By Candice Walsh
If you’re just getting started in the CouchSurfing community, you may be a little apprehensive about using someone else’s couch as a hotel room or offering your own space to strangers. How can you trust someone you’ve never met?
Here are some tips help you have a positive couch surfing experience:
1. Believe in the honour system. The CouchSurfing.org community is largely based on an honour system. Those who care about the site and its goals—i.e. providing budget-friendly accommodation choices so that travellers get the best experience—would never jeopardize their reputation.
2. Take smart safety precautions. Though the majority of CouchSurfing experiences are positive, we’ve read about a few unpleasant incidents in the past. Be sure to read and follow CouchSurfing.org’s safety page. Our top tips:
- Read reviews of hosts—if a well-known CouchSurfing member leaves positive comments about a certain individual, you’re likely to have a similar experience.
- Consider choosing only “verified” hosts. These people have submitted their address, phone number and a one-time $25 payment via credit card to CouchSurfing.org, at least verifying they are who they say they are.
- If you’re a single woman, choose a female host. Sure, plenty of male hosts are perfectly friendly and nonthreatening, but there’s no shame in trusting your gut and going with what makes you comfortable.
3. Meet up beforehand. If you’re still new to the whole community and have a pretty bare profile, hosts may be wary of you. Offer to meet up with a potential host before taking over their couch. This way they’ll learn a bit more about you, and will (hopefully) be more inclined to let you share their space. Another tip from Matador.com: get friends to sign up for the service and vouch for you (#8).
4. Choose the host wisely. If you’re not keen to sleep on a flea-bitten futon in a student’s basement apartment, look for an older, more established person or couple as a host. This tactic doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try. Additionally, “couch surfing” doesn’t always mean a couch: many hosts have private rooms with actual beds, though you can’t filter listings by this option so you’ll have to read the fine print.
On the other hand, if you love the nightlife, a student or younger host might be the ticket to finding the best pubs and popular spots to hit up during your visit.
5. Contribute to the household. Is your host cooking you a dinner? Offer to bake your favourite dish! Clean up after yourself, and although you’re living from a suitcase, don’t make the floor your closet.
6. Leave a gift behind. You’ve just mooched free accommodations from your host—the least you can do is repay them with a token of your appreciation. Find out what their favourite wine is or buy them a gift certificate to their restaurant of choice. It keeps the good CouchSurfing karma flowing.
7. Get acquainted with the CouchSurfing community at home. In recent years, CouchSurfing has become as much a social community as a travel-stay service. Search the forums for groups in your city—they’ll often host events or meet-ups where you can get to know your fellow surfers and maybe have them vouch for you if you hit it off.
8. Remember, it’s a two-way street. Consider playing host yourself. It’s all about give and take.
9. Leave comments. After your CouchSurfing experience, don’t forget to leave comments on your host’s profile about your experience with them. Otherwise, how will other CouchSurfing newbies know who to trust?
10. Finally, relax and have fun. Your hosts will give you the kind of insider perspective on a place that you’ll never find in a hotel. And did we mention it’s free?