Couchsurfing: How to be a good host and a good guest.

My lovely Couchsurfing group from Vienna.
My lovely Couchsurfing group from Vienna.

“You have friends all over the world, you just haven’t met them yet.”

If you know me at all you’ll know that I have a slight (increasing) obsession with Couchsurfing. This incredible community has given me so much throughout the years and that goes far beyond just a roof over my head and a couch to crash on. Through Couchsurfing I have made countless lifelong friends all over the world, shared rides from one city to the next as well as countless beers and stories. I’ve been rescued from sleeping on the streets in Paris in the middle of winter, house-sat in central studio apartments and slept in the spare room of a luxurious downtown Toronto penthouse. I’ve attended and organised events from pub quiz nights and weekly meet-ups in Vienna to an ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ in London. As a solo traveler on a budget, it’s the best thing I ever discovered.

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What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is a global network of 10 million travelers, adventure seekers and lifelong learners in over 200,000 cities in every country in the world.

The free service connects travelers across the globe who share experiences ranging from hosting one another in their homes to having a beer to becoming close friends and travel companions.

Hotels and tour companies can give you a bed or show you the sites, but they can’t make your trip truly meaningful or memorable. People do that.

Couchsurfing holds unlimited possibilities of cultural exchanges, language practice, food sharing and other countless opportunities to learn more about people and countries you are in. It’s amazing!

 

couch-surfing-logo

 

How To Be A Good Couchsurfing Guest

Planning Your Stay

Profile. First thing is first, if you’re looking for somewhere to stay the least you can do is have a filled out, complete profile including pictures. Couchsurfing is not just about a free place to stay – it’s a cultural exchange. As an experienced CSer I understand we all have to start somewhere so I am more than happy to overlook a lack of references BUT an incomplete profile simply implies laziness and carelessness. You will find it much easier to find a host with a completed profile.

 

Couch Request. When contacting a prospective host it is very important to read their profile and make it clear that you have read their profile. There is nothing worse than a generic copy/paste message from somebody that hasn’t even bothered to take 5 minutes to read your profile. Read it, see if you’re likely to click with your prospective host, contact them and tell them when you’re planning on arriving, why you would like to meet them, how long you’ll be staying. Are you touring the area or in town for an event? Passing through on the way to someplace else? Couchsurfing while you’re looking for long-term accommodation? These are important things for your host to know. Now, I completely understand that it’s tough to send personalised messages to every single person, but have a general message template and then add to it for each person depending on what you have read in their profile.

Your host is a volunteer and they are most likely hosting so they can meet people, not so they can act as a free hostel to passersby. Think of stories and skills you can share with your host during your visit, and activities that you could do together. What can you offer YOUR host?

 

Reunited with the one and only Travel Dave in Tilburg in 2015. He was the first couchsurfer I hosted in 2009!
Reunited with the one and only Travel Dave in Tilburg, Netherlands in 2015. He was the first Couchsurfer I hosted in Australia in 2009! (He cooked amazing pasta!)

 

Creating A Great Experience

Share something with your host. Part of the fun is getting to know your host. A small gift shows your appreciation and can open up a warm conversation, especially if it’s a fun trinket from your hometown or the last place you visited. There are several ways you can give back to your host that wont cost you an arm and a leg. Things like cooking them a meal, bringing them a tasty treat from your own country, fill up their car with fuel if they’re driving you around, clean the house, help them in the yard, bring them a useful gift like toilet paper or washing powder – Couchsurfing hosts go through a lot of these things! Share your skills and teach each other something. This could be a song, a holiday tradition, sports advice, how to cook a meal from your country. If you know another language and your host seems interested, teach them a few words.

Couchsurfing in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Couchsurfing in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Trade stories. Talk about the places you’ve traveled, the customs back home, or just stories from your life. Ask your host questions about the local community, its history, and his own life. Personal and cultural exchange sets couchsurfing apart from a stay in a hotel, if you step up to the opportunity.
Respect house rules. Do your best to follow the instructions the host gives you, such as which entrance to use and when to keep the noise level down. Pay attention to your hosts habits as well, and imitate them if necessary. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or apologize when you make a mistake. A positive attitude goes a long way toward smoothing out minor slip-ups.
Be flexible and patient. If your host can’t be home to let you in during the day, find out when he or she can be there, and then find yourself something else to do for an afternoon. It costs nothing to be cheerful, enthusiastic, and appreciative of your host’s hospitality, and it can make a big difference in how your host sees you and treats you.
Be Clean. You’re staying in somebody’s house so it’s important to clean up after yourself as well as be hygienic. We all know what it’s like when you’ve been on the road for a while, perhaps it’s been a while since your last laundry load. Remember, nobody likes a stinky guest! Most hosts will let you do your laundry in their place. When I am hosting I always offer the washing machine and when I’m surfing I also always take them up on this offer if I’ve been traveling for a while. Also if you’re using the kitchen, make sure you clean up afterwards. And simple things like making your bed, not leaving your stuff sprawled everywhere, etc.
This lovely lady let me cut off a dreadlock in exchange for me turning vegetarian. #couchsurfing!
This lovely lady let me cut off a dreadlock in exchange for me turning vegetarian. #couchsurfing!
End of the Stay

