Couchsurfing is a hospitality exchange network for you to stay in a local house for free. Hosts put up their ‘couches’ (sometimes literal, sometimes not) and surfers send out couch requests to them. It allows you to connect with the locals by staying in their place and skip away from all the touristy places. It is a good opportunity for travellers to meet new people from all around the world and experience new cultures. Here are some general tips that might help you have a better couchsurfing experience.
Set up a presentable profile
Just like how you begin to use any other social media, a good profile has to contain basic personal information about yourself. This information that you need to provide in Couchsurfing differs from others. Sections like “Why I’m on Couchsurfing” and “My Interest” are some of the things that draw your host’s attention so both of you could find a common ground. Spare some time to organize the information because this could be the first impression you give your host.
Usually, the more specific your profile is, the better. A profile that glosses over the Favourites section and only contains generic details not only prevents potential hosts from getting to know you, but also makes you come across as lazy or indifferent. A profile that contains unique details, on the other hand, makes your profile stand out and boost your chances of getting a host.
Send out a good request
Once again, attention to detail is a good thing to practise. Some hosts may have a secret code word somewhere that you have to include to show that you’ve actually read their profile. It’s always best to include one or two lines about common interests or benefits. Do you both share a love for Sherlock but think that season 4 sucks? Or perhaps they are trying to pick up Mandarin which happens to be your first language. Details like this show that you understand their expectations (some may have house rules, like a curfew, or a no-smoking policy), and that you picked them because you’re actually interested in them as a person and not just as a provider of free boarding. Sometimes a good request, even if turned down, can lead to a budding friendship.
Do something nice
Often you would meet great people along the journey and might want to express your gratitude in some way. Even if you don’t, it’s common courtesy to do something nice for your host(s). I find that cooking a meal (or meals) is usually a good place to start. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific cuisine of your home country (though that may be nice); usually, the simple act of preparing and sharing a meal is enough. Offering to help out with chores might seem a little odd at first, but is, in fact, another way to make things easier for them. Others might prefer to bring gifts such as chocolates, memorabilia from your home country, or even a book; again, the profile often provides some clues as to whether they have a nut allergy, or maybe a favourite author.
References are everything – just like your resume
If you’re new to Couchsurfing, you could request your friend to write a reference for you. But once you have been a host or a guest, you could (and you should) leave your reference for that person. Here is the tricky part: some might believe that it is not really nice if you leave a negative reference for that person when someone has offered their hospitality to you, which results in mostly positive reviews on people’s profiles. Nevertheless, it’s best to be as honest as you can, for it is a community-based system after all. That way, you’re helping future surfers and hosts make more informed decisions. If you’re cautious about finding the right host, pay closer attention to what other guests/hosts have to say about that person with hidden messages.
Be a host
Give before you receive. A profile with positive reviews shows that you had offered travellers to stay at your place, and this makes people more likely to host you. You will bump into many people from different walks of life who will share their incredible travel journey with you. You don’t have to have a big house to be a host. In fact, most hosts do not own a big house; all they have is a big heart and an open mind.
Join or organize a public event
Couchsurfing is not only about free stays. There is always going to be events happening around cities where you can join to interact with other travellers.
Recently, one of us had organized a trip to Batu Caves during Thaipusam festival. Despite the horribly crowded situation during the event, everyone worked collectively to make sure everyone is on the right track so no one is left behind. The Couchsurfing community is very diverse and open-minded, as they can come from different backgrounds. It is a good platform for cultural exchanges between the locals and the foreigners.
Chances are, not everyone on Couchsurfing has good intentions. Female travellers are one of the targets surfers might take advantage of. If a male surfer happens to have references from only female guests, he might have other intentions rather than just offering you a place to stay. It is not to say that you shouldn’t have any sexual intercourse with your host if it’s consensual, just keep in mind that sex without mutual permission is rape, full stop. To every surfer, make your expectations clear from the beginning of your stay. While most surfers are open-minded and carefree, if you happen to have a mutual connection with your host – voila! Then again, there are a lot of crazy stories on the internet about the worst experiences in Couchsurfing. But if it does sound a little eerie to you, you could go as a couple or with friends. Also, you could learn martial arts for self-defence purposes.
At the end of the day, the plunge is something you have to take yourself. These guidelines may be summed up as: be cautious, be courteous, and be proactive. Remember that couchsurfing is not just about getting free accommodation while travelling. Rather, it’s about cultural exchange: to make new friends around the globe.
“The fragility of human connection and the wild, lonely joy of travelling can get overwhelming sometimes, and it helps to meet up with virtual strangers and bond over that sort of stuff.”
By Yee Heng Yeh and America Lee Yan Yi
Feature image source: yomag.eu