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The Ultimate Guide To Couchsurfing

The top 10 things you need to know about Couchsurfing
The Ultimate Guide to Couchsurfing by Travel Done Simple
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If you’re looking for a unique way to experience a destination in addition to saving money on accommodation, then Couchsurfing might just be for you.  Couchsurfing’s motto is that you have friends all over the world, you just haven’t met them yet and I think this is the perfect way to describe it.

Couchsurfing is kinda like an Airbnb where you stay in the same place as your host, except with Couchsurfing it’s a lot more personal (and free!*).  You can think of Couchsurfing as getting hosted by a friend when you visit their city for the first time.  

They will offer you a place to sleep and might even spend time with you showing you around or doing other activities with you (if they’re not too busy).  

However, it’s not simply a free place to stay and you shouldn’t treat it as such.  It’s not for everyone, but for those that give it a try, they often find they love the experience!

If you’re interested in trying out Couchsurfing on your next trip, then you’ll want to read this page as I will go over what to expect from Couchsurfing and how to find a host anywhere in the world!

So without further ado, here are the top 10 things you need to know about Couchsurfing:

Table of Contents

1. It's a great way to get a local experience

The greatest part about Couchsurfing is being able to experience a destination in a totally unique way compared to being a regular tourist in a hotel.  When you couchsurf, you get to stay with a local and see what life is like in your destination.  You’ll get to make friends and spend time with someone who lives and breathes the city that you’re visiting.  

If your host has the time, they can give you a tour of the city, show you their favourite spots, or participate in a fun tourist activity with you.  Some hosts will even invite you to events they are already going to or to simply hang out with them and their friends!

If you’re a solo traveler, couchsurfing can be a great way to make instant friends with someone in the place you’re visiting.  And even if you’re traveling with someone else, the experience you get from Couchsurfing is completely unique and cannot be replicated by staying in a hotel or other form of accommodation.  

You could visit the same place twice, once as a standard tourist and once as a Couchsurfing guest and it would feel like a completely different experience each time.

2. Getting hosted on Couchsurfing is free*

While you can find a cheap Airbnb or hostel in almost every city, there’s almost nothing cheaper than staying with a Couchsurfing host since it’s free*!  If you’re traveling on a budget, it’s a great way to save money on accommodation.

*Note: as of May 2020, Couchsurfing now requires users from most developed countries to pay a fee of about $3 monthly (or $18 yearly) to be able to use it.  Some have reported that you can bypass this by using a VPN to trick the website into thinking you’re creating your account in one of the “free countries”.

That being said, you have to keep in mind that the people who choose to host you on Couchsurfing are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and because they enjoy meeting travelers as much as travelers enjoy meeting locals. 

If a host ever asks you for money to be able to host you, you should decline their invitation and find another host because people that ask for money on Couchsurfing, even if it’s only to offset the cost of you using their energy and water, don’t have the true Couchsurfing spirit.  Part of being a host is making that sacrifice for the sake of helping a fellow traveler out and not for making a profit.  Hosts get paid back in other ways for their kindness. 

2b. But you should be paying back your host in other ways

When a host chooses to accept you as a guest in their home, you are essentially in their debt and you should be treating it as such.  They are under no obligation to host you and the fact that they are is somewhat of a favor. 

And even though most people who host on Couchsurfing do it because they love giving back and meeting other people that love traveling, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still show your gratitude.

However, that also doesn’t mean you give cash or some other kind of monetary gift to your host for letting you stay in their place.  What it means is that you make sure that they don’t regret choosing to welcome you into their home.  

This includes treating them, their home, and their possessions with respect, cleaning up after yourself, and ensuring that you leave a good impression.  You don’t want to make it seem like you’re just there to take advantage of the free accommodation.

Of course, small things like chocolate, wine, or other personalized gifts are always welcomed and so are gestures like cooking a meal for them and offering to host them when they visit your city.  These types of gifts and gestures can go a long way in showing gratitude to your hosts.  

However, simply making sure your host has just as great of an experience hosting you as you had being hosted is enough in most cases!  At the end of a stay, you should have become good friends with your host.

3. You won't always be sleeping on a couch

While a couch is the most common thing that you’ll be sleeping on, it doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing.  Many hosts might also have an extra guest room with a normal bed which they let couchsurfers sleep on as well as other places available.  

Some hosts may even let you take their bedroom while they sleep on the couch, it all depends.  In my own couchsurfing experiences, I’ve been given everything from a mat on the floor to a room in a private guesthouse!  