Clean up after yourself! Again, this seems like common sense but leaving a host with more work, washing or stress is high up there on the list of bad guest faux pas. If your host provided a pillow, blankets, a towel, etc. ask what to do with them. Leave them there? Put them in the wash? Don’t leave anything behind besides gifts. Throw away any rubbish and even offer to take the trash out if you filled it up. Also, return any items you borrowed. You want to leave the place cleaner than when you arrived.

Leave your host a reference. If you had a great time, say so. A good review will help your host find couchsurfers that match their interests and attitude. But remember to be honest. Don’t just leave a good review because you think you should or because that’s what is expected. Write an honest reference that describes your hosts attitude, plus a couple specific things your host did that made (or broke) your trip. Mention anything you found surprising, pleasant or unpleasant; other couch surfers will appreciate being told in advance. If you ever felt unsafe with a host report them on the Couchsurfing community and leave a negative reference.
Keep in touch. Not all surfers and hosts will click every time, but if you did make a friend, trade social media or email contacts. Say hello once in a while and let your hosts know how the rest of your trip is going.
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Dinner with my couchsurfers in The Netherlands.
How Much Should you Give Back?
There are two ways of thinking about it:
  1. Consider what you are costing the host. E.g. water, electricity, food, etc and try to give back at least that much. That usually translates to $5-10 per day, depending on the cost of living where the host lives. Be generous.
  2. Perhaps an even better way to look at it is to consider the value of what the host is delivering to you. You’re often getting shelter, shower, clean sheets, towel, a concierge, laundry, and computer/wifi. Sometimes you also get food, transportation, and a tour guide. To get all that from a cheap hostel, you would have to spend at least $20/night and probably much more. Therefore, spending $5-10/night on your couchsurfing host is a good deal for you and will make your host feel appreciated. If you’re short on cash, give them your free labor for one hour.

Although this is all seems like common sense, it amazes me how many couchsurfers just take, take, take and don’t give back in any way whatsoever. Unfortunately, stories, “thank yous,” and smiles don’t pay the bills and the hosts are often just as poor as the couchsurfers and are trying to save pennies for their own travels too. Help them like they are helping you.

 

Dinner with my Couchsurfers in the Netherlands
Dinner with my Couchsurfers in the Netherlands

 

How to Be A Good Couchsurfing Host

Firstly, ignore what I wrote above. Don’t expect the guest to give you anything or do anything nice. Give unconditionally. I’ve been incredibly well-looked after in my couchsurfing days and it wasn’t until recently I was able to start hosting guests and that is when I realised how much it takes to host people. I see this as my way of paying it forward for all the good things people have done for me in this community and hope my guests will go on to do the same.

Secondly, whenever I host I remind myself how a guest feels and what he/she needs. When my guest walks into the door, I generally give them the ‘grand tour’ and I ask if they need:

  1. Shower
  2. Drink
  3. Food
  4. Laundry
  5. Wifi
  6. Nap/sleep

I want the people staying to feel at home and I try to make this clear from the beginning.

 

Welcome Drinks! Our Couchsurfer Alex bought us some Cha Cha from Georgia!
Welcome Drinks! Our Couchsurfer Alex bought us some Cha Cha from Georgia!

 

Profile. Most couchsurfers are looking for a genuine host, who takes the philosophy of couchsurfing seriously. Use your description to demonstrate that you are one of these people. Talk about how you discovered couchsurfing, and give your thoughts on the project. Describe any hobbies that you have, what kind of person you are, and what your dreams are in life. Additionally, use this space to hint at the sort of person you would like to attract. For example, if you’re a crazy party animal and looking for drinking buddies, this might be the place to put that in. This way, that non-drinker that goes to bed at 8 o’clock at night probably won’t want to stay with you. Or perhaps you’re the non-drinker that goes to bed at 8 o’clock at night and want to avoid the party-type.

