In this post I’m going to discuss The Ins And Outs Of Couchsurfing. We will look at Why I think every traveller should Couchsurf, How to Couchsurf when you’re travelling and how to Host when you’re at home, and Staying Safe. Lastly, we will look at Solo Female Travellers Couchsurfing, some tips to staying safe and give some examples of awesome experiences I’ve had through Couchsurfing.
The first thing I would like to say about Couchsurfing is that it’s not just about having a free place to stay. It’s a worldwide network of people who can help to make your stay in each place something you will never forget.
I signed up to Couchsurfing in the Czech Republic on the 24th of December 2013. I was staying with my friend Jana and had travelled across from London staying with friends along the way. I didn’t know anyone after leaving Czech Republic and had heard about this Couchsurfing thing so I signed up. I sent some requests and got an offer from a French dude living in Oświęcim, Southern Poland. I stayed with him and the following day went through to Krakow where I planned to stay 2 nights before heading south to Slovakia.
I went to my first Couchsurfing meet up that night, in a bar with about 40 other Couchsurfers. I met all these awesome Polish people who invited me to meet the next day, and the day after. One week later, I left Krakow with amazing memories. Because of that, Poland is, to this day, one of my top 4 favourite countries. Let’s just say Poland is where I learned To Couchsurf.
On another notable occasion in Alaska, Graceie and I had a guy called Mark Couchsurf at our house 3 times with his friends before we even met him. We were working crazy hours on a salmon fishing boat. We told them they could come and go as they pleased and left the door unlocked. They would arrive after we went to sleep and we would leave before they woke up. On his 3rd visit we had a day off so we went salmon fishing for the day. We caught 12 salmon together with his friends, who were actually couchsurfing at his home when he brought them down for the fishing. One of those friends was Jon from Australia, who came to visit my home in New Zealand the next year. And to finish the story, we stayed at Mark’s house in Anchorage a year later after our trip Sailing The North West Passage while he was away in Germany. In general, Couchsurfing is full of trustworthy people.
When I travel the most important thing to me is meeting people along the way, whether it be locals or other travellers. Of course, it’s most important when travelling alone but also when you’re with someone.
I don’t usually stay with people. Instead, I just send people a message and meet up for drinks or to explore somewhere. Usually I like to meet local people but sometimes exploring a city with another traveller is fun too. You might meet foreign people who are living in a country.
If someone offers me a “couch” that’s good but if you stay in a hostel you have your own space and it gives you the option to meet other people in the hostel as well.
A lot of my best experience traveling has started with Couchsurfing. At a Couchsurfing meeting in Istanbul I met my best friend and partner for 3 years, Graceie. We met at the Istanbul couchsurfing weekly meet-up and she was sick of being hit on by Turkish men so came to talk to me and my friend from Australia. We met again the next day and she invited me to go with her to Greece. Luckily we were both drifting in the same direction and we decided to hitchhike from Greece to Barcelona via the Balkan countries. 3 years later we have travelled together to over 30 countries, sailed in the Arctic and Greenland, worked in the Southern Ocean and had many other adventures.
Check my post Selfies With Locals In Asia for more photos of people met through Couchsurfing
Anyone can make a profile Couchsurfing but what makes it safe is the references people leave. When two Couchsurfers meet it’s recommended that afterwards they leave references for each other. These are public for everyone to see and before meeting or hosting someone you should read the person’s references to make sure they are trustworthy. You also read their profile to know more about the person and see their photos.
Some people use Couchsurfing as more of a dating website and a way to meet women. I’ve frequently heard New York Couchsurfing being described as “Sex Surfing” This is not the idea of Couchsurfing. Anything can happen when 2 people meet but its better for everyone if the main idea behind Couchsurfing is to bring travellers and locals together for other reasons, not just sex. There are plenty of other websites for that!
Go to Couchsurfing.com and make yourself a profile. Try to fill in as much information as possible about yourself. Upload some of your best photos. Tell some of your best stories and favourite experiences. This is your chance to make people like yourself while being honest and as truthful as possible.
At the top of the Couchsurfing webpage you can search for members, hosts, other travellers and events in a specific city. Events are a great way to start if you’re not confident to stay with someone straight up. Most cities in the world will have a weekly meet up where all travellers and locals are invited. This can be 3-4 people getting together for a beer in a small city right through to 200-300 people meeting for a BBQ in Central Park, New York. The biggest event I’ve attended had 1000 Couchsurfers in a club in Milan, Italy, for The Carnival.
So find some nice looking people and send them a message or couch request.
On the Personal Overview it tells you if the person’s profile is complete. It’s not essential to be 100 percent complete but it does tell you how much effort they have put in.
Here you can read about the person and see if you want to meet them or not. Maybe you will find some common interests and you can use these to make your request/message more personal.
