Have you become curious about the Do’s & Don’ts of Couchsurfing? This is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a while; Couchsurfing, the site I was reluctant to get involved with when I first read about it in Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door: The Travel Skills Handbook back in 2012 before my move abroad. Now I’m a Couchsurfing junkie for both meeting travelers, as well as hosting and staying at other people’s places. For anyone that doesn’t know what Couchsurfing is, no it’s not the act of picking up your couch and taking it out on a wave. Seriously, many of the people I mention Couchsurfing to, often respond with a funny look and the words, ‘ you do what with your couch?’, this always cracks me up. The second reaction, after I explain further, is often a skeptical look with words similar to ‘What’s in it for the host? That sounds like a risky way to travel’. It often takes some explaining before we get to the point of ‘Ok I understand it and it sounds great, but I’m not sure if it’s for me’.
I do agree, this community isn’t for everyone, you need a certain kind of mindset before trying Couchsurfing. Without the right mindset, your experiences may fall short, feel shady, or bring about uncomfortable situations. Follow along to learn more about what type of mindset you should embrace in order to ensure your Couchsurfing experience runs smoothly. I’ll share with you my overall experience and reference some situations to give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t as well as some tips for a newbie Couchsurfer!
Alright, first things first, I have not been paid to promote Couchsurfing, I am simply an avid user who believes in the value of the positive experiences she’s had with the platform.
Couchsurfing has literally changed the course of my life…
I’ll get more into it in another post but let’s just say, when I moved to Scotland, I found my future flatmates through CS, ended up dating one for three years, who was Spanish, traveled and lived in England together and later spent some months in Greece. My adventures didn’t stop years after either. We’ve since broken up but here I am now living in Barcelona, Spain, have picked up enough of the language to feel confident communicating with Spanish speakers, and I am now in the position where I have the opportunity to really pursue my side hustle passions. Some would say otherwise and comment that I’m living a life with little and suffering more than I have to in order to do what I love but I have another perspective. I’d like to think my expat adventures really took on a new life of opportunity and excitement all because of Couchsurfing. Like I said, literally changed the course of my life.
For me, navigating the real-life situations Couchsurfing presented didn’t come with a Do’s and Don’t book and frankly, I probably wouldn’t have read it anyways. What I’ve learned is that Couchsurfing, if used correctly with a little common sense, generosity, kindness, and empathy, shouldn’t need a list of Do’s and Don’ts from myself or anyone else. With that said, I won’t give you a list of what to do and what not to do while Couchsurfing but I will tell you, if you have any hesitation about Couchsurfing for any reason, throw it out the window and just give it a go, but first, make sure your mindset about it is in check! I mean that really; if it’s not, you probably won’t enjoy your experience to the maximum.
Many people have the limiting belief that Couchsurfing isn’t for them but I would challenge them on that and say, ask yourself what is really holding you back; more often than not, there is some deeper issue not being addressed. My general advice, stop overthinking about every possible bad thing that can happen, you can’t prevent it anyway. Also, for all of you that think you’re a socially awkward or shy person and that’s your ‘excuse’ as to why you’ve never tried Couchsurfing, that’s a load of crap. I’ll touch on the idea of ‘what will my host and I talk about’ later on so stay tuned. FYI, we’re all capable of being socially awkward if we think it.
Tips for the Newbie Couchsurfer
1. Make an Account! – Now seriously, even if you’re not ‘ready’ to try it out yet for whatever reasons or limiting believes you have, if you create an account, at least you’ll be getting some annoying little emails from time to time reminding you to log in and be an active member. It may be just enough of a bug in your ear to make you say what the hell am I waiting for, let me get on this!
2. Create Your Profile – I would suggest filling out every part of your profile. It doesn’t need to be a novel but putting enough info into your profile to make sure you not only let people know who you are but so you don’t attract the wrong people is so important.
3. Start Hosting, Surfing & Sharing Experiences
Hosting – First things first, read between the lines when someone sends you a message to surf your couch. Use your intuition as a guide. You can pretty easily tell if someone is just looking for a free place to crash. I typically kindly decline generic messages, as they are only energy vampires.
Note: I once accepted a guest who sent a very last minute message for a host around 10pm the same night, and due to his situation with a lack of accommodation I without hesitation offered him my couch. Things come up and people get stuck without a place to stay, it’s always good to extend a helping hand and offer what you can to anyone in need. I’ve definitely been on the other side of things and know how it feels.
Surfing – When I am looking for a host, there are a few pieces of criteria I typically follow before sending a message. I first go off of my intuition always always always, this has never failed me yet with Couchsurfing. I follow it up by applying these basic criteria:
– The host must have a photo on their profile. This is a safety thing for me. It’s important to be able to put a face to a profile, not just a name.
