Hotels aren’t the only places to book accommodations. Airbnb, Flipkey, and HomeAway are among the growing number of platforms that enable travelers to find lodging around the world. Then, there’s Couch Surfing, commonly known as CS. Founded in New Hampshire, USA, in 2003, it provides travelers with a platform to search for a place to stay at a person’s home or apartment—for free.
Apart from having accommodations that are available without fees, Couch Surfing allows travelers to experience a city with a local, brush up on foreign language skills with native speakers, share travel stories, and probably make new friends along the way.
If you’ve never heard of Couch Surfing, or have been curious but hesitant to try it out, then read on to see if this unique way of experiencing your next vacation is ideal for you.
Who are couch surfers?
There are 10 million members worldwide, ranging from actors and doctors to lawyers and musicians, all sharing the commonality of meeting fellow travelers and being passionate about travel. Many couch surfers are singles or couples who generally stay for a few days at a host’s home knowing that a night’s sleep will either be spent on a couch or an air mattress in a living room. It’s not too common, however, for a host to welcome a family as the space to accommodate everyone in such a case is usually limited.
The process to become a couch surfer is quite simple. Upon registering, a person creates a profile, which includes adding images of the home or apartment and oneself, and providing personal information in the form of a short bio. Although a couch surfer may not always be in a situation to host, a profile that’s 55% complete allows a couch surfer to contact a host and request a stay. Some hosts are particular about who they welcome into their home, and may want to read other hosts’ reviews listed on a couch surfer’s profile. It’s also possible to be a verified couch surfer by paying an annual fee.
Is it safe?
Trust is a core theme for couch surfers and hosts alike. Will there be a personality clash, or will the host and couch surfer get along like two peas in a pod? That’s why it’s recommendable to review comments left on couch surfing profiles, read personal bios to get a sense of what the person is like, exchange a few emails before committing, and go with one’s gut feeling when it comes to accepting or declining an inquiry or requesting for one at that.
All in all, many hosts are enthusiastic to open their home to fellow travelers from around the world, and many couch surfers respect the home they visit. As a couch surfing host, you’re free to specify who is welcome to request a stay with you due to age or gender preferences. Keep in mind that as a host, you’re under no obligation to say yes to a couch surfing request.
What not to do as a couch surfer
1. Talk about financial issues – Never mention money problems as the main reason to stay as a couch surfer. A host wouldn’t appreciate knowing that a couch surfer arrives simply for the sake of having a free place to stay and not spend money on day-to-day essentials.
2. Not giving travel dates – It’s always necessary to specify your arrival and departure dates, as hosts may have other couch surfers coming to stay at any given time, or they may be planning to travel themselves. If you leave the departure date open, then a host will see it as a red flag and deny your request. A normal couch-surfing stay is about three days, and some hosts may state the maximum length of time allowed at their place. Don’t arrive with unexpected people, either.
3. “Sex-surfing” – Even though Couch Surfing is a social site, it’s not a dating site; although some couch surfers may not be adverse to flirting with a potential host to get a request approved.
4. Take advantage – Be considerate of a host’s hospitality, as their place isn’t a hotel. Hosts expect couch surfers to clean up after themselves and not act as if room service is included with a free place to stay. Also, couch surfers generally take a host out for a dinner or prepare a nice meal as a sign of gratitude.
5. Not being yourself – Don’t lie to a host. Be open and honest about yourself!
6. Broadcast emails – Personalize your couch surfing request by introducing yourself and saying why you’d like to stay with that particular host. By doing so, you make a good impression and show that you’ve read that host’s profile. Experienced couch-surfing hosts will read right through a generic, broadcast email and will most likely decline the request.
Have you experienced the world of Couch Surfing, either hosting or being hosted? Let us know your thoughts.