People tend to ask me a lot of questions when I tell them about having couchsurfed on my trip. I slept on the couches, spare beds and extra mattresses of sixteen hosts, which adds up to nearly two (out of nine) months in total if you count the days. That’s an average of over one day for every week I travelled. To me, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made on my trip, but to others it seems to be a strange option. They just don’t get why you would want to stay at a random person’s house, even if it’s for free. That’s why I want to use this post to answer the questions I get asked a lot. This is going to be a tad long, but whatever.
(Always the first) question: Isn’t it scary?
Assumption: These are complete strangers! They could rape you! They could give you the wrong address and leave you out in the cold! God forbid, there could even be awkward silences (gasp).
Answer: Yes, you always have to stay alert and make sure to contact the right people. There might indeed be creeps on there, but luckily the website (couchsurfing.com) gives you a lot of information. The hosts describe themselves on their profile page, have pictures, may already have references from friends or other surfers and usually show you what their couch situation is like. Like this, you already kind of know who you are dealing with. If someone doesn’t have any references, I will probably refrain from sending them a message. The references are very important to me, because they show other people’s experiences with this person.
Question 2: Oh, that’s alright! So I get to choose who I stay with?
Assumption: If I send someone a request, I’ll be able to stay there if they have room.
Answer: Yes and no. After you have carefully chosen someone who you’d like to be your host, it’s still up to them to invite you. You are not the only one who has to deal with a ‘complete stranger’ here. These people are letting someone into their house and allowing them to use their stuff, perhaps even when they are not around. They will have to trust you like you have to trust them. That’s why you will also need some references (perhaps from friends who have an account already) and a full profile. Along with that you will have to make clear why you want to stay with them (why this person instead of someone else) and what you’re planning to do. Why are you in town? How long do you want to stay? Do you have time to hang out with your host?
Question 3a: Do I have to host to be able to surf?
Assumption: So it’s free, right? There must be a catch.
Answer: You don’t have to host, but you might just want to do it after having surfed at someone else’s place. Still, it’s completely okay if you don’t host. Maybe you don’t have time. Maybe you feel like your house is a personal space that you want to keep to yourself. Perhaps you’re stuck at your parents place and won’t be able to host anyway… Hosting is a very good way to learn how you can be a good guest, though, so I’d suggest trying it at least. I have only hosted once, but would like to do it again when I get the chance.
Question 3b: Do you have to do something in return?
Assumption: THERE MUST BE A CATCH!!
Answer: Most hosts won’t expect anything more than a fun, social experience. Their place is not a hotel, so please be kind and clean up after yourself. Think about what reasons they could have for actually hosting. Do they really just want to be nice? Do they want you to buy them a chocolate bar because they gave you a place to sleep? Or do they want to hear your travel stories and share theirs? It’s probably the latter (although the second one is always a nice gesture). I generally didn’t buy anything special to thank my hosts, although I may have bought a few some food or a drink while they showed me their city.
Question 3c: Did you feel, like, um, they wanted something in return?
Assumption: I heard that most people on couchsurfing use it for se-
Answer: No! I haven’t had any experience like that with a host. I’m sure there’s people on the website who are using it as some kind of weird dating/hookup website, but you can filter those out by looking at their profile, references or messages. The closest I got to anything like that was when I got invited to stay somewhere by someone I didn’t completely trust. His profile stated I would be sleeping in a separate room, but he told me his couch was broken so I’d have to sleep in his (“queen size”) bed together with him. I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but I declined his offer (you can always say no!).
Question 4: What if I don’t want to hang out with my host?
Assumption: Hosts will be okay with me doing my own thing as long as I don’t bother them.
Answer: Honestly, you’re kind of missing the point of couchsurfing if you don’t want to socialise with your host. Yes, being able to stay somewhere for free is a big perk, but it shouldn’t be your main reason for using the network. There are hosts who don’t have a lot time to hang out because of work, which means you’ll be on your own for most of the day, but there’s also hosts who would really like to show you their city and hang out all day if they can.
Question 5: So if it isn’t about the money, what makes it so good?
Assumption: If I want to meet people I could also just go to a hostel, much easier.
Answer: It’s true that you could also meet a lot of amazing people in a hostel, but you’ll get to know a lot more about the city and culture you’re in by hanging out with a local. Even if they won’t be able to spend a lot of time with you, you’ll be able to ask them about their favourite places to go and change your plans according to their advice. On top of that, the hosts are generally very open minded and interesting to talk to. Even if you don’t have a lot in common with your host, you’ll still share the love for travelling.
Question 6: So you haven’t had any bad experiences at all?
Assumption: There must be something!
Answer: I think my worst experience must’ve been just not ‘clicking’ with one of my hosts. He was a nice guy, even picked me up from the train station (like a few others have), but we couldn’t get the conversation going. If one of us wanted to steer the conversation in a certain direction, the other went the opposite way instead. I only planned to stay with him for one night, though, so that wasn’t too bad. Also, he made good food. I wrote him a positive reference in the end anyway – there was nothing wrong with the guy, he just wasn’t my type of person.
Question 7: Alright, to conclude, what was your best experience?
Assumption: There was probably one host who was the best and everyone needs to meet them.
Answer: Of course I’m going to be horrible and say I won’t ever be able to choose. I have met absolutely wonderful people and had amazing experiences I wouldn’t have had without couchsurfing. I’ll just describe all of my hosts in one (long) sentence.
1. Sang a Disney medley and made me my first pb&j sandwich
2. Took me to see an American football game in a bar on Sunday
3. Best meat pie chef around
4. Postponed work to take me to all kinds of places in and around the city in his convertible car
5. The most open minded, smart and funny person I have ever met, who doesn’t give a damn about what others think and can also be described as the person I would like to be when I grow up
6. Taught me to salsa, taught me how to ask for directions in Spanish and took me snorkelling
7. Took me to a concert with another host and surfer, you won’t be able to get more positive-minded than this guy, stayed there longer than I planned and he also hosted two other couchsurfers who I ended up going on a short roadtrip with!
8. Took me surfing (on waves, I mean)
9. Planned to stay for 2 days but ended up staying 8, went hiking and kayaking, watched movies, made me feel at home, other couchsurfers around too during that time
10. Okay so this is the guy I mentioned in the previous question…
11. Hare Krishna who welcomed me into his different lifestyle
12. Lives on a sailboat!
13. Live off the grid with an outdoor living room and a lot of chickens, philosophers
14. Big family, big house, huge amount of couchsurfers at the same time – so much fun!
15. Lovely couple, made an awesome case for my tablet out of an old towel because I was carrying it around in bubble wrap
16. Allowed me to stay very last minute because my friend (who I met before at #14’s place) was staying there too
As you can see: all amazing people, but all so very different!
TL;DR: Couchsurfing is awesome and you should do it too. If you have any other questions, please ask!