If you are concerned with where you will be sleeping, you can always check a host’s profile under the “My Home” tab in the Sleeping Arrangements section.  Most hosts will tell you what you will be sleeping on in there, but it’s also a good idea to confirm it with your host via messaging before you show up as well in case they haven’t updated it.  

You can also filter out hosts by the type of sleeping arrangement available when you search for them in the first place, but some hosts either haven’t filled out that section or forgot to update it meaning you may be filtering out viable hosts.

The best thing you can do when couchsurfing is simply be flexible and easygoing.  If your host can’t offer you a private room, that doesn’t mean you should decline their offer to host you.  Be open to sleeping on whatever your host can offer you because that’s part of the fun of couchsurfing!  

Of course, if the only option offered is something you’re simply not comfortable with, then just move on and choose another host.

4. It's important to stay safe

Unfortunately, there are some people out there who use Couchsurfing for the wrong reasons and as such, it is extremely important to stay safe on the platform.  

If a host’s profile is barely filled out, they have no verification, and you can’t see their face clearly in any of their photos, it might be best to avoid them.  Couchsurfing is built on trust and if a host can’t even provide some information about themselves including a clear photo of their face, they should be avoided. 

Similarly, if a host doesn’t already have any references, that’s not a good sign either.  You shouldn’t stay with a host that doesn’t have any references.  And if they do have references, make sure they’re from people they have hosted before and not just personal references which can be written by anyone.  

Always read a host’s references before staying with them and make sure they don’t have any negative ones. They should have at least 5 references from previous guests, if not more.

When communicating with them, trust your instincts and use common sense.  If something feels off about your host, don’t take the risk.  Decline their invitation and choose another host or stay in another form of accommodation if needed.  

You should only stay with a host that you feel comfortable about based on their profile and how they communicate with you. To avoid any other issues, don’t use your full name on your profile or consider using a fake surname so they can’t find you on Facebook.

4b. But it's even more important for female travelers

Female travelers especially have to be cautious when finding a host as there are many creeps out there that try to use Couchsurfing as a way to take advantage of unsuspecting girls traveling alone.  

From having to deal with unwanted romantic advances to even worse situations, it’s important that you are aware of the risks of Couchsurfing and how to avoid them.  

Female hosts are not always easy to find with the vast majority of Couchsurfing hosts being male so at one point or another, you will have to consider getting a male host if you want to couchsurf.

Therefore, here are some ways to identify risky hosts when it’s not obvious from the start:

  • If a guy is only willing to host girls, it’s a pretty obvious sign of what he’s looking for
  • If more than 75% of his references are from girls, then watch out, especially if they’re all attractive
  • If he frequently mentions how much of a good time he’s had with other female surfers, that’s a bad sign
  • If any of his profile’s interests are “sex”, “hooking up”, or anything similar, avoid him
  • If the only sleeping arrangement he offers is a shared bed, you’re in trouble
  • If he compliments you on your looks or flirts with you before you meet, report him and move on
  • If his messaging is suggestive and he uses a lot of wink emojis, be wary of his intentions
  • If he is persistent in trying to host you by messaging you often and back-to-back, that’s not a good sign

 

And if a guy passes all of these filters, you still need to make sure to read his references carefully because even if none of them are negative, that doesn’t mean they’re all positive either.  Most people feel pressured to leave a positive reference after a stay on Couchsurfing, even if wasn’t the most positive experience for them.  

Read between the lines and look for keywords like the host being “very friendly” or taking “good care” of his guests.  Any wink emojis from girls should also be red flags.

Hint: casually mention a boyfriend in your request to your host.  It will instantly weed out many of the creeps.  Something simple like “I’m traveling around *host’s country* and my boyfriend recommended I visit *host’s city*” will dissuade most guys that are simply looking for an easy hookup.  However, this is not guaranteed to work every time as there will still be guys out there that might take your request to stay with them as a sign that you’re open to cheat.

And even if you do your due diligence and find a decent host that passes all of these filters and doesn’t give you any signs of being a creep, you still have to be wary with him because some guys might take your kindness and appreciation for being hosted as signs that you’re looking for something more, even if you have already tried mentioning that you have a boyfriend.  

If you have to be stern to make it clear that you are not interested in him, then do it.  And if a guy doesn’t take the hint, you may have to consider leaving as I explain in #4c.

