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One big reason I’ve been able to travel so much as a broke college student is because of Couchsurfing. It has kept my travel costs low by reducing my accommodation costs to nothing. It has also been a great way for me to meet new people and make new friends from all over the world, many of which I still keep in touch with to this day. Although there has been quite some controversy relating to Couchsurfing and its safety, especially for female travelers, I have had nothing but positive experiences. Thus, I’ve put together this guide for first time surfers and seasoned surfers alike, who are looking to have a positive Couchsurfing experience. In this guide, you’ll find tips for setting up your profile and the most effective ways to message hosts to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
Setting up your Couchsurfing profile
Setting up your Couchsurfing profile is a very important first step because it is the only picture your host has about who you are. The more you write and disclose about yourself, the more likely it is that a Couchsurfing host will accept your request. Write about your passions, your reasons for choosing Couchsurfing, and your experiences travelling to different countries to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other requests they receive weekly (one of my hosts from NYC told me that he literally receives close to a hundred requests every day during the on-season). List the different things you can offer them and the things you want to learn. Can you teach them a new language? Are you both musicians who love to jam out with other musicians? Do you have stories from areas of the world that no one’s been to? This will make way for awesome experiences where you and your host can swap life experiences, knowledge, and more, and it will end up being a fulfilling time for both of you.
Finding the right host
The first step to any successful Couchsurfing experience is finding the right Couchsurfing host. When searching for a host in major cities like New York City, you will likely receive hundreds of thousands of results to sort through. The majority of these hosts are not worth contacting because they may be inactive on Couchsurfing or not someone you would want to stay with. Thus, it is important to filter out your results to save time, and there are a few filters to pay attention to.
The first filter I look at is the length of time for last login date, and depending on how soon I need to surf (usually I request very last minute, i.e. the day before my trip), I either choose last logged in 24 hours to a week ago. Next, I select “female” for the gender filter, but as this tends to limit hosts to a very small percentage of the entire hosting population, I usually end up unchecking that to get more results. Although surfing with females is still my first choice, I haven’t surfed with any to this day, and the male hosts I’ve surfed with have all been very courteous and great hosts. One important thing to note is that I have never surfed solo with a male host; I have always been with at least one other female. If you are concerned with safety, I would recommend trying Couchsurfing when you are traveling with at least one other person.
Another strategy I use to increase the number of hosts likely to reply to my request is to check both the “accepting guests” and “maybe accepting guests” box. I’ve ended up staying with a few hosts found under “maybe accepting guests,” and sometimes hosts only check that filter so they receive fewer requests. After all the filters are checked, the next step is to look for verification and response rate. Hosts’ response rate is probably the most indicative of their likelihood to respond to your request, so it is likely a waste of your time to message a host with a response rate of 5%.
Messaging Couchsurfing hosts
After you find hosts that seem to have a high chance of replying, it is important to read through their entire profile to see if they would be a good fit. Some hosts have lengthy profiles that include code words that you’re required to include in your message if you’d like the host to reply to your request. This way, the host can better ensure that you actually took the time to read their profile and determined them to be a good fit, and you are not simply trying to take advantage of a free place to stay. Hosts with lengthier profiles are typically the ones who would prefer to spend time with you instead of only seeing you at night before bed. If you are not looking to engage with locals or spend time with your Couchsurfing host, then Couchsurfing is probably not for you, unless you can find a host who specifically states that they will not be able to spend much time with you. If you have any doubt about whether spending the time to get to know your host is worthwhile, I can tell you that it absolutely is. Couchsurfing hosts are locals who can offer an accurate and authentic perspective of their city. Many hosts are also more than willing to take time out of their day to tour you around their city and spend time with you, so I would take full advantage of this.
Verification and trusting your gut
Verification is usually not something that I would trust. There are a few categories for verification – payment verified, phone verified, government ID verified, and address verified. Many people have their payment and phone verified, but this doesn’t ensure safety to any level. The green checkmark next to their name says very little about how safe they really are as hosts. I would focus more on the references, which are reviews left by previous surfers or hosts (if the host surfed before). However, one flag I’ve noticed is that some hosts have a lot of references, but they all come from one common demographic (very often this demographic is young Asian girls). This is definitely a warning sign, and many of these hosts have messaged me offering to host me. They gave off pretty bad vibes and when I read all the reviews left for them, they seemed pretty fabricated and sketchy. The takeaway from this is to always check out the references left for the host and not only glance at the number of references left! That being said, if the host has many reviews left by seemingly real people, chances are they are safe. Remember to still meet up in public with them first and trust your gut feeling towards them. If something seems off, you’re better off paying a bit more for a hostel or hotel than risking anything happening to you.