Check to see References and Friends
Read their references. Look at the person leaving the reference. Make sure there are references from both guys and girls, and people from different countries. Don’t trust someone with references from just their home town! Remember friends can write references for each other to make their profiles “look better,” but these can’t be trusted very much. If there are neutral or negative references READ THEM and seriously consider not meeting this person. I think its best to only meet people with at least 2 references from other travelers. In saying that sometimes you can’t find people with lots of references so just be VERY smart and meet in a very public place. For example in Thailand I met really nice Couchsurfers who didn’t have many references.
Friends don’t mean very much. No one has to leave a reference to become someone’s friend. However if they have lots of friends then they are probably experienced Couchsurfers and therefore are more trustworthy.
Don’t judge a book by its cover…but it certainly is nice to see what a person looks like. Trust your gut feelings. Remember what they look like for when you meet.
If they haven’t logged in for more than a month then there’s probably not much point sending a request. You can if you want but its unlikely you will get a response. Same thing if their response rate is below 30 percent; you might not get a response unless you send an awesome request.
This is new to Couchsurfing and I take no notice of it. It costs money to become verified and the original idea of Couchsurfing was for it to be a free exchange between people. So just ignore that. If they are verified then as far as I know all they had to do was pay money.
Some people in busy cities like New York and London will get over 50 requests a day. So unless your request is AMAZING you won’t get a reply.
As a general rule no one replies to messages that you can copy and paste without making it personal. So read the person’s interests, profile, countries visited and so on to find some common interests or something to comment on. Describe yourself and make them want to meet you. I always list a couple of my amazing/favorite experiences. From experience I know that if I mention I’ve been to Antarctica I’m about 50 percent more likely to get a reply!
So to make it easy to send requests I have a rough template with my story and experiences that I can copy and paste to start. Then ALWAYS write another section about WHY I want to meet that person. I take a few minutes to comment on a country we have both travelled in, a mutual interest, or something amazing they have done.
Most people live a busy life and won’t always have time to host, meet-up or even reply. So open your options by messaging lots of people.
Recently, before going to Bangkok, I sent 10 messages and got 2 very short basic replies. Not really a lot of interest so I sent 15 more messages and got 10 positive replies! So many that I didn’t get to meet everyone in a week.
Most people have a tight scheduled so try to let them know when you will be in their city. I struggle with this because I don’t travel with a set timetable, and sometimes hitchhike so it’s very hard to know when you’re going to arrive. Just do your best. Some of the best Couchsurfing hosts will host 1 or 2 people every day and will have a calendar with a schedule of who they are hosting weeks ahead.
Again not something I’m good at but if you know where you’re going to be ahead of time send your requests out early. If you want to be hosted in any large touristy city like New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong or smaller busy backpacker towns then you might have to send requests out 1-2 months in advance to have hope of getting a host.
So you have sent some messages, had some replies and they have agreed to meet or host you. Before you meet:
There is no better way to get to know someone than to check their Facebook. It’s my single biggest tip for finding if you trust someone. Look at their photos and make sure their Facebook and Couchsurfing profiles match; look at their photos to make sure they aren’t creepy. In Laos I recently decided not to meet someone after adding them on WeChat (a social app in Asia). The person’s profile and pictures didn’t match between Couchsurfing and WeChat. One showed pictures of a girl, and the other a guy! Very obvious to me!
Chat with them to see if they seem genuine.
Remind yourself who they are and look at their photos to help you recognise them at your meeting place. Sometimes it’s very busy and travelers don’t always have WIFI or Data connection to message if you get lost and can’t find each other.
Try to NEVER meet at your home or accommodation. Instead ALWAYS try to meet in a BUSY PUBLIC PLACE. This way you can get to know the person BEFORE you are alone with them. No one is ever going to try anything dodgy in a public place. If you feel comfortable then you can continue to their home if they are hosting you or to a bar for a drink or whatever you have planned. If you don’t feel comfortable this is a great time to tell them you don’t want to continue with the meeting and leave.
This is an important part of the circle. It helped you to read references so leave an honest reference to help the next person.
It’s especially important to ask the first couple of people you host or meet to write you a reference. There’s a lot of people who won’t look at your profile until you have references.
If someone offers to host you I recommend ALWAYS having an escape plan just in case things get uncomfortable, creepy or untrustworthy. Know where to find a hostel or hotel if you need it. Maybe screenshot the address on your phone so you can tell a taxi driver if need be. It’s not always possible but certainly recommended if you have ANY doubt at all about the person you’re staying with. If you’re a solo girl surfing with a guy then you should HAVE A BACK UP ESCAPE PLAN unless you really know what you’re doing.
Hosting someone is a great way to meet like-minded travelers when you’re not travelling yourself. If you Couchsurf when you’re travelling it’s also nice to give back to others as people have given to you.
Hosting is much the same as being hosted. Check their references and profile to ensure they are trustworthy. Remember that you are letting this person into your home so you have to have complete trust.
