For those who never heard of the term, couchsurfing is a way of traveling in which people stay at other people’s houses, usually on a couch and usually for free. Though sometimes people stay at places that belong to someone they have previously met, the great majority stay at strangers’ houses, which can be found through an online platform.
The concept may seem scary, especially when the word “strangers” is involved, but the experience can be quite enjoyable if you do your due diligence before embarking on a couchsurfing adventure.
First thing’s first: join Couchsurfing
The first tip we have for you is that you actually register at Couchsurfing.com. This platform has been online since 2004, which means that they have over 10 years of experience helping people to couchsurf all over the world in a safe and reliable way. Through Couchsurfing.com, over 12 million people have traveled and stayed in over 200,000 cities all over the world.
Creating an account at Couchsurfing.com is free and pretty easy to do, so go ahead and create yours now. You can register as someone who is looking for couches and/or someone who is offering a couch for other surfers.
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Choosing your first couchsurfing experience
Although most of the experiences people have through Couchsurfing are enjoyable, some people have been through awkward or unpleasant experiences as well. Remember, almost anyone can join this online platform, which makes it very important that you take your time going through the profiles that seem interesting to you to make sure everything looks A-Ok.
Basic things to look out for
There are plenty of little signs that can tell you if you should or should not trust a profile, here are some of the most important:
Profile picture – It may not seem that important since you are looking for a place to stay, not for someone to date, but the fact is that a profile that has no picture or has a picture that does not feature the host is not exactly a great sign. It’s obvious that the host can represent itself with a photo of someone else, but most hosts will post their own photo as a way to show they are friendly, respectable people.
Verification – When you enter someone’s profile, you will be able to see if it has been verified or if it remains unverified. What does this mean? Couchsurfing has ways of verifying payments, phone numbers, IDs and addresses. If a person’s profile says they are “unverified”, it means that they did not provide Couchsurfing with the necessary information. A good rule of thumb is to only stay with hosts who have had a full verification.
References – The references are one of the best ways in which you can tell if a host is trustworthy or not. After staying at a host’s house, members of the Couchsurfing community can leave comments about the experience. The more references, the better – if they are good, of course! Not having any references or having very few references is not necessarily a bad thing. It may be the case that that particular person has joined Couchsurfing recently or that they are not very active there.
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Even if you have found a couch being offered by someone who has great reviews, it is still important to check some information and ask some questions before committing to stay with them.
Do check the “My home” section which describes the conditions offered. Some people mention couches, some people mention beds, and some even mention simply that they have a mattress you can sleep in. When the description doesn’t tell you all that you need to know, don’t be ashamed to ask the host some questions that will help you understand what is really being offered. Is this couch/bed/mattress in its own room or a common room, like the living room, for example? Will the host provide you with sheets, blankets and a pillow? Will they also provide you with bath towel?
The “My home” section can also tell you if you will be staying at a house that has children and pets and if smoking is allowed indoors or not.
Another important tip, especially for the girls, is to avoid staying with male hosts. We know there are a lot of brave women out there and that we prefer to believe people’s good intentions, but why take the risk? There have been unfortunate situations in which a host made passes at their female guests or even tried to have inappropriate contact, so no matter how friendly a male host may seem, avoid staying at his place if you are a girl traveling by yourself.
Don’t exchange personal information with the hosts before you have absolutely decided that you are going to stay at their place. Communicating through the online platform will keep you safe and allow Couchsurfing to intervene if necessary.
Always tell your family and or friends where you will be staying, particularly if you will be traveling alone. Give them the complete address and contact information of the host and remember to tell them you have contacted this person through Couchsurfing.com.
If at any point during your stay you start feeling uncomfortable, be it due to the host’s behavior or due to the conditions of the place you are staying at, pack up your things and leave. Don’t worry about what they will think, your safety is the most important thing of all.
A great (and cheap) way to see the world
Couchsurfing may not be for everyone, many people prefer to stay at a hotel or rent an apartment when they travel. But if you choose to find accommodation through Couchsurfing.com and you do all the research you need to do to stay safe, the most likely result is that you will end up having a lot of fun, saving money during your trip, and even making some new friends.