COUCHSURFING CAN BE DAUNTING. I mean, how does one navigate the process of asking a stranger for a place to sleep for the night? That’s why I’ve decided to take a page from Kelly Diel’s book and offer all readers the opportunity to ask advice, tips or any questions you might have about Couchsurfing.
I’ll begin with answering a few questions that seem to come up often. Then you’ll have the change the chance to ask anything you’ve ever wanted to know about Couchsurfing.
What’s my Couchsurfing experience?
I’ve been an active member of Couchsurfing for the last four years. I’ve couchsurfed as a family and alone. I’ve hosted tons of people and both created and taken part in Couchsurfing meetups in Europe, the United States, Canada, Central and South America. I even partied and peeled potatoes with the Couchsurfing camp at Burning Man.
I feel comfortable rocking up in any city in any country on this planet confident in the fact I’ll be able to find a place to stay, a group for a drink or simply someone to give advice about how to find a bus to the next town.
I’m happy to help you develop the same sort of resource and community in Couchsurfing as well.
How Can I Create A Profile That Makes Others Want To Host Me?
Of all the questions people ask, oddly, this one rarely comes my way. But I think it is probably the most important. The answer is relatively simple, logical and can be answered as easily as one, two, three.
One. Be yourself. Be real. The more honest you are about who you are and what you want in a host or travel experience, the more likely you are to find what you need.
Don’t be afraid to include your interests and personal opinions. A potential host is more likely to respond to a request when your profile overlaps with similar interests. That connection can lead to a fantastic surfing experience because, believe it or not, you’ve dispensed with all small talk by reading each others profiles and can immediately get down to the business of having fun.
Two. Begin meeting people and building up your friends and references before you send out your first couch request.
When I receive a couch request, I immediately look at how many friends a person has and then read all the references. Friends and references let me know how invested you are in the Couchsurfing community. You don’t need to be an card-carrying t-shirt wearing Couchsurfing ambassador, but I do want to know you’re not just popping on the site for a free place to stay.
References and friends also let me know that others have had positive experiences with you. They allow me to trust you. If we have friends in common, even better.
Three. Make sure your friends and references are real-life, real-time connections.
Nothing sets of my No-Surfing-With-Me alarm bell faster and louder than a profile with all or mostly online-only connections. On online-only friend only tells me that you’ve contacted someone through an e-mail or chat. Maybe you’ve even sent a friend request to someone you don’t know. It tells me nothing about whether you’re a good guest or if you get along with people face-to-face.
I have about 140 friends on Couchsurfing. Only two are online-only. Both of those are people I’ve known for well over a year and with whom I have developed an actual friendship.
How does Couchsurfing differ from other forms of social media?
Please, don’t treat your Couchsurfing account the same way you would Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or even Linked In. While you’re welcome to e-mail whomever you want for advice — of course they may not respond — the last thing you want to do is fill your Couchsurfing profile with a bunch of people you barely know.
I already told you the first thing I do when evaluating a profile is read references. If a person has tens of references, but none of those people seem to know him beyond a couple jokes and a drink, I still know nothing about that person.
But if you’ve helped someone lay down a concrete floor in their basement, babysat their children and cooked a meal for them, then I know something. Now if you’ve had similar interactions with twenty different people, I begin to get a real sense of who you are.
I admit, when I first began Couchsurfing, I did add friends in an attempt to bulk up my profile. We all do it to some extent. And that is a fine strategy for just about any other social media forum. Not Couchsurfing.
It’s the strength of my connections that matter. You’re asking people to open up their homes and lives to you. Many have children. Would you trust your home and family with someone you know only through a few tweets and a short profile?
So how do you meet people prior to sending out your first couch request?
Simple. Check groups. There’s a group for just about everything, too. From women traveling solo to stamp collecting to families welcome and literally everything in between.
That’s where you’ll find meetings, get togethers, mash-ups, people looking for a coffee, for someone to share a car rental, places to volunteer. Join one of these get togethers. Get to know people in real-time in real life.
I joined up with Los Comelones in Costa Rica a few years ago. They meet once every month or so to try new restaurants in and around San Jose. Randall e-mailed me about it, but he couldn’t go that night. Since that night a group of us met for Peruvian Japanese food, Randall visited us. We’ve stayed with him in San Ramon. We’ve gone out drinking and eating. We’ve cooked together. He’s referred his friends to us and vice versa. I’ve even written an article about him.
It’s amazing where one seemingly minor e-mail can lead.
What else do you want to know about Couchsurfing?
Now it’s your turn to ask anything you want to know about Couchsurfing. Small or big. Complicated or simple. Just ask your question in comments below.