Don’t be self conscious about your House or Apartment
Remember that it’s a FREE place to stay so don’t be too self conscious. The main thing is that you put yourself out there to give shelter to fellow travellers. I’ve slept on floors, couches, hammocks, through to people sharing their bed, a private room or even on more than one occasion people have given me their bed and they sleep on the couch! Whatever you have to offer is good.
Let’s be honest; the easiest way to avoid creepy guys is not to Couchsurf with them. But often there are not so many female hosts so it can be difficult. I recommend surfing with a few female hosts first. Get to know what’s right and wrong so you can stand up for yourself at 2am if your host tries to get into bed with you. Yes, I’ve heard this story more than once. If you feel uncomfortable, stand up for yourself and don’t let it go any further. Politely leave ASAP or the next day and leave a neutral or negative reference as you see fit.
Trust your gut feeling; it’s usually right. If something doesn’t feel right, the best thing is to leave ASAP so don’t get in the car. Instead, politely make it known that you don’t feel comfortable, or think up some snappy excuse to leave the situation. You’re not obliged in any way to go with that person.
If you want to attract that sort of attention then by all means upload your sexiest photos but it’s probably wise not to.
A friend of mine from Bangkok asked me “is it strange that a guy who offered to host me just asked if I’m single?” Again unless that’s what your looking for then I would suggest NEVER surfing with this person.
This will help you better to gauge what sort of person he is. Look at photos. Most people put their entire life on social media so use it to your advantage.
Do-Surf with other Females
Most cities will have plenty of female hosts so to build confidence why not Couchsurf or meet with some girls first.
Graceie traveled for 2 years alone before she met me and did plenty of solo Couchsurfing. While she has rarely had any problems she did have some experiences with creepy men and once had to leave in the middle of the night from a host’s house. She and I can both tell you that we never experienced so much kindness and welcoming hospitality as we did in our time in Morocco and Turkey. Graceie even lived in Turkey teaching English, and absolutely loves the culture.
That being said, the one bit of advice she wants to share with regard to Couchsurfing in Muslim countries, is that you should be overly cautious about Couchsurfing with single men by yourself as a woman. This is a touchy subject and one I would rather not bring up. But being safe is the priority and after the dodgy experiences she had in some Muslim countries, she decided to be a lot more careful when staying with men.
Make sure they have lots of good references from both men and women surfers. If possible stay with a female host or, even better, a family as it’s a great experience. She absolutely doesn’t want to say anything bad about Muslim people in general, however in some parts of the world there are religious hang-ups and social problems with regard to the way woman are treated. Above all she wants woman to be safe when traveling.
It’s meant to be an exchange of cultures or friendship and it’s best to keep money out of it. So share costs between host and surfer. Maybe you cook dinner together, or go out for drinks. It’s best if both parties pay their fair share. It always feels better that way. Leaving a gift is a good gesture but not necessary as long as you share some cool stories!
I think this explains itself. Don’t be a creep! If you want to ask someone this, then maybe you should be on a different website. (Tinder couch cough!). Couchsurfing is about reaching out to other travellers or making friends when you’re on the other side of the world. Its not called Sex-surfing.
I have done this once in Mexico. Graceie and I met an older guy who we felt to be a creepy ex-pat hosting young girls for the wrong reason. We could just tell something wasn’t right. We read his profile and his stories didn’t match what he told us. I didn’t hesitate in reporting him. Its easy; you just click on the MORE button and then REPORT. You can also block people without reporting them. After reporting someone Couchsurfing admin will send you a thankyou email. If you feel it’s right, don’t question yourself; just do it.
There are so many Couchsurfers out there, there’s no need to have creepy people as well.
I’ve seen this one many times and I’m not sure what’s behind these profiles. In Morocco especially, I would get lots of offers from these very sexy-looking girls with no profiles. I never met with any of them but I’m guessing they were fake profiles made by creepy guys. Just look for the references.
In Thailand however I found a lot of people didn’t have many references as most people weren’t very experienced. Thai hosts are some of the nicest I’ve met in the world.
Read my post Crazy Asia, Four Ways To Experience Bangkok to read more of my Couchsurfing experiences!
Couch surfing is amazing. I’ve met with hundreds of people in over 30 countries through Couchsurfing. I keep in touch with a lot of them via Facebook. And Graceie I travelled for 3 years after we met in Istanbul at the couchsurfing weekly meet-up.
One of the most common things I hear from solo travellers is how travelling alone has helped them come out of their shells. If you don’t have someone to talk to then you are forced to socialise with other people and with time, you learn how to start a conversation and make friends with anyone. After 5 years of travelling, I can walk up to anyone on the street and start talking to them. No problem. 5 years ago that would have been too scary for me!
Couchsurfing makes it a little bit easier than talking to complete strangers. Most people can easily chat with people over the internet so you already kind of feel you know the person when you meet.