Other useful Couchsurfing features
Couchsurfing has developed quite a bit since I first began using it. They have expanded other sections of their site so that Couchsurfers can connect better with each other outside of surfing or hosting. Couchsurfing has a ‘hangouts’ section where surfers can see a short description of what others are interested in doing, and then choose whether they want to meet up. There is also a section where surfers and hosts can see if there are other Couchsurfers visiting the destinations they will be at so that if the surfer is travelling alone, they can have a community of people to befriend and explore with. Another section of community interaction that I have found to be very useful is joining different groups on Couchsurfing. There are groups ranging from music lovers, to emergency Couchsurfing requests in various cities, to cycling enthusiasts. The emergency request ones have proven to be quite helpful because the hosts in it are usually more active on Couchsurfing and more quick to respond.
Couchsurfing is the tangible representation of the phrase “the kindness of strangers.” While we can’t ignore the fact that there have been unfortunate Couchsurfing stories, the idea behind it is positive and there are still people committed to Couchsurfing’s original purpose. If used correctly, Couchsurfing can be one of the most rewarding experiences that you’ll ever have. I’ve never had the opportunity to host other surfers before, but when I am able to have my own place (I’ve been living in dorm rooms since I started using Couchsurfing), I would love to give back to the Couchsurfing community by offering my home to stay in.
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I actually believe that social networks can produce a very public profile. In that publicity, there is safety. Feedback and banishment could do a lot to self police an online society. That being said, I would insist, if my daughter was couch surfing, that she takes a friend with here. No matter how strong publicity can be it will not trump safety in numbers. I would assume usual bar precautions of watching your drinks would come in handy too.
I totally agree! I’ve never couchsurfed by myself and would definitely feel much less comfortable doing so
I’ve never tried couchsurfing, and have always been a little hesitant to try so. I usually stick to Airbnb as you can find some really great deals on there too.
However, after reading your guide, i’ve decided to set up a profile, and maybe in the future try it out. I does seem like a really great way to meet new travellers, like minded people and saving a lot of money! I’m very tempted!
I’m glad this post helped!! It’s incredibly rewarding when the experience is good, but please do be careful!
These are some great tips for anyone thinking about this sort of accommodation, and I’m surprised you can get some good results with booking only 24 hours before! I think it is good to try this with a friend first as you have suggested, especially if you are worried, but it is great to see the more successful side of coachsurfing!
Haha yeah the 24 hours was cutting it a bit close ? Couchsurfing is so great when it works out, but unfortunately, many people have bad stories 🙁
I love Couchsurfing and have made some life long friends. In fact I am heading to India in a few days to attend a wedding of someone who I met via Couchsurfing.
I regulary Couchsurf alone with males and females. I also take the precaution of telling my dad the address and user name of the person I am staying with. I will have a conversation with them via the app and make sure we are a lined. And I always make sure I have the details of a close by guesthouse so I can leave at any point.
That said I have never had a bad experience and I have Couchsurfed all over the world.
I love hearing things like this 🙂 It’s encouraging to hear that you’ve couchsurfed everywhere and still haven’t had bad experiences! Those are definitely great precautions to take too!
I’ve read a lot about couchsurfing from travel bloggers but this is an entirely new concept to me. I’m not going to lie – it is a scary thought! But hopefully other female travelers like myself will be able to put your tips to good use.
I hope the post helped! I’d encourage you to give it a shot at least once, but please do it with a friend first 🙂
I’ve never considered couchsurfing myself, as I enjoy the luxury of checking in to a hotel and relaxing. But like you say, it’s a great way to meet new people and save money. I think it’s so important to be safe in this situation and you’ve shared some great tips – definitely trust your gut!
Haha I feel you on that one! It is an amazing way to meet people and gives so many different experiences 🙂
Great Couchsurfing tips here. I couchsurf almost everywhere I go and travelling as much as I have wouldn’t have been possible without it. I am eternally grateful to the people who have hosted me and I host whenever I can to pay that kindness forward. That being said, I have had some dodgy experiences, even with people who have endless positive references. There are definitely people who seem to use it as a hook-up site but the good outweighs the bad 1000-fold. I think it’s always good to have a back-up plan and enough to buy a night in a hostel – just in case.
I completely agree! The good outweighs the bad for me too. I also wouldn’t have been able to go to half the places that I did without couchsurfing. It’s an amazing concept and I really appreciate all the people who use it for the right reasons!
All great tips you are sharing. It is very important to have a great profile and to actually read the profile of the person you would like to stay with. I always try to spend as much time with the hosts as possible and have some great stories to tell. One time I stayed in Spain, Seville with this teacher and his dog and he ended up taking us to a house party in a villa with all his teacher friends who were expats in Spain from the UK. That was a crazy night and I still keep in touch with the host. Never been surfing on my own though, so it’s a good point you make taking someone along.
