How to Couch Surf
Couch surfing, or "couchsurfing" and the use of hospitality exchanges is absolutely essential for true budget travelling, especially if you are a lone traveller. Not just for the money you will save on accommodation but also for the friends you will meet and the priceless experiences you will have.
“What is couch surfing?” is one of the hardest questions that people always ask, and I’m still not so sure how to answer it. Basically it is a social networking site for travellers and people who are interested in meeting travellers. Apart from meeting up, one of the main features of couchsurfing is to crash at these people’s houses. Where you stay can vary greatly from a guest room with an ensuite bathroom, to a yoga mat on a dirty floor. Of course this information is all on the persons profile so you can pick, but of course some places have more options than others. You get the chance to save a lot of money, meet a new person who can often give you priceless information about the place you are visiting and make dozens of new friends!
At first this may sound scary, but what makes it all possible is their reference system. People who have met you have the ability to post a detailed reference onto your profile which gives readers a very good idea of the kind of person you are. I have probably stayed with and hosted several hundred people over the last few years, and until this day have never had a single experience where I felt in any danger. Of course you must be careful when choosing who you meet, especially as a girl, but with a bit of logic and precaution couchsurfing is completely safe. Put it this way, why do you feel safer to get into the taxi with an unknown driver than you do to stay with a person who will usually have several references and a detailed profile you can read?
Creating your profile
Whether you plan to host, be hosted or just meet people for a drink, the first thing you must do is create a profile. The better you can express yourself here the more likely it is that people will be willing to meet with you and help you when needed. Fill in as much of your profile as you can. Try to use friendly casual language and choose a picture that really shows your personality. Try use social pictures of you with your friends or making a funny pose and avoid using pictures of yourself standing alone in front of the Eifel Tower... Jeez, how boring can you be! 🙂
Without references it can be very hard to find someone to host you, so if possible it could be good to just meet a few other members who could give you references so your potential hosts know you are not a serial killer! If you tell people you meet that you are new and don’t have any references they will usually be happy to help you get started.
Apart from your profile it is also very important to write a nice request when asking someone for a free place to stay. As a new member you will probably have to send at least 5-10 requests before someone accepts to host you, depending on the area you are requesting in. Always read as much of the persons profile as possible, especially the “couch information” section, and try to tell the person why you chose them and what you have in common if you can. I also like to mention that even if they are unable to host me I would still be more than happy to meet up for a drink. This shows that you are actually interested in them and not just looking for a free place to sleep, you also get to meet a lot of cool people this way!
Parties and meet-ups
Another great feature about couchsurfing is their events. Any member can organize an event, anything from a club crawl to a guided tour of the city. In many cases this forms a community that meet up regularly for drinks and partying, sometimes with 100s of people attending, it’s the best way to meet new likeminded people whether you are travelling or living in a place.
There are also 1000s of couchsurfing groups, or message boards on the website. Everything from city groups where you can meet people, ask advice about that city, find an apartment and many other things. Then there are other subjects such as hitchhiking, cycling, LGBT, etc. where you can learn a lot and meet other couchsurfers with similar interests to yourself.