You have probably heard of couchsurfing. Strangers will host you in their homes, free of charge. You will sleep on the ground, in their garden, most of the time on their couch, or, more rarely, in a guest room. It’s a kind of “I’ll sleep at your place” and it’s more organized because it’s often planned in advance
You too can host travelers in your home. The goal is to have a cultural exchange, and live like locals
I decided to rely on this network for my world tour.
First as a host in Paris.
I was able to meet travelers coming from the destinations I will be visiting (Hong Kong, Argentina, Uruguay). The goal isn’t to stay with them when I travel but to have a first cultural exchange with people from the countries I will visit. They all helped me plan my trip to their country and gave me lots of good addresses and tips. Even better: we became friends
While they are in my home, I treat them as members of my family. I make them food if I can and walk with them to show them secret places in Paris. We exchange a lot of emails before their stay to plan visits. When I visit with them, I limit myself to the non-paying monuments and drop them off, if they wish, in front of paying attractions like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower
I adapt to everyone’s budget. For example for lunch, I ask them if they want to bring a tupperware or if they prefer to eat a cake in a restaurant. Some couchsurfers prefer to walk to save on transportation costs, so I offer them a program adapted to their mode of travel
If you are working and don’t have time, it’s not a big deal, offering your roof and a preview of your life as a “local” is already not bad
All my surfers were extraordinarily kind! After the round-the-world tour, I will host again
Couchsurfing is also a community.
I made friends through a Couchsurfers meeting in Barcelona while I was there on vacation
In Doha, Couchsurfing allowed us to meet expats working in Doha and spend a good evening with them in the middle of Ramadan. In Nepal, we were housed and fed in exchange for French and DIY classes in a private school. In Indonesia, we were accommodated in a dream villa by the water. In South America, we met up with our couchsurfer-girlfriends for a weekend by the beach
How to “surf” safely?
I recommend you to
- Stay a maximum of 2 nights at a host’s house to have enough time to talk to them and possibly cook a dinner to thank them. Beyond that, it becomes a little long for the host and the surfer
- Choose your host and send a personalized request instead of creating a “public trip”. Even if you have found a host, your “public trip” still appears on the search engine
- Carefully read the profiles and references of the hosts and if possible choose verified hosts (by postal address or telephone). This is important because some members, after many negative reviews, create new unverified profiles. Having only positive references is therefore not the ultimate proof. Personally I like profiles that have friends (who also have positive references). It gives a less virtual side to the person. Also prefer profiles that are active, and that speak one of the languages you master
- Be fresh when you surf. Indeed, surfing at home can be exhausting. After your visiting day, you will talk with your host, help him or her cook, or cook for him or her, clean up afterwards. Don’t surf the first day you arrive in a city, surf from the second day on, so you can have your luggage kept in the hotel until your host is ready to receive you, you will be fresher, you will have already contacted your family the day before, you will be more willing for a cultural discussion instead of sticking to your smartphone.
- Give your host’scontact information & link to his Couchsurfing profile to your family before you surf, to keep track of your travels.
How do I find a host?
To increase your chance of being accepted, here are some tips
- Send your requests 3 weeks in advance, but not too early either
- Make personalized requests! Typical personal requests: “please, I have no money, can I come and sleep at your place tonight”, I refuse them all. A typical request “what attracted me to your profile/what you can bring me/what I can bring you” is ideal.
- Do not send too many requests at once. One request every two days is sufficient. People respond quickly.
- Take care of your profile. Add a photo of yourself. If you have 0 referrals, ask a friend of yours to write one for you (couchsurfing can be linked to Facebook so you’ll see which FB friend already has a couchsurfing account)
- The system is based on exchange so if you’re just surfing without hosting, it sounds wrong. Try to host before you surf. On the one hand, it gives you a preview of what’s waiting for you, what your limits are (I noticed for example my 2 nights limit), and better appreciate the hospitality of your host because you’ve already been there. You know, sleeping on the floor doesn’t bother some people who travel with sleeping bags. Anyone can host, because the goal isn’t material comfort, remember!
And during the couchsurfing?
While surfing, here are some rules
- Always have a plan B. Couchsurfing is neither an Airbnb nor a hotel. Don’t rely solely on it for accommodation. At all times, you should be able to find a hotel in the worst case.
- Give a range of arrival times, as precise as possible. Your host is working too and won’t be able to wait for you all day.
- Clean up after yourself, whether your host has a cleaning lady or not.
- Be polite! If he says “make yourself at home”, it doesn’t mean you can empty his fridge, use his computer and search everywhere. Ask permission every time. If you cook, ask if you can use their oil/salt/pepper, things you don’t want to buy just to make two meals.
- Ask clearly for food so that there are no innuendoes. Hosts aren’t supposed to cook for you. They are already hosting you.
- Ask if you can use your sleeping bag. Some people think that it is better for the host who will not have to wash the sheet. But many hosts prefer to provide clean linens for surfers.
- If your host has to leave early in the morning and can’t let you leave just by slamming the door, make sure you are ready at the indicated time.
- You don’t have to give anything to your host, but a small gift or service always makes you happy: you can cook, invite him/her to dinner, buy a pack of beers and some snacks, offer to cook with him/her, offer postcards from your country, offer a bottle of wine, give language lessons…
- You can leave a thank you note before you leave. It’s always a pleasure, I assure you.
- Leave a reference on the Couchsurfing website within 24 hours after your departure, or even on the day of your departure. This is the minimum!
Sometimes, the vision you have of couchsurfing isn’t the same as your surfer/host. Still be grateful for what you get. Don’t forget that the cultural difference has a lot to do with it too. Communicate in this case!
There are good and bad people all over the world, be open-minded, but also give voice to your intuition. If your intuition tells you to say no, and especially if you are a woman traveling alone, don’t hesitate to finish your couchsurfing early and go to a hotel.