Many people are arguing whether Couch Surfing is safe or not. I realized sometimes the people who haven’t tried it have the biggest negative voice. I can say I have some experience with Couch Surfing, so in this post I would like to introduce it to you.
So, what is Couch Surfing? It’s a website, which is related to travels. When you’re going somewhere, you can find an accommodation for you, I mean a person who can host you. You can also host other people coming to your city, so it’s not necessary to be a traveler. In my opinion this is the best way to meet other people and get to know more about that culture (especially if you stay with a native local, and not an expat). The whole process is free, you don’t need to pay anything to join the community, and you don’t need to pay when you surf at some place. However, Couch Surfing is not for a free hotel, but a way to get to know other cultures. So, if your aim is to lower your cost during travels, but you don’t care about meeting people, maybe this is not the site you want to use.
When you join the site, you need to fill your profile. The more you write the better chance to get hosted. Of course noone wants to stay with someone who hasn’t filled his/her profile properly. And there are reference system, so after you stay with someone or you host someone, you can give and get a reference, which also shows other potentials how good (or bad) person you are.
Couch Surfing is usually for “one person” travelers (I didn’t want to write single, lol), or maybe for 2 persons. There are hosts who can welcome more people, but if you have a group of 4 people, maybe it’s better to stay in a hotel. And yeah, if there are too many people, the Couch Surfing won’t be about what it should be about. Personally I use Couch Surfing when I go alone somewhere, or when I go with 1 friend only. You can get a better reference if you’re alone!
Let me write more details about…
You can host people in 2 ways.
- The most common is, when you get a request from travelers who are visiting your town. The demand is big, but unfortunately the supply is not, therefore travelers write to many hosts. It’s not a problem, but if you get a copy paste request, you should think whether the traveler wants to get to know you or he/she wants to use your house to stay there for free. My strategy is to ask the travelers to mention their favourite food, so I know whether they read my profile or not.
- The 2nd way, when the travelers post their travel plans, so you can write to them and invite them to your house. If they accept it, you have a guest then!
When you host someone, you should lay down some rules. These rules are good to be stated on your profile as well. I mean, whether you give a key to your hosts, whether they can come in groups, whether they need to bring something, etc. You should also let them know what you can give to them (for example, if you cannot give them pillow, blanket, tell them, it’s not good for them to sleep without anything).
A good host spend as much time with his/her guest as possible. Of course it’s not required to be together for the whole day, but taking out your guest for a coffee or a beer is a nice gesture. I like going for sightseeing with them, as I can show them the best route, and we can talk about each others’ life.
I usually pick people up, but it’s not compulsory as well, it depends on you and on the guest as well. Whenever I had some free time, I went out to the airport/train station/bus station to pick my guest up. Just think how their situation is – if you were a traveler, you would be happy if someone would go to the airport to pick you up, wouldn’t you? 😉
Staying with strangers can be a little bit difficult, as you really depends on your host. Couch Surfing is not like a hostel, where you book a place, and you will stay there. Sometimes hosts reject the request, which gives a hard time for the traveler. I’m sure there is a way to avoid it, and so far I haven’t had any problems with it.
First of all, if you know the dates of your stay, book a room, which you can cancel anytime for free. I usually use Booking.com, where I book a fair room, and I can cancel it a few days before my trip. So, you have a B plan. Then, start looking for a host on Couch Surfing. Make sure not to write too early to your hosts – do you know what you will be doing in 6 months? …no, right? Then please don’t expect your host either to know his/her plans. I would say 1 month in advance is enough, but at some profiles you can see other preferences (like 2 weeks before, or so. Please respect them if you want to get an answer.)
Please read the profile of the people you’re planning to stay with. I know myself how bad is to read more than 50 profiles, but if you want to have a nice time with someone, you should do that. Checking references is also important. Make sure they have only positive references. When you write your message, write a personal one, write down your plans, and why you want to stay with them. I usually offer to cook some Hungarian dishes for my hosts… be creative. Write to more people, as sometimes the hosts get so many messages that they won’t reply to yours. I usually keep writing till I get a place to stay. Sometimes I need to write more than 10 personal messages.
Once you have a place to stay, STAY IN TOUCH with your host. Ask for his/her WhatsApp number, or Facebook account, and talk to them. Show them that you exist, because then they might won’t cancel your place in the last minute! Discuss everything in details, how, when and where you will meet.
You can also get hosted if you post your travel plans for the public, so people can invite you to their house. If you tend to be a girl, be careful! Many people use Couch Surfing for sexual purposes, so get ready to get a lot of invitations from guys with only a few references. This doesn’t mean that you cannot find a good host there, I have already found there my hosts, and nothing bad happened.
As I said earlier, after each stays you can write a reference about your host/surfer. The reference system has changed a while ago, so now it’s a little bit different. When I used the site last time, I could write my reference, and when my host did the same, we could see each other’s reference. If only 1 person write the reference, that will appear after 15 days, but the another one cannot write a reference. I think it’s because a few years ago people liked writing negative references if they got one from someone.
So, in a nutshell, I would like to write the advantages and disadvantages of Couch Surfing.
- You can meet people
- Your host knows the city better, she/he can gives you ideas what locals do
- As a host, you don’t need to travel to get to know other cultures
- You depends on others
- It’s not that flexible: you cannot go in an out whenever you want, you probably won’t get your own key
- You need to be very careful
- You need to plan more
I really hope I could give you a better insight to Couch Surfing. If you have a question, feel free to ask me about it.