Couchsurfing is awesome. It’s a great way to travel cheap and make lasting friendships with very chill folks. As chill as said folks are, however, there are some unspoken guidelines it can’t hurt to follow.
1) Be honest.
When you’re first messaging a potential host, be totally open and honest about who you are and what you like. People are on couchsurfing to meet new friends with new viewpoints, so most hosts won’t shy away from that. But don’t tell them you don’t like to party if all you wanna do is hit the bar, don’t claim to love salsa dancing because you saw it on their profile. If you don’t know what time you’re arriving in their city because the train system confuses you, be clear about that, too. Be clear about how many nights you want to say too.
Hosts fall into two categories: active and passive. I’ve found most are active, meaning they WANT to show you around, go out to dinner, hang out. But some are passive, maybe because they have to work, and you’ll largely be doing your own thing while crashing with there. If you really, really want one or the other, you gotta say that, too. A lot of people think the beauty of couchsurfing is the active connection between two travelers, so if that’s not what you want you may have a harder time finding a host in general.
2) Be openminded.
The beauty of couchsurfing is making connections with other travelers, with viewpoints you may not have considered, experiences you may or may not have shared, and generally learning from these awesome people. The biggest wet blanket couchsurfer I can imagine hosting is one who already has their itinerary completely set, with no deviations. Yeah, maybe Rick Steves recommended a certain sushi place in the city center, but if Vlad your local host swears by a food cart in the student district? Go with Vlad.
My openmindedness as a couchsurfer was tested with one of my recent hosts, a lovely and generous Italian woman, because she had starkly different political views from me. I asked questions about her life and experiences that led her to those views, and she asked me those questions, too. We didn’t end up agreeing with each other, at ALL actually, but we respected each other* and came away a little wiser. It was a beautiful open dialog. Yes, it’s very hippie dippie love thy neighbor. That’s couchsurfing at its finest, so get on board.
(I’m not advocating staying with a host whose viewpoints make you super uncomfortable. Homophobia is a thing in a lot of countries. Racism, too. I like to think most people on couchsurfing and truly into the couchsurfing doctrine, are openminded and these issues therefor wouldn’t rear their ugly heads. But if a host or surfer ever engaged in like, hate speech for example, it’s fine to GTFO. It’s also fine to GTFO if your host or surfer makes unwanted sexual advances, which sadly is a huge thing in some countries. That’s a big consideration for solo female couchsurfers in particular, and usually lots of red flags on their profiles, so I’ll go into that in another post.)
3) Buy them a pint, for god’s sake.
Just do it.
Or if they don’t drink, a meal. You can even just cook them said meal in their own kitchen. Nothing crazy. They might say no–I’ve had several hosts straight-up reject my offers and buy ME food/drink–but it’s nice to offer.
4) Leave the place better than when you found it.
Some surfers give out postcards of their homelands with personal thank-you messages on the back, some make little friendship bracelets. Some do dishes, sweep, or otherwise clean the place up a little bit (besides the obvious cleaning of the area you slept in, which is a given). Leave them some cookies, or something. They should feel like they’ve gained something ever so slightly tangible by having you around.
5) Leave a review!
Whether good or bad, leave an honest review! I’ve literally never had reason to leave anything other than a glowing couchsurfing review on someone’s profile. It’s nice to have more friends and connections on the site. Plus, the more good reviews on your profile, the more likely you are to couchsurf in the future! Yay!
So there you have it. Now go make your Couchsurfing account and befriend some free spirits! If you’re new to couchsurfing, or if you’re a CS regular, I’d love to hear what you think!