When you’re tired of traveling thousands of miles across the globe only to be faced with a hostel-full of your loud drunken countrymen, it’s time to join Couchsurfing. No matter if the idea of staying on a complete strangers’ smelly sofa fills you with horror; you can still use the site to meet knowledgeable locals and avoid all those hostel ‘have you done Peru?’ conversations.
Better still, if you’re moving to a new country and don’t know a soul, Couchsurfing meetings are a great place to start making friends. Here’s how.
Once you’ve joined the site and created your profile, your first stop is to check the CS communities. Most big cities have their own group/forum on the site and even if they don’t, it’s worth checking the events page to see if anything is going on nearby. If a meeting is listed, you can generally assume that everyone and anyone are welcome.
Couchsurfing meetings aren’t (just) about trying to cop off with handsome foreigners although they can sometimes feel a bit like speed-dating. In big popular cities like Buenos Aires, Paris or Barcelona, meetings may be so packed with eager residents and traveling Couchsurfers that it’ll make your head spin. Wherever you are in the world, you’re likely to meet some of the following:
a) The Party People. These young kittens have no job. They probably study astronomy or anthropology. They don’t care who you are or where you’re from. They’re just delighted they have a new friend to soak up the gin with.
b) The Lechers. “Mmmmm, you’re new”, they purr, as they clumsily brush their hands across your knee and look down your top. Couchsurfing may not be a dating site but no one has told them. In their profile shots, they will be wearing the very shortest shorts. They will only want to host girls.
c) The Knackered Travelers. They want to like Couchsurfing they really do, but before they came to this bar, they spent 3 days hiking up a volcano and then got on a bus for 32 hours. They were hoping to collapse into bed when they got here but their host is one of the party people (see above) and now they’re going to a club…
d) The Ex-Pats. When they first arrived here they were full of gleeful wonder but they’ve waited in one long bank queue too many and now they’re all bitter and twisted. They will take real pleasure in telling you everything that’s wrong with the place you’ve just landed in.
e) The Professional Couchsurfers. These will be the people who organized the meeting or answered your question on the forum in 30 seconds flat. They will make it their life mission to make you, and any other newbies, feel all warm and welcomed. They will have 543 positive references and get very cross when they read newspaper articles that describe Couchsurfing as a free alternative to hostelling rather than a cultural exchange.
The City Forums
When you need up-to-date local info on your destination of choice, there’s nothing better than an active Couchsurfing forum. Residents will know exactly how much the airport bus costs, where the drum and bass clubs are and if you need to include a photo on a local job application. Just be sure to ask them nicely, thank them profusely and return the favour to other travellers when you get home.
You can pretty much find anything on a Couchsurfing forum, but if what you want to see isn’t being organized, consider doing it yourself. From camping trips to city tours, piss ups to opera outings, language exchanges to sex toy parties: someone somewhere is planning it. Recent posts in Santiago de Chile included a trainee masseuse looking for people to practice on for free, Chilean Couchsufers and their families taking in solo travelers at Christmas and everyone rallying round to help one of their own who had taken ill in Brazil.
Like listening to The Grateful Dead when you’re naked? There’s probably a group for that. Couchsurfing lindy hoppers, gay cyclists, handsome lawyers and high maintenance male backpackers all have their own groups, so why can’t you? For a walk on the wild side, check out funny negative references.
The Private Messages
If big social gatherings aren’t your thing but you want to meet people, it’s worth searching the list of local Couchsurfers for like-minded souls. Look for those with positive references that have logged into the system recently. When sending them a message, be sure to mention something from their profile; nobody likes a cut and paste. If you don’t need a bed for the night, check ‘coffee and a drink’ to find eager tour guides and drinking buddies.
Good manners and positive traveling karma underpin the ethos of Couchsurfing. Don’t forget your pleases and thank yous, and when you’ve been around long enough to know the answer to a question on the forum, be sure to dive in and answer. If you meet someone and have a splendid time, consider leaving them a positive reference. Equally, be honest and leave a neutral or negative one if you don’t.
In a perfect world, every Couchsurfer would want and be able to host and surf but it’s not always possible. If you can’t go the whole hog but want to get involved, remember this: sleeping over can be awesome but just hanging out can be fun too.