At the same time, a host like this isn’t always a bad thing.  If you find a host attractive and the idea of something consensual happening with him is one that you might be interested in, then all the power to you!  

Couchsurfing isn’t meant for hookups, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.  As long as they are consensual, there is nothing wrong with them.  Many people have even found their significant others thanks to Couchsurfing!  But if you’re not looking for one, it’s important to stay vigilant.

4c. Don't be afraid to leave if you change your mind

Maybe you didn’t pay enough attention to the host’s profile or they did a good job in seeming likeable, but you find out once you meet them that you actually don’t have anything in common, or you don’t really get along, or they give you some weird vibes in person.  

Maybe their home isn’t as they described it or it’s a mess and you don’t want to sleep there.  Maybe they’ve become super flirty and you’re not interested in them that way, but they keep persisting.  Or maybe it’s even worse than anything I’ve just mentioned.

No matter what it is, if you are not happy with your host or your experience, don’t be afraid to simply pack up and leave.  Always have a plan B to fall back on and make sure a friend knows about it.  

If you want to be extra safe, before you stay with someone, give a friend the link to your host’s profile, their address, phone number, and any other important information about them so there is someone else that knows where you are staying and who you are staying with.

All that being said, don’t let any of this discourage you from couchsurfing because most people on the platform are actually super awesome and you can have some amazing experiences doing it!  Just be smart about it and you will never have to deal with any negative experiences.

5. You need a good profile to find a host

Now that you’re aware of the benefits and the risks, let’s talk about what it takes to actually get hosted!  

The most important thing you can do is make sure you have a good profile.  

You can sign up with Facebook or with your email address and once your account is created, you should start editing your profile.  If you want to see what mine looks like to get an idea of how to structure yours, you can check it out here.

Take the time to fill in your profile with as much information as possible.  

The more information you add about yourself, the easier it will be to find a host since it will be easier for them to see if they’ll get along with you and if you’re a trustworthy person.  

Give a short life story, talk about previous travels, your passions and interests, what you can share with your host (hint: cooking a recipe from your country works well) and what brings you to Couchsurfing.  If you’re also interested in hosting, fill in the My Home section too so that other surfers know what to expect if they want to stay with you.

Next, you should add photos to your profile.  

Make sure your primary photo is one where your face is clearly visible.  The rest of your photos should be travel-related, ideally showing off some of your previous adventures.  Pictures are worth a thousand words so try to show off your personality with your photos!  

Don’t go too overboard though.  I’ve seen some profiles with over 25 photos and it just gets exhausting trying to look at them all.  A good amount of photos is 5-15.  And avoid any provocative or dating profile-type photos if you’re not looking to find potential hookups.

Finally, you should try to get some references from other couchsurfers so that you have a few to show off to potential hosts.  

Anyone with a couchsurfing profile can leave you a personal reference and even though you may not know any friends with profiles off the top of your head, one way you can see who else is on couchsurfing is by linking your Facebook account if you haven’t already.  You will then be able to see all your Facebook friends who are also on Couchsurfing.  Find a few that you are close with and ask them to leave you a personal reference.

6. But you also need to know how to ask

A good profile is a must, but is not enough to be able to find a host.  Even if your profile is amazing, not knowing the right way to ask someone if they can host you will totally ruin your chances.  

The biggest mistake most people make and the reason why lots of people have trouble finding hosts is they send out super boring and generic copy/paste requests.  They usually look something like this: “Hey I’m coming to your city for a few days, can you host me?“.

There is so much wrong with a request like that, starting right from the beginning.  One of the most important things you have to add to a request is the host’s name!  Addressing your host by name is the easiest thing you can do that shows that your message isn’t a complete copy/paste.  

Forgetting to add the host’s name shows them that you can’t even take 1 second to personalize your message.  And please don’t accidentally put another host’s name either, that’s even worse! 

However, that’s not all that needs to be changed.  Remember that hosts are under no obligation to host you and when they actively choose to, they are doing you a favor by sharing their time and space with you for free when they could otherwise simply be enjoying their lives as they normally would if they don’t host you.  

If your request doesn’t take this into account and instead screams of entitlement/expecting to get hosted because you deserve it, then nobody will want to host you.

Every host knows that part of the reason you’re using Couchsurfing is because you are trying to save money on accommodation, but you absolutely have to show them that that’s not the only reason.  The best thing you can do is talk about what you can do for your host based on something from their profile.  

Of course you should still introduce yourself and talk about your plans for your trip, but you should also look at their profile and talk about an interest that you have in common, how you can teach them your native language, or how you can cook something traditional for them. 

