All photos by author unless otherwise noted

If you hope to land a couch, Kelly Lewis says you should start searching now.

[Editor’s note: This article was originally published as a Matador Travel blog post.]

CARNAVAL IS ONE of the busiest times in Brazil. The experience — filled with costumes, street parties, singing, and dancing — ensures that the cost of accommodation is steep and very competitive. Most hostels will charge a specific ‘week-long fee’ during the festival, which is anything but budget-friendly.

When I was shopping around last year, the hostels I looked into were charging around $500 for one week. And this was for one spot in an 8-bed dorm room. Booking for the entire length of Carnaval is risky as you probably won’t know how near or far from the action you are until you arrive.

Although the event is in February, Couchsurfing is already abuzz with Carnaval requests and information.

So I chose to Couchsurf. Having someone who could show me the ropes, take me to all of the local parties and parades, speak Portuguese, and look out for me, made me feel so safe and secure that I was really able to let loose and have fun.

Since he knew Rio de Janeiro like the back of his hand, I also never had to carry a guidebook, or worry about where I was going.

If you’re hoping to do the same, now is the time to start searching. Although the event is in February, Couchsurfing is already abuzz with Carnaval requests and information. Follow these tips to be more successful in your search.

Photo: M. Johansson

1. Read the profile

Always read the profile of the person whose couch you are seeking and send a personalized request with the person’s name. Make reference to things they say in their profile and make a connection by talking about what you have in common. This will go a long way to helping you stand out from your competition.

2. Send multiple requests

Send out as many requests as you can. Don’t give up after you send only five. When I was searching, I sent out about 10 a day. I got very lucky in that my first few came back with ‘yes’s, but I met a lot of people who waited until December or January to search and had a terrible time finding a place. Just make sure to personalize each request. Don’t be a spammer.

3. Follow up

So you got a maybe from someone? Lots of hosts don’t like to finalize their couches this far in advance. Find them on Facebook. Find them on Twitter. Find a way to connect with them and keep in contact throughout the coming months. As you get closer to the date, ask again if surfing with them is an option.

4. Lower your standards

At least a little. It is highly unlikely that you will be the only couchsurfer at a host’s place during Carnaval. I surfed at two different houses and at both I was one of about 6-8 other surfers. I got a bed in one and slept on a mattress on the ground in another. But since the town is so busy and so many are left without, I was beyond grateful.

5. Expand your search

If you are sending requests only to the first 20 that appear, chances are others will be too. Make sure to scour the 5th, 6th, 9th pages of your search…and beyond.

6. Search nearby cities

If you are searching in Rio de Janeiro, also search for Niteroi and Petropolis. Ideally, you want to stay in the city, but if you find a couch a bit out of town with a host who wants to travel (or drive) into town, you’re set.

7. Search for “Maybes” as well

Some hosts that list their couch as “maybe” are just as open as those who list their house as “yes.” And everyone in the CS scene in Rio (which is huge) understands that this is the week to open your doors. Everyone is off of work, and there are plenty of people willing to help.

8. Search for new members

You can sort your search results by new members by selecting “Newest Accounts” in the “Order By” field in your search options. These newbies may be your best bet as they are looking to have their own CS experience.

9. Search for hosts who have logged in recently

Look for members who have logged in within the past few days. This can be done by selecting “Last Login Date” in the “Order By” field (as above). These hosts are more active in the scene and, if their couch is spoken for, they may have a friend with space. This is actually how I landed my second CS host during Carnaval.

10. Post your plans

Going alone? Make a post. As I was traveling solo, I wrote a message on the travelers’ board about my plans to see if anyone else was interested in joining me. I did find someone. Her name was Marcella, from England, and we planned it out so that we stayed with the same host. We even met each other at the airport so we were together the whole time. We balanced each other out and ended up being great friends who traveled together for the next two months.

11. Don’t discriminate

Marcella and I tended to always search for female hosts. However, in the end it was men we most often stayed with. And guess what? It wasn’t scary at all.

12. Stay in touch

After you find a host, keep in touch in the weeks leading up to Carnaval. They will help you immensely. Build a friendship and then you have someone to talk to about little things like “what should I wear?”, “how much money to bring?”, and “should I buy Sambadromo tickets?” Your CS host will be your best friend through Carnaval, and possibly after too.

Good luck!

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