That sounds like an incredible experience! It’s amazing to hear that you’ve made a long lasting friendship with both the teacher and his dog ?
I somehow, cannot get myself to couchsurf for a lot of reasons…one of course, you have mentioned…how do you trust ? However, your guide seems to put to rest a lot of my fears. Will definitely be considering it now/
I completely understand your hesitation! I think part of it is interacting a bit with the host and hearing their worldview – this helps me trust them a bit more, because generally people with an open mind and passion for travel aren’t the ones using it for bad reasons!
Such great tips! Personally, I’ve never had to use couch surfing. The one time I almost did was with another friend who was on a tight budget. We really struggled to find a decent person, but I don’t think we spent enough time building out profile and we found a lot of inactive accounts. I would be open to try it again maybe someday, and will definitely try out some of these tips when I do!
I’m sorry to hear that! Your profile definitely matters a lot – I’d encourage you to try it again 🙂
I have personally never tried couch surfing, but it is encouraging to hear of your positive experiences with it, so maybe I’ll have to try!
That’s good to hear! Thanks for reading!
Wonderfully written article that explains the concept and steps for a positive couchsurfing experience. I don’t see myself using this service any time soon, but it’s nice to know it’s an option and be better educated about the various accommodations available to travelers.
Thank you! I wanted to open up people’s minds to the idea even if they don’t end up trying it themselves 🙂
Great tips! I tried this when I was in Europe a couple of years ago and had some great experiences. I’ll definitely follow your tips if I want to try it again!
Wow! What countries did you try it in?
To be honest, I think I watch way too many crime shows to couchsurf. Not saying other women shouldn’t, but I don’t think I would be comfortable with it. The other side of it for me is that I am an introvert, so I love my own space. 🙂 All that being said, I love seeing other women getting out, and experiencing this kind of stuff. Great guide.
Haha I totally get your concerns then ? Thanks so much for reading!
I’ve actually never couchsurfed, specifically because of safety concerns, but your tips made me feel a lot more relaxed about it! I guess if you set it up the right way, Couchsurfing can be a great and safe experience 🙂 I’ll definitely consider it next time I’m traveling on a budget! (Which is, like, every time. haha)
Haha yes! Budget travelling is definitely what originally piqued my interest in couchsurfing. Do surf with a friend for your first time though!
These are great tips! Couchsurfing is something that we’re looking at doing as a family, and I’m sure many of these tips will apply! It’s such a great way to engage with locals, with the added bonus that it reduces accommodation costs!! Seems ideal.
That would be an awesome idea! Let us know if you end up doing it 🙂
I have never tried couchsurfing and frankly I had no idea that they even had profiles for it. But it sounds cool! It sure is a great way to meet people . We usually do airbnb and that can get pricey. Great tips for couch surfers there.
I hope it encouraged you to give couchsurfing a try sometime! Thanks for reading 🙂
I had no idea that actual couchsurfing was a thing. This seems like a great way to travel for cheap. I would think this would cater to people who are used to hostels and such. I personally love hotels and the comfort of being in my own room, so probably not for me.
It would be more like living in a hostel – sometimes, there are many other couchsurfers staying with the same host and it can feel like a hostel party! ? That being said, I completely understand those who would prefer to have their own space!
Thanks for this post.
Until about 3 years ago, I couchsurfed quite a bit. I have since stopped using the site because there are just too many guys giving off bad vibes (and I am doing financially better).
My take is that if you stick to smaller towns you might have a better chance of getting a decent host. Also, I would recommend having emergency funds to be able to leave and move to a hostel if you feel unsafe around the host.
Save & happy continued travels!
Hey Carola, thanks for stopping by and reading! I’m sorry you had some bad experiences, and it’s great that financially you’re able to sponsor your accommodations! That’s a great idea – emergency funds could be a lifesaver for sketchy couchsurfing hosts. Thanks and happy travels to you too!
I’ve couchsurfed before and I also filter for only female hosts – so far all my hosts have been female! I’m definitely going to be using it when I go travelling later this year so this post is great and super informative. Thanks!
Wow! That’s awesome, I always find it so hard to find female hosts! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I had couchsurfing few times and solo with males. I made it very clear that I need a separate space to sleep and all of them are okay with that. Sometimes I do cross-reference check, like private message the previous surfers their experience so I can get an idea, because I knew some surfers are reluctant to write down negative reference because they afraid thfroey will get a negative reference from their host as well. I do not do couchsurfing anymore due to safety reasons but I still meet couchsufers for meals and exploration during the day.
Those are all really great tips to ensure that you have a safe and positive couchsurfing experience – thanks for sharing! 🙂