Image Credit: Unsplash (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)
It’s more than just a free place to crash. This guide to Couchsurfing for beginners has everything you need to know about sleeping on strangers’ couches (and letting them sleep on yours).
For as long as I’ve been reading travel blogs, I’ve held solo travelers in high esteem. Especially solo female travelers. Their independence and sense of adventure inspire me. When I decided to travel solo last summer, I knew I wanted to go all in. Completely embrace adventure! To me, that meant using Couchsurfing.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a social networking site which primarily serves to connect travelers with hosts in cities around the world. Unlike Airbnb, there is no monetary exchange between hosts and guests. That’s right. You stay for free!
For me, it wasn’t a matter of money though. I wanted the chance to discover a city from a local’s point of view. Since I was traveling solo, I thought it would be a good opportunity to make new friends. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous though. I get scared walking home at night, and here I was about to trust a total stranger! To say couch surfing was outside my comfort zone would have been an understatement.
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Opening your home
In May, I was at home at my apartment in Madrid when I received an email notification. I hadn’t used Couchsurfing for several years but had recently updated my profile in preparation for my upcoming solo venture. While I’d used Couchsurfing as a guest on a couple of occasions, I had never been a host. The notification said Arina from Moscow had requested to stay with me. She was a solo female traveler who had come to Madrid for a music festival. It was almost 7 p.m., and Arina wrote that she had yet to book a hostel for the night.
Well, it’s not like you have anything else going on, I thought. I took the opportunity to help out a fellow traveler and accepted the request. An hour later, I met Arina at the metro stop near my apartment.
“Thank you for letting me stay with you,” she said. “This is my first time couch surfing, and I was nervous.”
We spent the evening wandering from terrace to terrace and drinking wine. I couldn’t believe how much we had in common! Even though we had only known each other for a couple of hours, Arina and I talked like old friends. We’re still in touch, and I hope our paths cross again someday.
How to host surfers
If you’re interested in couch surfing, but not so interested in sleeping on a stranger’s couch, consider hosting! Put that spare room, air mattress or couch to good use! Hosting is a fun way to meet new people, show off your city and give back to the travel community.
- Make a Couchsurfing profile
- Tell potential surfers why you’re on Couchsurfing and what they can expect if they stay with you. Be open and honest.
- Set your preferences
- Consider your home and living situation. This is also an opportunity to set any house rules!
- Include important information for travelers such as your proximity to public transportation.
- Accept requests
- If you live in a popular tourist destination, get ready to be inundated with messages.
- While I respond to every message, I only accept requests that are personalized in some way.
- Prepare your home
- I always lay out fresh bedding and a towel.
- Hosts I’ve stayed with have offered maps and spare keys, so I can come and go as I please.
- Meet your surfer
- It’s advisable to meet in a public place.
- Before heading home, I like to grab coffee or a drink. It gives us a chance to chat, and that usually makes everyone feel more comfortable.
- Have fun
- Invite your surfer to spend time with you. Show them your favorite hangouts, and introduce them to your friends.
- Open your home, heart and mind.
Couchsurfing for beginners
Hosting Arina solidified my decision to couch surf during my solo trip. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I messaged potential hosts in Krakow, Poland. Although we had never met, I planned to stay with Maja for two nights. We agreed to meet at Krakow’s central train station. But when I walked out into the terminal, I couldn’t see her anywhere. I tried to recall the few pictures I’d seen on her Couchsurfing profile.
Could that be her in front of the McDonald’s? Before long, the doubt started to seep in. I wondered if I had made a mistake. What was I thinking trusting a total stranger?! Then, a voice behind me said my name.
“I’m so happy you’re here,” Maja said as she opened her arms to embrace me. “I just know you’re going to love Krakow.”
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Tips for first-time surfers
Because of the incredible people I met, I did love Krakow. My first night, Maja took me to an old factory-turned-beer garden and introduced me to her friends. We ate cow tongue sandwiches and traded travel stories until well after midnight. If you’re considering taking the leap and using Couchsurfing, here’s what you need to know:
- Listen to your gut
- Safety is a major concern and for good reason! I always meet my hosts in a public place instead of going directly to their home. Cafes make a great meeting point!
- If anything feels off, there’s no harm in parting ways.
- Bring a gift
- It doesn’t have to be anything big, but it’s nice to offer a little token of your appreciation.
- I like to bring a bottle of wine to share. On my last day, I also like to leave a thank you note written on the back of a postcard from my hometown.
- Utilize the platform
- Take time filling out your Couchsurfing profile, so you’re more likely to find hosts you’ll genuinely connect with.
- Read references! When I’m traveling solo, I only stay with female hosts who have multiple references. It’s all about what you’re comfortable with!
- Don’t be a slob
- Be respectful. Clean up after yourself.
- Most hosts aren’t going to come right out and give you house rules, so just try and follow their lead. This includes curfew.
Some travelers decide to use Couchsurfing because it gets them a free night to stay. But, it can be so much more than that if you let it be. Meeting Arina and Maja reminded me that travel is so much more than the places we see. It’s also about the people we meet and the connections we make. Until you travel, you think the world is full of strangers. But really, if you open your heart (and maybe your home) you realize many of those strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
Have you ever used Couchsurfing? Thinking about giving it a shot? Let me know in the comments below!
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