Adding these kinds of details to your request will go a long way and increase your chances of finding a host by tenfold.  Also, be aware some hosts hide a secret word in their profile that you have to add to your request to show that you read their profile.  

Make sure you read the full profile of any host you make a request to so you don’t miss this because those hosts will simply ignore you if you forget to add it.  And if there’s something that needs clarification or you want to find out which part of the city they live in, simply ask them!

7. Getting hosted is a bit of a numbers game

All that being said, even if you have a great profile and you send the perfect request, you will not be guaranteed a host.  Hosts are still people after all and as such, they might be busy, have other plans, be traveling themselves, already hosting someone else for those dates, or just not feeling up to it.  

Only contacting one host on Couchsurfing is equal to not giving yourself a fair chance.  As much as I wish you’d only need to send one request to find a host, most of the time you will need to send a request to at least 5 hosts, if not more.

So if you want the best chance at getting hosted, you have to make sure that your requests are being sent to the best hosts possible.  Use the search filters to find hosts that match your personality and seem more likely to want to host you.  

Pick hosts that are active (have been online in last month), have their status set to “accepting guests” and not just “maybe accepting guests” (although you can still find hosts this way), and that aren’t on the first page of results, especially in big cities, as your request will get lost in the dozens those hosts receive. 

Make sure you are ok with their sleeping arrangements and other conditions and read their references to see what previous guests have said about them.  If everything looks good, send them a personalized request using the tips I provided in #6 and hope that they are able to host you.  Find at least 4 other hosts to send requests to and cross your fingers!

Also, the best time to send a request is typically 2-3 weeks ahead of your visit.  This gives a host enough time to look at their calendar and set aside those days for you.  While you can find hosts that actually prefer last-minute requests, most hosts don’t like them and prefer you make your request long enough in advance.  

It also gives you time to find another host if your first choice doesn’t pan out.  Don’t make your request too early though!  Not many people plan out their next few months that meticulously.

Hint: create a template for your requests that cover the things that you will mention in every request anyways so you don’t have to type it out every time, but make sure to leave empty spaces for the personalized parts of the request for each host.

7b. So use your 10 introductions wisely

If you want the best chance at getting hosted, you have to make sure that your requests are being sent to the best hosts possible.  Use the search filters to find hosts that match your personality and seem more likely to want to host you.  

Pick hosts that are active (have been online in last month), have their status set to “accepting guests” and not just “maybe accepting guests” (although you can still find hosts this way), and that aren’t on the first page of results, especially in big cities, as your request will get lost in the dozens those hosts receive. 

Make sure you are ok with their sleeping arrangements and other conditions and read their references to see what previous guests have said about them.  If everything looks good, send them a personalized request using the tips I provided in #6 and hope that they are able to host you.  Find at least 4 other hosts to send requests to and cross your fingers!

Also, the best time to send a request is typically 2-3 weeks ahead of your visit.  This gives a host enough time to look at their calendar and set aside those days for you.  While you can find hosts that actually prefer last-minute requests, most hosts don’t like them and prefer you make your request long enough in advance.  

It also gives you time to find another host if your first choice doesn’t pan out.  Don’t make your request too early though!  Not many people plan out their next few months that meticulously.

Hint: create a template for your requests that cover the things that you will mention in every request anyways so you don’t have to type it out every time, but make sure to leave empty spaces for the personalized parts of the request for each host.

7c. Verification will give you a better chance

If you are planning to use Couchsurfing for several destinations on your trip, you will find out quickly that 10 messages a week is not nearly enough and if you want the best chance at getting hosted for every stop on your trip, you’ll have to verify your profile. 

Verification is an underhanded way for Couchsurfing to make money off their kind and hospitable user base since all it “verifies” is that they’ve paid $60.  Although to be fair, it does discourage bad hosts from deleting their profiles and starting over with fresh references. 

That being said, if you do choose to verify your profile, you will still have some restrictions to prevent spam such as no more than 30 messages allowed over a 1 hour period, but in theory you will have unlimited “introductions”.  If you plan to do a lot of Couchsurfing, it may be a worthwhile investment to pay for verification.  

However, there is also way to get it for free and it’s by hosting other people yourself.  Any confirmed stays with you (meaning someone made a request, you accepted it, and they confirmed it) from brand new guests will give you 3 months of free verification once you’ve each left a reference on each other’s profiles (they have to be host/guest references, not personal ones).  

