download the mobile app for an enhanced experience and usage of the hangouts feature.