– They should have a couple of references. Now I have said, ‘should’ which means that although this is important, if I get a good feel, based on the information in their profile and their photos, I will consider hosts who don’t have any references. Like I said, if my intuition nudges me, I will listen to it. In one particular situation, I stayed with an incredible host in Petrovac, Montenegro, who literally had nothing on his profile but by following that intuitive nudge, I decided to message him anyways. I’ve never had a more memorable Couchsurfing experience than this. Life is full of twists and turns and it just so happened that I ended up returning months later back to Montenegro to visit my host again. This time, my visit was to see an incredibly good friend. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but literally, if I discounted this person’s profile because of their lack of references I would have never been gifted with the incredible experience of getting to know them. I am incredibly thankful to this person still, for the amazing support they offered me so lovingly while I was going through an extremely tough point in my life. So, long story short, follow that intuition.
– This third piece of criteria may surprise you; I love reading through people’s profiles to find an interest they have that doesn’t match with mine. Yep, that’s right, I make sure that we share the same mindset about Couchsurfing but when it comes to interests, I actually prefer staying with people who enjoy things that either I don’t or I’ve never tried. I absolutely love this! I think meeting people with interests completely opposite from you, provides a valuable insight into something new and introduces a greater opportunity for understanding the interests of others.
Sharing Experiences – As promised, I’ll touch on the topic of awkward conversations since this is often a concern for many when they are going to meet someone they don’t know. My life of travel has been like a constant blind date except for the fact that instead of speed dating, I’m constantly speed friending ajaj.
Anyways, a situation or conversation is only awkward if you make it awkward, That’s not saying I go into every meeting with someone thinking we’re all buddy buddy but what I don’t do is go in thinking. I simply listen, speak, share, and it always results in an interesting conversation or at least an opportunity to learn from the conversation. Sometimes we don’t always connect, other times we talk for hours.
I especially enjoy the times where my host and I don’t particularly click, that’s for the reason that I can use it as a learning experience. I can ask myself, what was it that made me feel like X or why did I respond in a certain way to their comment about something. Just as much as I enjoy connecting with people, I also find it extremely interesting to feel a disconnect. Awkward experiences challenge me. I will repeat that again, Awkward experiences challenge.
Quick Tips on Safety
1. You can’t prevent everything but you can be safe and calculated about the risks you take. With that said, whenever I use Couchsurfing, I always send over a screenshot of the profile of my host, plus the information on the address/phone number etc. whatever information I have, to someone I trust. It could be a parent, sibling, or a good friend. As long as someone you trust knows your travel plans, you’re good to go.
2. Always have a backup plan in your head – If shit hits the fan with your host for whatever reason, always have a backup. Maybe it’s as simple as having looked up a few hostels before heading off or another host who’s offered to be a backup. Whatever it is, just make sure you have a backup.
3. Uninvited Invitations – Not all cultures are like yours. Most likely you’ll be in the situation where you’re just being nice and they’ll perceive it as something more. Believe me, I’ve been there, most times than I’d like to admit and I’ve learned, through many ‘awkward situations’ that being nice wasn’t just being nice. So ladies, my advice, be friendly, but if an uninvited advance is made, simply communicate with your host that you’re not interested. In my experience, this was all that was needed to have the individual back off. The worst thing you can do is freak out and get pissed off at them; this may cause them to become aggressive.
On another note, always remember, no matter how much you think you’ve clicked or you know them, you really don’t, so just aire on the side of caution and approach these situations with calm communication. In the case that you’re not feeling comfortable and your host isn’t backing off, my advice would be to discreetly pack your things and say that you are leaving. If the situation is more extreme and you don’t feel safe, there is no reason to notify your host, simply pack up and GTFO, and apply your back up plan. Don’t worry about needing to diffuse a negative reference, later on, get out and get safe.
Luckily I haven’t had to leave, with Couchsurfing, but I have been in this situation while doing a Workaway. I felt so uncomfortable I couldn’t even look at my host anymore. I made the decision to pack my things and I snuck away without notice. Let me remind you if you’re uncomfortable just leave. When I left this Workaway, I was on the island of Paros, Greece, little money and no plan B but guess what, I made one in the moment. I walked to the port, used the last bit of my money to buy a ferry ticket to Athens and I left. Yes, I was basically homeless and without money when I arrived to Athens but at least I felt safe.
Looking back, I could have viewed some of the CS experiences as negative and stopped using the site, making claims like many do, ‘It’s just full of creeps’. Some women actually post on their profile, NO MEN, after one or two bad experiences. My experience has been this…approach every Couchsurfing situation with empathy and understanding and some firm communication and you’ll never have a ‘bad’ experience.
As you see, I’ve not clearly told you the mindset you need to enjoy your Couchsurfing experience but I have shared with you my experiences through which I’ve used the mindset I speak about and I’ve had many incredible Couchsurfing experiences because of it.
If you have any general questions for me or specifics relating to my experiences while Couchsurfing, whether it be as a host, guest, or simply meeting up with fellow travelers, place a comment down below or let’s connect on IG @soul_essential_travel, I’d love to hear from you.
If you need help putting together your profile and want a few tips, don’t hesitate to get in contact, I’d gladly help. I want to spread the love and help ensure your Couchsurfing experience is the best it can be!
Apologies for the blurry pics but they were just so darn cute not to share. Loved this moment in Marseille France, Couchsurfing with my mom.