Pro tip: you can also trick the system by asking a friend to go through the process with you so that you get the 3 months of free verification without actually hosting anyone.

8. You can also find hosts using Public Trips

Contacting hosts directly isn’t the only way you can find a host.  You can also have hosts contact you offering to host you.  If you have used up all 10 of your introductions and you don’t want to pay for verification or you don’t have a friend that can help you with the 3 months free trick, then a public trip can give you another chance getting hosted.  

All you have to do is go to your dashboard, scroll down to the “My Travel Plans” section and click on “Create a public trip”.

Input your destination, dates, number of travelers, and a little information about your trip, and click Create.  Every host in that city can now see your public trip and contact you if they are interested in hosting you.  It can also be a great way to find a last-minute host if your original host cancels on you (which can happen sometimes).

However, I typically don’t recommend making public trips, especially if you’re a girl.  The reason being that a lot of those creepy hosts I mentioned in #4 often check for public trips in an effort to find new potential people to take advantage of.  

You will most likely get some weird messages and if it’s your first time using Couchsurfing, it may even turn you off the whole idea.  I’d say to avoid making public trips until you’re a Couchsurfing veteran so you know how to deal with them.

9. Be prepared for your stay

If you’ve found a great host, all that’s left is to prepare for your stay and enjoy the experience!  

If more than one host accepts your request, pick the one that you’d most like to stay with and make sure to let the others know about it because you can still hang out with them even if you’re staying with another host.  Either tell them that you found another host or if you’d prefer letting them off easy, tell them that you changed your travel plans so they think you’re no longer coming.

Inform the host you’re staying with of how you will be arriving in their city because they can usually give you directions and sometimes they might even be able to pick you up.  Before you arrive, let them know of your arrival time and if you’re running late at all.  

Confirm where you’re meeting them and make sure you have the right directions.  And get their phone number to keep in touch with them using a travel-ready phone and local prepaid SIM card until you finally meet them!

Once you’ve met your host, you will get to see their home.  Most hosts will give you a tour when you first step foot in their place and tell you what you can and can’t do, but always ask if anything is not clear.  

Take care of their home and ask before using anything if the host hasn’t already told you about it.  Always clean up after yourself and keep your stuff neat and tidy.  Be considerate and respect your host’s privacy. Treat them as you would want to be treated.

Find out when your host typically goes to bed and wakes up so you know what to expect.  And don’t spend too much time at their place during the day either.  Even if you’re not feeling well or you need a day off, do at least one thing outside because it’s weird for hosts when guests spend all day in their place.  

Let the host know of your plans and find out whether they have time to hang out with you or if you will mostly be on your own.  Get to know your host and enjoy their company!

10. Don't forget to leave a reference

When it’s time to say goodbye, make sure to thank your host.  A small gift isn’t necessary, but is always appreciated.  When you’ve left their place, make sure to leave them a reference as it will encourage them to leave you one as well since they won’t be able to see yours until they’ve left you one.  

This comes in handy if your experience wasn’t the greatest as you don’t have to worry about a host “getting back at you” in their reference if yours wasn’t a spectacular one.

If you didn’t have the best experience, but you don’t want to leave a bad reference, just keep it vague.  And if your experience was a bad one, be honest about it to warn other potential guests and make sure to notify Couchsurfing’s safety team too.  

But if it was bad because you didn’t read their profile, then don’t punish the host with a negative reference.  Instead, be honest about your mistake.  However, if it was really bad, don’t hesitate to file a police report.

That being said, as previously mentioned, as long as you’re smart about it, all the references you will write and all the experiences you will have with Couchsurfing will be positive ones!


And that’s all there is to it!

There is a lot to be aware of when it comes to Couchsurfing and I hope that with this guide, I have prepared you well enough now that you are ready to go out and find awesome hosts and have amazing experiences!

If this guide helped you, let me know in the comments below and tell me about your Couchsurfing experiences as I’d love to hear them.  And if you’d like to learn about other ways you can save money while traveling, make sure to check out my Top Budget Traveling Tips.

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Hi there, I’m Sebastian, founder and creator of Travel Done Simple. Since I turned 20, I have lived in 5 different countries and traveled to over 40 others! You can learn more about me on my About page and find me on social media.

Hi there, I’m Sebastian, founder and creator of Travel Done Simple. Since I turned 20, I have lived in 5 different countries and traveled to over 40 others! You can learn more about me on my About page and find me on social media.

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