Travelling on a budget requires an inventive mind and a very sociable personality. And probably you have heard about those weird hippies who travel and stay on a stranger’s couch, without even paying.
The last part seems interesting, I mean that’s why you are reading about this crazy website, right? And I am here to share some of my experience and tips. But beware: Couchsurfing is More Than Just a Free Bed For The Night.
I started using Couchsurfing in 2016, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I will answer all the questions I had before doing this and the ones I have received afterwards. Hopefully, this will answer your questions as well.
UPDATE: I haven’t been using Couchsurfing for the past few years, and I heard that it requires a subscription to access the website. But I read good reviews about it, on other travel blogs.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a huge community of people who have the great desire to travel, above all. In a nutshell: It is a platform that connects people from the entire world, where you can ask a question, find a group of people to hang out with, offer to host somebody or find a place to stay for the night.
Having a lot of aspects, different people with different needs use it. Some to find a free bed while travelling, others to find a local or another traveller to hang out with while travelling and others to join local communities and connect with real people.
I’ve heard some label it as a dating thing on the go, others call it weird and cannot understand the hippies who would like to sleep in the house of a stranger. And then are the well-travelled people who have no idea this thing exists.
Couchsurfing is what you need it to be and what you let it be!
Why use Couchsurfing?
I’ve always considered travelling an experience which should include meeting a local. Even for 1 hour. Then I found this, the place where you tell people where you are going, and most of them are more than happy to show you around their city or at least host you.
For me, it is this great bundle of great tips from a reliable source, a local’s perspective, a great leap of faith outside the personal comfort zone and the possibility of meeting a new friend. Add to all these priceless things, the budget part. People are great, as long as you are too.
Do you have to host, if you want to stay for free? Have you ever hosted anyone?
You make Couchsurfing whatever you want it to be. There are some options you can set on your profile: Accepting Guests, Maybe Accepting Guests, Not Accepting Guests and Wants to Meet Up. If you don’t fall under any of these categories, I think this place is not for you.
I never hosted anyone, because when I was living alone and started to use it, nobody wanted to visit me (I was living in a small town in Austria). Now I am living with my parents and my place is not in a great location. I know what you are looking for when backpacking and Couchsurfing (yeah, these two go together) and my current situation is not it. But I would love to do it.
There is no need to offer somebody your sofa, if you can’t offer a free sofa for someone else to use. There is no connection whatsoever. And people don’t care about that, they care more about the person you are!
How do you find your hosts? Is it easy to find a host?
There are 2 ways to find a host:
- You search for people in your destination city who are accepting guests. Then you send them a nice message, which should contain some info about you, why are you travelling there, what do you expect from the hosts (e.g. a sofa, I can sleep on the rug etc), what do you have to offer and the period you will get there. And then wait for their reply.
- You post your trip so that anyone can see. It’s called a public trip. So if anyone searches who will be in that place during those days, you will be on that list. Also a lot of locals who want to meet travellers and to offer their sofa, search for this and then they can contact you.
The most important things when people decide to host you are your profile and your references from other hosts, couchsurfers or hangouts. Always offer what you would like to receive. So I check people’s profiles and photos and references, so I assume they do the same and based on that they decide to meet or host me. It’s like this online interview, so always be prepared and put some effort into writing that profile, share some photos from your trips and write references so you will get references back.
The references part is really important, because it cannot be modified after you have submitted one.
So if you or someone has something bad to say, they will say it, and it will stick to your profile forever. And probably people will avoid you afterwards. I read once what a girl wrote on the profile of one guy who offered to host me. She said he got all weird and started to touch her. Do you think I even replied to that guy?! NO.
Nothing worth having is ever easy and is not about the money you save.
Is about the time you give to someone.
And that you will never get back. No matter if you are the host or the surfer.
For how many days can I stay at one host?
This service is not a free hostel. There are real people, who want to help other people just like they would like to be helped. There is no rule or limit to anything, but try to be considerate of the other’s situation. Most of the time people have jobs, they work Monday to Friday, and most don’t feel comfortable letting you alone in their flat. Don’t take it personally.
I have never stayed more than 3 nights at the same host, but it’s up to each and every one of you. Every hosting is different and therefore anything is possible. Sometimes you just need to ask, because there is nothing you can lose and some people will even send you a positive reply. Or propose to host you for some of the days, if not all.
And there is always the option to look up for more than one host if you are planning to stay longer in one place.
Big cities have a lot of people on Couchsurfing.
Even if a host offers me to stay longer, I feel like a burden and I believe it’s my job to find another place to stay, even though my host says I am welcome to stay longer. I try as much as possible to understand his or her situation and try to make it easier for both of us. People are willing to help, so help them back.
What kind of behaviour is expected?
If you are on your way to your next host, I assume you two have already agreed on some terms like where to meet, how long will you stay and the sleeping arrangements.
Some hosts offer to pick you up from someplace in the city, or even the train station. Some offer to cook or you can cook together. And some even spend their free time with you, trying their best to be your local guide. (And some wake you up at 5 am to take you to the train station, so you won’t miss your train going in another country.)
Be the person you want to meet.
Be yourself and be nice. And be natural. Share your experiences and be open to hear other’s experiences. Go to Couchsurfing meetings and get in contact with people. Connect. If and when you feel like it. Good vibes are a must.
Would you recommend it?
I’ve learnt so much about myself and about people and life using Couchsurfing, that I am sure everyone can find something useful here. The more you give, the more you get back. Time, told stories, discussed ideas, insights of a place, perspectives and sometimes even long-term friendships. That’s why Couchsurfing is More Than Just a Free Bed For The Night.
I also mentioned Couchsurfing as a cheap way to travel, for all you budget wanderers.
My close friends see me as an open person, and even for me it’s hard sometimes to connect, and I have to put in some effort. But I cannot tell you that, that effort has not paid off. Not even once.
Couchsurfing is not an accommodation service. TIt’s a community that values people and their time.
Any questions I left unanswered?
Leave a comment and let me know!