Couchsurfing–what is it and how should I use it?

Couchsurfing.com is basically what is sounds like: it’s a website that helps you find couches that you can sleep on for the night. The concept may sound a little scary–why would you be okay with sleeping on a stranger’s couch, right? Like any aspect of travel, couchsurfing can be a safe and fun part of your plans.

How does it work?

It’s a pretty simple process: search, research, select, request, and travel! Couchsurfing is a great community where people from all around the world support each others’ wanderlust, but there is somewhat of a proper way to do it. Here are the basics:

  1. Use search to find available hosts in the city to which you’re traveling.
  2. Read through the hosts’ profiles to see with whom you think you’ll mesh with and check to see whether or not it makes sense for you to stay in that specific area (i.e. is it close enough to public transportation? Is it close to or at least accessible to public transit so you can get to the attractions you want to see?
  3. Once you’ve narrowed down potential hosts, send out a request to 3-5 different people. This allows you to have a bit of choice, and not all hosts respond (like some might not have accessed the site in a while).
  4. Wait for a response, and once you get one, chat a bit to see if it’d be a right fit.
  5. Once you think you’ve found a match, confirm your stay and get ready for adventure!

More details on selecting your host

Step 1 – Search.

Like searching for a hotel or an Airbnb, the first step is searching for an available hosts. Generally, because I am a woman, I tend to gravitate more towards staying with women hosts. While everyone is a stranger at this point, it gives me more piece of mind to stay with another woman when I’m couchsurfing because I feel safer. That being said, I have stayed with 2 male hosts in the past and have been okay. The key here is to make sure you use your best judgement when sifting through the list of potential hosts.

Reading profiles is very important for any host with whom you may consider staying. A detailed profile tends to give you an idea of how someone is like and whether or not you two will click. It also gives an idea of where you’ll be staying (couch? air mattress?) and where you’ll be located. A good thing to check for is whether or not your potential host has hosted others before and what their couchsurfers thought of them. If the reviews there are positive, check on the profiles of those who left those reviews–do they appear to be legitimate surfers or are they just friends leaving positive reviews? Verification is also a good indicator of a legitimate user, although I’m not super keen on this method. You used to be able to verify by connecting to various social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. CS’s official verification requires you to pay $20/year, which isn’t a huge price tag. However I don’t use couch surfing (for stays) very often, so I see no need for me to pay to verify.

Step 2 – Location!

Is the host you want to stay with in a location that’s close to what you’d like to see? For example, if you’re staying in London, is your host in central London or one of those outer boroughs? Location is INCREDIBLY important in travel, so while couchsurfing may save you a couple bucks, it’s not worth it if your host is over an hour by bus to the actual things you want to see. Public transportation may not be available 24 hours a day like some of the big cities, so location is a huge factor to consider if you want to stay out late at night or wake up very early in the morning.

Also, is your place close to public transportation? If not, are taxi rides cheap out there? How will you get around? All important questions to ask yourself when looking at host listings.

Step 3 – Start Asking!

So you’ve found a few hosts you might want to stay with. Great! Send a request out to at around 3-5 people to see if anyone is available to host you. Sometimes your top host won’t be available because they’re off traveling themselves, so it’s good to have a few backups. In your inquiry, I would let them know who you are, why you’re traveling, and something you found you could connect with from their profile. This gives you something in common to talk about later on, and it shows you took an interest in what they were saying (instead of just seeing them as a free room for a couple days).

Step 4 – Reading Through the Responses

Once you receive a reply or two, see if any of those hosts fit what you’re looking for! This is a great time to figure out whether or not you feel like staying with this host would be a good idea. I’m a big believer in intuition and going with my gut. If any of those responses sound weird or just doesn’t feel right, you can politely decline and let the host know that something in your plans have changed or you’ve decided to stay with another host. The most important thing about using couchsurfing is your safety, so feel free to ask your potential host a lot of questions.

Step 5 – Confirm and Get Ready to Travel!

Once you’ve decided on a host, confirm your stay, and you’re all set! Make sure you’ve written down the address of your host, as well as a way to contact them (Whatsapp, phone number, etc) and how you will get to their place.

Here’s something that’s super important–have a backup. No matter how nice someone seems or how perfect a place may be, always have a backup plan. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but have a place in mind to go to in case something goes south. For me, I usually keep an emergency credit card or a small amount of cash on hand just in case I need to book a different place to stay, outside of Couchsurfing. For my first Couchsurfing experience, I made sure I had a way to get to a local hostel in case I didn’t feel safe with my host. I didn’t have to use the option, but it’s always good to have a plan in case you need it.

Want to read more about how to stay safe? Couchsurfing.com has their own Safety Basics here.

Don’t need a couch? Just hang out!

If you’re not interested using Couchsurfing as an alternative to traditional lodging, you can also use the site as a fun way to meet new friends! I couldn’t host people when I lived in San Francisco, but I was able to meet up with travelers and other people living in the city. Couchsurfing is a great community with people of all different backgrounds and interests, so the activities will range from attending food tours to hikes to sports games.

Questions? Comments? Stories? Share your experiences with me below in the comments!