A guide to couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is an online social network based on people’s hospitality, that has been online for years. This is how it works. You sign up for an account, and you can send people from all over the world messages asking if you could stay with them for a few days. Or you could list what you have to offer to other members. This could be a couch (or bed) to stay on for a few days, or maybe a tour around the town where you live. If you are currently travelling or do not have the place to put up other people, that is fine. You can still become a member and visit other people. Of course a little caution in selecting with you want to stay, or who visits you is wise. But my experiences with this site are nothing but positive. It is a great way to meet some amazing people from all over the world, and a very cheap way of travelling, as there is no money involved.
The couchsurfing basics
When you sign up for couchsurfing you can fill out your profile. Here you can give some information about yourself. You can divulge as much or as little personal information as you like. This is also where you fill out where you are based and what you have to offer people. You can say what the maximum time is people can stay, and if you offer any extras like a tour of the city, or an evening in the best pub in town. If you do not want people staying over you, you have the option to set your preferences to ‘meet for coffee’. This means you can meet up with visitors in your city and meet them for a coffee or show them your favourite spot, and tell them about all there is to do.
You are a guest at someone’s home, so behave like a proper guest. Be polite, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your own house, and be neat and tidy. Clean up after yourself and make sure you adhere to any rules your host might have. Make sure you are not an inconvenience.
I always bring people some typical Dutch gifts, like Dutch candy or a T-shirt from Amsterdam. This is nice and shows appreciation towards your host. They are putting you up for a couple of days, and sometimes that can be inconvenient for them. Some people also offer to cook them a nice dinner, or help out around the house.
Don’t expect your host to entertain you the whole time. Often a host has to work and has other commitments. So make sure you go out and do things for yourself. Of course if the host offers to take you out or show you around, this is great.
Make sure you are always safe. The majority of the couchsurfers are decent people, just in it for the fun of meeting new people and visiting new places. But there are some shady characters as well. Luckily couchsurfing.com has put up some safeguards to help you choose where you want to stay, or decide who you will let stay with you. As a woman I feel you have to be especially careful, although men should definitely check out their potential hosts or guests as well. These are some of my rules.
- Take a look at a user’s profile. If it isn’t filled out, I don’t even bother contacting them, and probably won’t let them stay with me either.
- There are several ways and levels to reach as a couchsurfer. You could for example verify your address, and be verified through your credit card (which you can then also use to send the organisation a donation). There are also some extra badges of trust users can earn. I always look at these stats, and if someone is not verified at all, or did not earn any badges yet, I am a little more careful. But if the profile and his reviews are good, chance are I will still visit them or let them stay with me. These badges need to be earned, and in order to do so you need to be an active member. If no one ever accepts your requests you will never earn any badges.
- Take a look at the reviews he got from other people, and the reviews he wrote about others. If there are many and they are all positive, this is a good thing. If there are a lot of negative reviews, I won’t stay there and I won’t let them stay with me. If there are no reviews this could be because he hasn’t been very active yet, or is new to couchsurfing. In this case I go back to the profile to check it out and see whether this person has verified who he is, or has any badges.
- I find the contact you have with your potential host or guest very important too. Is the person friendly, does he or she come of as reliable. Does he answer any questions you have to your satisfaction. If plans change continually that comes across as very unreliable. But if the potential guest offers to do something for you, like cook a meal, that is a definite plus.
In the end I always go with my gut feeling. You have to put up with this person for a couple of days. And either they are in your house, or you are in theirs, so it is important to get along, and not to be scared or distrustful. So far my experiences have only been positive, but I still stick with my rules and my gut feeling. In fact I just read in the site statistics that 99.47% of the reported experience are positive (and with over 4,624,026 experiences in total I’d say that is a pretty good score). However, I have said no to people wanting to stay with me a couple of times (way more often I have said yes though!), and I’m always careful in selecting who I want to stay with in foreign countries.
I hope you found what you needed on this site, and I hope you become a happy member of the couchsurfing community! It is a great and cheap way of travelling, and you meet loads of interesting people. It is also a great opportunity to show of your home town and country to visitors. If you have any more questions, please pose them in the comments section. Or, if you are already a member, tell me about your couchsurfing experiences!
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