DURING A BRIEF STINT in Thailand, I had the opportunity to meet up with various people from different backgrounds: an Australian who divided his time between home and Phuket province, a couple from Ireland doing a backpacking tour of Asia, a middle-aged German woman who owned a house near Chalong Beach.
Together we chartered a long boat and set out to snorkel in some of the bluest waters and relax on powdery sand beaches.
One of the best days of my life.
Oh, and the people? Couchsurfers.
I came across Stefanie’s profile while looking for a place to stay in Phuket Town over the weekend. What I’d stumbled upon, however, was more than just a couch to crash on, but a guided tour of Thailand’s best islands, some great conversation from a diverse group, and a delicious lunch (my stomach still not quite used to spicy chicken and rice).
Couchsurfing, a website that links travelers looking for convenient and free places to stay with willing locals, is one of the better resources on the web. If you’ve done any major traveling you’re probably familiar with Couchsurfing, but have you set up your own profile, offered to host international guests, or slept on floors half the world over?
Although the number of surfers seems to be growing exponentially, hosts have to be particular when choosing who to allow in their homes. If you wanted to arrange for a guest to stay at your home, where would your attention lie? What information would concern you the most? Shared language? Interests? Age?
How can you best present your Couchsurfing profile, as both surfer and host?
10. Get Verified
Yes, Couchsurfing does require you to pay $25 to get level three verification, but this is a small price to pay; you’re donating to an excellent cause and ensuring people know you’re genuine.
9. Post Plenty of Pictures
It’s always suspicious when your CSing (CouchSurfing) profile lacks any kind of personal touch; where are the pictures of you smiling with friends, family, coworkers? Let other travelers know you’re social, and capable of having fun when the occasion calls for it.
8. Couchsurf with Friends if you have no References
Plenty of people on Couchsurfing won’t take anyone who doesn’t have at least one glowing reference. Granted, we all have to start somewhere, so get your friends to show the world you are capable of crashing in unfamiliar surroundings without incident.
Ask people you know to sign up with CSing and add you to their friends list. An even better choice might be to try surfing locally. Although you certainly have a place to stay in your hometown, there’s no reason you cannot learn from the perspectives of other locals, and since you don’t live thousands of miles away, they might be more inclined to let you stay and build your reference list.
7. Allude to Exciting Travels Abroad
Sharing at least one preview of your travels on a CSing profile can go over well in finding a place to stay. Those offering to host may want to hear how the story goes.
Have you traveled where others have only dreamed of going? If not, do you know someone who has been there, or could share a story for you to tell in your first contact emails?
6. Offer Your Couch at Home
Even if you don’t have a place for a fellow wanderer to stay the night, it’s important to make the offer; say you’re willing to meet someone for coffee and travel talk. Offer to connect them with your local CSing friends who do have decent floor space.
5. Don’t Use Couchsurfing to Hook Up
Maybe I’m off base here, but I just assumed that Couchsurfing was better than your average Match.com. Don’t post that you’re only willing to host members of the opposite sex and have only your single bed to share.
If you meet someone great by circumstance, that’s wonderful, but don’t actively seek it on a site like this.
4. Join and Follow Groups
True, you can just search for couches doing randomized searches under “Couchsurf!”, but another useful method to find or offer lodging is located in the local group listings. Each city should have its own official Couchsurfing group, assuming it doesn’t have ten.
3. Don’t Lie
Don’t want smokers to stay at your place? Say as much. Not gay-friendly? Be honest. Uncomfortable with people staying more than one night? You’d better tell them straight-away, or you could be stuck with The Man Who Came To Dinner.
Couchsurfing is about expanding your horizons, but, when you’re staying with someone, it’s also about compatibility. Don’t put someone out by saying you’re a morning person and then party till 3 AM. Be honest as to who you are and what you want in a CSing experience.
2. Tell People When You Leave the Country
I cannot count the number of CSers I’ve emailed who haven’t gotten back to me; although their profiles mention the possibility of leaving in the near future, they forget to update that they have already been gone six weeks and are unable to host.
And the number one tip…
1. Don’t be Afraid
Couchsurfing is about goodwill, bettering the lives of travelers, and international understanding; the people are not out to beat and rob you. I can understand some people being hesitant about staying in a stranger’s house in a foreign country (especially single ladies), but CSing is not the “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist.
These people are real, and others will attest to them. Don’t let any fears you might have show through your profile words.