Thought Catalog
August 6, 2014

A Comprehensive Guide To The Wild World Of Couchsurfing

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Image - Flickr / emdot
Image – Flickr / emdot
Couchsurfing is a global community of 9 million people in more than 120,000 cities who share their life, their world, their journey. Couchsurfing connects travelers with a global network of people willing to share in profound and meaningful ways, making travel a truly social experience. We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect. – Couchsurfing.org’s mission and value statement.

Is it safe?

Trust is the main platform of giving and sharing for any couch surfer. Over the years the Couchsurfing team have developed a system to help members stay safe. The most important part of it is the ‘reference’ system on members’ profiles. This is a public review that members leave for each other after any kind of face-to-face meeting, and they can rate their experiences as positive, negative, or neutral. The more details of the experience itself the better so that others can get a better picture before agreeing to host, surf or just meet other people in your city.

There is another feature called ‘vouching’, which I think is great. Vouching means that members can publicly declare their trust in each other. It’s more sophisticated than the reference feature because one has to acquire 3 vouches in order to be able to start vouching for others. Members are encouraged to vouch those who have really earned their trust and will publicly declare it to others.

Moreover, there is the ‘verification’ system that confirms member’s names and addresses. Members who verify their profiles get a green check mark icon and are featured higher up in the search results. All three features help your experience to be safer, easier, and better. Use them wisely!

How to use it?

The first step is to log onto http://www.couchsurfing.org, click on ‘Sign Up’ and register yourself. Then set up your profile by writing about yourself and your hobbies, interests, experiences, and personality. This will help other members see and understand you better and clearer either as a host or a surfer that people would have an experience with. Upload your awesome pictures that shows your personality and experiences.

The second thing you can do is start hosting, as a host, you can maintain the adventure and sense of discovery without leaving your home by hosting new friends from every corner of the earth. You’ll learn about new cultures and reignite your love for your city by constantly seeing it through fresh eyes.

And no, you do not have to host. Couchsurfers can engage with the community in whatever way works for them. Hosting is a great way to make friends and gain references before your next surfing experience, but it’s certainly not the only way. You can also meet fellow Couchsurfers by attending Couchsurfing activities in your city. Check out the activities happening around you in the city.

Have you ever wondered how different your life could’ve been if you didn’t take that right turn that day, or chose not to click on that website link? Well, I do… sometimes I wonder how my life would be without Couchsurfing. Two years ago I joined the site and started to interact with the community in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from the first day, and I started hosting one week after that! And then I had the most epic road trip with a bunch of awesome travellers two weeks from that date! Today, I want to suggest to you five tips for first time surfers that will make your surfing experience unforgettable!

Choose a suitable host for you

Make an effort to choose your host wisely. Make sure you read over profiles during your selection process, the more you know about your host before your surfing experience the better your trip will be. Strike up a conversation with your host at a suitable time before your arrival so you can start to get to know each other. Always address the host by their names when requesting a couch – spam requests are the worst, it will often make you look disrespectful.

Do some research and read your host’s profile thoroughly. Check their interests and hobbies and you’ll surely find something that you have in common so that you can talk about and share your thoughts on the subject.

When you write your couch request, make sure it’s respectful, friendly, and personal. Make sure you direct it to the host and that it’s not a general request! It is a good way to filter out the dedicated surfers from the hundreds of requests received every day.

Then all that’s left to do is enjoy your stay and prepare yourself for a great surfing experience.

Arriving at your host’s place

Make sure you get an exact address (with directions if possible), after all you are a foreigner on your first day with no knowledge of how to get to local places. One of the awesome things I love about Couchsurfing is the local experience, your host can tell you the cheapest and safest way to get to their house so you could avoid the usual overpriced taxis and scams at the airport.

A good practice is to buy a local sim card to have an easy option to contact your host or other travellers in the city.

Be a nice surfer, before arriving be sure to give them an estimated time of arrival, your host might be generous enough to offer to pick you up. Lucky you . Some surfers bring a souvenir from their home land to wherever they go and give them away to their hosts or other couchsurfers whom they meet on the way. Honestly, I think it’s a great habit and I’d recommend it. It creates better and more personal relationships.

You should never bring back strangers to your host’s house without permission, nor disclose their address. Sleeping away is something disrespectful and not cool, your host’s place is not a hotel where you can freely check in and check out.

If your host gives you an extra key, don’t lose it and always check with them what is the best time to get back so you won’t disrupt their plans.

Adapt quickly

Experience has taught me that a warm roof, clean drinking water and a safe place are the most crucial concerns. Anything more is a bonus. Be considerate of the expenses we take for granted. Remember that your host is paying the bills.

Adapt well to your surroundings and get familiar with the neighborhood area. Listen attentively to their advice and be sure to have a contact in case you get lost. Keep your area clean and offer to help your hosts with any household chores. I always find cooking one of our traditional recipes is a great offer towards my host’s hospitality.

All of these approaches will create a smoother, better, and a long lasting friendship with your host and will probably get you a nice positive reference on your profile.

Become a social bee wherever you go

I think it’s a nice approach to post a greeting message on the city or country group on the Couchsurfing website so you can introduce yourself to the local members and other travellers in the area, or even suggest a meeting. The last time that I did that I received an overwhelming amount of couch invitations and a lot of people offered to show me around their city, day and night.

The sooner you post, the more time you will have to coordinate your plans with others. There are always other travellers in town ready to get out there and have fun. It’s awesome, think of it! You basically have a ‘friend’ wherever you go, you can quickly meet friends and enjoy great experiences.

Locals know the best places to discover and not only the “Lonely-Planet-everyone-knows-about” sites. They know cheap places to visit, eat and to enjoy.

Make it count, make it unique

Find a way to make your presence there count, and stand out from the crowd. Your host has probably hosted and will host others. I always like to do something with my surfers and my host to create some good memories. Take pictures and have a great time together.

Keep in touch, stay connected over emails/Facebook or anything that works for you. It all serves you well in the end, and trust me it’s such a small world you never know when you might see each other again someday.

So what are you waiting for? Get involved, travel around the world! Meet. Explore. Share. TC mark