How to use, enjoy and stay safe
How would you react if someone said you could stay in a city, discover it from an insider’s point of view and make new friends all at once for no money at all? Because this is what I’m about to teach you ;D
what is couchsurfing ?
Couchsurfing is an online platform where people who are interested in foreign cultures gather. At the core of it is the hosting system: basically, it allows its members to hors travelers or be hosted by locals, without any money being exchanged, the goal being to put forward mutual help and genuine interest for other cultures.
The beauty of it is that you not only get to stay at your destination without shedding a dime, but you also get a new friend that will more often than not also turn out to be your local guide to the city.
Be aware, nonetheless, that finding an host takes efforts and authenticity: after all, you’re not searching for somewhere to stay but rather for someone to stay and have great times with.
You might have noticed I didn’t say it was free, and that’s because it’s not: whilst there won’t be money involved in your stay, hosts will expect to be repaid in other ways: you could cook something typical from where you’re from or play music for them for example – even just have great chats with them.
is it for you ?
Let’s get one thing out the way first: you can do couchsurfing regardless of your gender, and there are even « safe communities » existing within the larger CS community so safety or gender shouldn’t forbid you from surfing.
More on the topic of safety later, here’s a few profile of people who I think would enjoy Couchsurfing very much :
- Social travelers
If you feel like making new friends in your destination country, CS is definitely the way to go. It is much cheaper than other forms of accomodation and you’ll get an insider view of the place and the local way of life.
- People who are interested in traveling but can’t leave home
Hosting can be a great way to travel from home: just signal that you’re accepting guest and chances are people are gonna start contacting you. Just pick the ones you think you’ll have a great time with and you’re done ! You’ve go someone coming from the other side of the planet to tell you how life goes over there.
- Those who are already abroad but want to meet like-minded locals
Couchsurfing is a very versatile tool based on meeting people so if you’ve got your accommodation booked already, you can still use the Event and Hangout sections to find like-minded locals and make friends, which is always a good way to go beyond the scenes and discover places you’d have never heard about from travel guides.
You can learn about Hangouts in another article on How to Make Friends on the Fly
okay then, where should i start ?
Now that you have a better idea of what Couchsurfing can bring you, let’s see how it works.
- Setting up your account
To access the platform, you’ll need to register first. This is obvious, but it is particularly important you do it properly as your profile will serve as credentials for other users who are going to try and judge whether or not your are someone they want to meet based on it. For that same reason, you wanna try and register as early as you can, as recent profile appear slightly dodgier than older ones.
Once you’ve verified your email, you should take some time to put up a nice profile picture and write an interesting bio about yourself and the way you roll. Fill in the blanks in your profile to give people a better idea of who you are, what you like doing and how much traveling you’ve done and don’t be afraid to browse through people’s profile to get some inspiration.
- Researching hosts/checking guests out
Once you’re finished with that new, neat bio of yours, you’ll have to start doing the hardwork. Couchsurfing might not cost a penny, but it sometimes requires a lot of time and effort to find a great match.
Start by typing your destination in the top search bar.
Once you’ve typed in the place where you wanna surf/host, this page should show up.
If you’re looking for a host, just click on the left category and use the filters to narrow down the results. I usually search for people who are roughly the same age as me (I used not too but older folks would never reply to me anyway), have a language in common and logged in to the website less than a month ago to make sure I’ll at least get a reply.
Once the search shows up, just read through the profile of every single host to find people you think you’d like to spend time with, then sent those a message or a hosting request if your know your dates already.
Don’t just send requests to everybody hoping for a reply, as people can tell when you’re using template answers and they won’t usually reward your lack of effort and even if they did, there’d be no telling whether or not you guys are gonna have fun, which is the end goal of all of this, isn’t it ? You really want to find a few people you think you’d match with and craft a personalized request where you mention all the interests you have in common using your mutual profiles.
Make sure you’ve done your homework as many hosts will conceal some kind of password in their profile to be able to tell whether or not people just batch requested hosts. You should also be wary of the fact that finding a host can be more or less tricky depending on who you are and where you’re headed, so always give yourself plenty of time to find a host.
If you’re searching for guests, you can either just wait for a request or search for someone to host amongst the upcoming visitors as you would search for a host, except in much easier since you are the one with the keys.
- Meeting surfers out there
You can find potential hosts and guests by meeting them in real life. There are plenty of events in town where people gather to welcome newcomers and have a chat, go out or such. Those events are great opportunities because people are much more inclined to host others after having had a friendly chat with them.
If you read my guide on How to Make Friends on the Go, you might remember that when I was in Munich, I decided to only book accommodation for a few night to see what would happen.
I decided to go to an event on Couchsurfing called « Lightning Talks » where people had 5 minutes to present any topic they’d like whilst people enjoyed beer and free pizza. I had a chat with loads of people that night, some of which I’m still in contact with today, including Sebastian, who asked where I was staying that night and proposed to host me for a few days !
How can i make sure i'm safe ?
We’ve all been taught not to trust strangers so staying at theirs can seem a bit counter-intuitive, but we ought to realize that whilst there are dangerous people on earth, most of us still thrive to be good people leading a good life and the vast majority of Couchsurfers are part of the latter group.
Moreover, consider the cultural aspect of things: when it comes to religion and gender especially, normal behaviors can differ wildly from country to the other so do you research so as not to make your host uncomfortable by mistakes or wrongly interpreting their behavior.
Yet, that doesn’t mean you should disregard safety concerns. Here are a few tips to keep you safe whilst Couchsurfing:
- Check your host/guest’s profile thoroughly, focusing on reviews. Most people will praise their host after a good experience, so look for hints of problems and very mild references which can both be signs that something went wrong.
- Once the request is accepted, keep chatting with your host/guest extensively to get to know each other better and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to accommodation and activities. Not only will this allow you to feel closer when you do meet, it could also allow you to spot and avoid fishy situations in advance.
- Arrange your first meeting in a public and well-frequented place and tell your friends and family who, when and where you’ll be staying whilst couchsurfing, just in case.
- If your host asks for a compensation, be it money, stuff or sex, report him. Only give and do what you are comfortable with giving and doing.
- If you’re uncomfortable staying alone with a surfer, consider staying with families or couples.
- Trust your instincts: if you feel your host/guest is making you uncomfortable at any given point, don’t be afraid to state your boundaries clearly or just leave.
- Always have a backup plan (like a hostel nearby or a backup host) in place so that you don’t feel pressured into staying with someone who’s making you uncomfortable.
- Know your limits, for example, don’t drink yourself into troubles, putting your safety in the hands of others.
Couchsurfing is very popular for a reason: if used correctly, it can be an incredible tool.
Free accomodation, new friends, free guides and tours, great events, people to accompany you on an adventure, …. You can find all of those on Couchsurfing, and even more as the website serves as a proper platform for locals and travelers to meet around any opportunity: heck, I’m pretty sure you could use it to find someone to buy your motorbike in Asia after a roadtrip !
The only price-tag attached to all of this is that it requires you to be open-minded and persistent and courageous. Just take a few steps to guarantee your own safety and peace of mind and enjoy the incredible human adventure that Couchsurfing and its community has to offer.
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