Photo: Dave Austria
1. Create seedy meetups.
There seems to be a growing problem of people creating CS meetups for the sole purpose of hooking up, maintaining creep-to-female ratios in the ballpark of 9:1. That math doesn’t add up for anyone.
2. Mention being out of money.
Couchsurfing operates under the pretense that it’s not about a free room — it’s about community. So when you can’t afford a hostel, don’t play that card.
3. Expect everyone to be “normal.”
Some people like putting up tents in your living room. Others like to do laugh yoga at 5am. When you sign up for CS, it’s probably in the fine print that you have to be okay with cultural / personal quirks from some of the world’s quirkiest people: travelers.
4. Copy/paste requests.
Just like with freelance job applications, people can tell when you haven’t actually read a single word of their profiles. Do some research and pick people who actually look interesting to you.
5. Be the couchsurfing Kramer.
Just because someone says they’re interested in hosting you doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Always confirm the date and time of arrival at least once, and try to communicate any changes to that time as soon as possible.
6. Have unrealistic expectations.
I know, you want to show your German surfers every nook and cranny of your city. I know you’re also hoping for a nonstop rager with your new local connections when you visit them in Berlin. But people have lives and their own plans that don’t always include you.
7. Stop fielding requests but keep your account active.
People depend on CS for places to stay, and make plans around finding people’s couches. So when they email you and you don’t respond for weeks, you could be wasting days on end of narrowing their search to people who are actually available.
8. Back out often.
There’s a lot of trepidation involved in traveling via other people’s homes. You don’t have the kind of accountability and booking guarantees that come with traveling in hostels or hotels, so backing out of hosting (in particular) could be a really big problem both emotionally and financially for the surfer, especially if it’s last-minute.
9. Always be the surfer, never the host.
The theory goes that if you like to travel with the true openness of a couchsurfer, you probably get genuine enjoyment from allowing people to do the same. Otherwise it tends to look like you’re a freeloader.
10. Give short notice — a lot.
I’ve personally had awful luck trying to couchsurf with only a few days’ notice, and even though that isn’t always the case, people tend to not want to interrupt their lives and offer up their futons on a Tuesday night when you ask around on Tuesday morning while they’re at work.
11. Rave about how cool you are.
An important part of finding a host / surfer is personality compatibility. You’ll be rooming together and probably genuinely hanging out, so you want to think you’ll get along well. But this isn’t a dating site. You don’t have to go in-depth about your travel achievements, oddball talents, or professional accomplishments.
12. Talk about being “open-minded.”
Everyone on CS is open-minded to some degree. When you say it, it sounds like your idea of “open-minded” is hot yoga and ordering sushi to see what all the fuss is about.
13. Have a vague profile.
First, pictures matter. It isn’t necessarily a sex thing, just an expectation thing. Don’t just post group photos or extreme angle shots or long shots of you in a parka. Second, actually talk about things you are genuinely interested in. Don’t just say “I like to travel,” “I love food,” and “I’m in college.”
14. Have no references.
This looks sketchy. Travelers don’t like sketchy unless it’s street food. And even then…
15. Ignore your host’s gray-water system.
My friends were doing the gray-water thing with their sink, meaning their water drained into a bucket so they could use the runoff (they always show people to make sure they don’t overflow it). We live in the desert during a drought, so water is a big deal here. So when they came home one night to find their surfer (who admitted to having Asperger’s) staring out their kitchen window from an inch of standing water with the faucet still pouring, they were something less than happy.
16. Be American.
It’s a common American misconception that everyone hates Americans. But seriously, some people just don’t like Americans.
The CS community is already very generous by nature, so there’s really no need to try to pull on people’s heartstrings when your boyfriend leaves you in the middle of Belgium and takes the bank card. People on CS don’t generally like to think they’re in it for charity — they like to think they’re in it for the greater good of travel experience, breaking down cultural barriers, and the sharing of a home / city / country.
18. Treat people’s homes like a hotel.
I asked my gray-water friend what pisses him off about couchsurfers, and the biggest thing he could think of was when people would propose stopping in after dark and then taking off in the morning. “No, this is not a fucking hotel,” he said.