If someone doesn’t have the decency to actually find out who you are before asking to stay with you, do you really want this person in your house? Of course, not everyone feels this way, and many don’t mind having random people using their house as a hotel. Most people I know, do not share this sentiment. In fact, many of my closest and most experienced Couchsurfing friends bury a sentence somewhere deep in their profiles asking you to mention a specific word or topic in your couch request. If you don’t mention that word, they know you haven’t read their profiles from top to bottom and immediately deny your couch request.

 

Be clear about what you offer as a host. Don’t offer more than you can afford money, time, space or any otherwise. Are you uncomfortable leaving a stranger with the key to your home? Write that in your profile. Are you all right with showing your guests around at night, but want them out of your apartment during the day? State that directly.

 

Trust your instincts. Once you’ve read everything you can about a potential surfer and you’re still not sure. They have good references, but it’s difficult to let down your guard and allow a complete stranger into your life. This is not something people normally do in polite society. It’s not within societal norms in most countries, particularly in big cities.

That’s when you turn to your gut. Are you excited to meet this person? Or are you feeling uneasy? Go with that feeling. It has never let me down.

 

Don’t be afraid to say no. There are many reasons you might want to turn down a potential surfer. Maybe you don’t have time. Or you’ve just had another guest and want some down time. Or maybe the surfer’s profile just doesn’t mesh with the type of person you want staying with you. Don’t be afraid to say no. You don’t even have to supply a reason if you don’t want.

 

Be Helpful. Keep a folder of bus schedules, maps and general information about your area. That can be tourist pamphlets, restaurant menus or even hand written directions to your favorite local haunt. Take an evening to show your guests around. Introduce them to friends. Take them to a local Couchsurfing gathering.

But don’t worry if you can’t do these things. Couchsurfing is supposed to be fun. It can be difficult enough sharing space with people and sometimes you find you suddenly have a huge work deadline or maybe you simply need to be alone.

That’s ok. Just let your surfer know that he will have to go out and about on his own. A good guest will respect that. You’ll also find experienced travelers — as the vast majority of Couchsurfers tend to be — are happy enough to go exploring alone.

 

Don’t expect your guests to clean up after you. They’re guests. They’re there to share time, space, maybe a meal or a drink out. If you want a personal servant, go to Craigslist and shell out the cash for someone who actually does that for a living.

 

Follow the golden rule. Treat your couchsurfers exactly how you would like to be treated if you were staying with the best host in the world. Go that extra mile to ensure that your visitors have a great stay. Offer to draw them a map if you think they’re a little navigationally challenged. Ensure they know they can help themselves to drinks and basic food. Pass on any hints you have about exploring your city. Do everything you can to build genuine connections with people. Help people out now, by offering them free accommodation in your home, and know you’re doing your small bit to make the world that bit more connected and peaceful.

 

Shisha in Austria with Couchsurfers turned good friends.
Shisha and drinks in Austria with Couchsurfers turned good friends.

 

Requests To Ignore

People with no photos on their profile – they haven’t understood the reason for them
People who don’t use your keyword if you have one– they are lazy and haven’t even bothered to read your profile.
People who don’t address you by your name – they are ‘cutting and pasting’ and again, probably haven’t read your profile.
People who have no references – unless they have a filled out profile with photos and send you a good, personal request.
People who want to stay for an indefinite period of time – these people, I find, want to live on your sofa for a month. You’ll have a hard time getting rid of them. 3-4 days is ideal.
Groups where nobody speaks a language you can at least understand – they will ignore you and speak between themselves all of the time.

 

My spare room for travelers!
My spare room for travelers in Leiden, Netherlands.
Remember. No rule applies 100% of the time and no two couchsurfing experience are the same. Trust your gut, use your own judgement and go with the flow and you should be fine.

 

 

 

For more information on Couchsurfing check out their website here. Or if you have any questions or couchsurfing experiences to share, comment below.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Couchsurfing: How to be a good host and a good guest.

  1. Couchsurfing is a really interesting concept. It’s completly different to what I’m doing while traveling, but it sounds like a great way to socialize and find a nice place to sleep without having to pay for it 🙂

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  2. Great article Gigi!!! You really covered all the basics and then some. I’ve never personally had any issues with first-time surfers but it is important to be choosy. I definitely get a number of requests where it’s obvious the requester has spent little time learning about the site or filling out their profile. I have a standard “no” message that I send that doesn’t provide a specific reason for why I’m saying no. I used to add a link to the CS guidelines but some people came back and were offended (?!?!). I’m sure they ended up at a hotel! I think CS is far from dead because there are plenty of people like us who keep the spirit alive. =)

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