Couchsurfing! Or how to find interesting people and crash their couches for free.
Find out all you need to know in this article and become a pro couchsurfer!
I started to share my couch in 2010 when I was living in Heidelberg, Germany. I was still studying at university by then and had a lot of free time! My flat was close to the city and Couchsurfing requests kept rolling in.
MY EXPERIENCE OF COUCHSURFING FOR 8 MONTHS
My first couchsurfers were a friendly couple from I forgot where. We shared stories about traveling and I had them stay at my place for free. We went out together and I showed them my city.
I hosted a lot of people in my apartment and once I had a few recommendations I started traveling around the world surfing at people’s couches for eight months, sharing life with them for a bit.
First stop was Las Vegas, where I got picked up by my couchsurfer who drove me to the city center. I only had a layover of about 10 hours, so I threw my backpack in his car, we got beers and headed to the Casinos. He drove me back to the airport at night and I caught my plane to Hawaii.
You see, Couchsurfing doesn’t always mean you actually sleep at that person’s place. You can also just ask them to hang out.
I went on to Hawaii and worked on Big Island for some months. Before I left to Australia I had a pretty nice couchsurfing spot in Honolulu: two students had rented an apartment building with a public pool and beach view. Awesome. We made pancakes, went partying and I ended up staying there for 4 days binge watching Ninja Warrior with the two guys! Best time ever hahaha.
In Australia I got some nice spots in Melbourne. One was a DJ, who had an apartment in the city center of Melbourne. He’s called Jamison Yergler and you should definitely check him out on SoundCloud!
I stayed there longer as planned and became friends with his roommate. When I arrived at the place they were hosting a party, so I was instantly meeting a lot of people. We hung out together, went to festivals and at some point I left to another spot in Australia.
His name is Chris and he bought houses and renovated them to sell them after. He was amazing! I was greeted with a barbecue, we hung out with his friends and went shark fishing together.
He was also brewing beer, which made the German in me happy, haha!
He actually visited me in Germany some years later, where we got massively drunk on Absinthe and were basically scared of everything… plus we were hiding under blankets because of that, Hahaha what a night!
Some other couchsurfers took me jet skiing with crocodiles, surfing or paddle boating with turtles. Got some great experiences for free with great and interesting people to hang out with.
I’ve traveled with couchsurfing for about 8 months straight, with a few exceptions when I was staying at friends’ places or in hostels.
I like to mix it up when I’m traveling: a bit of couchsurfing and a bit of hostels to meet other travelers.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD COUCH
- Set up a profile and describe yourself. Take your time to create it, people will have you in their home, so talk about yourself a bit more than just one sentence.
- Upload pictures of yourself (no group pictures) and your couch. Choose one where you are smiling. No one wants to stay with a sad-looking weirdo. Smiling weirdos are fine though!
- Start hosting people to get some reviews. Friends can also review you, but they won’t show up as “Surfers”.
- Start to surf a couch. Choose a location and choose a person you instantly have a good feeling about. It’s all about that! Stomach hurts? Scroll down. Feels good? Message!
ADVICE FOR REQUESTING A STAY
Write to a lot of people. As an example: When I applied for couches in Hawaii I did that 1,5-2 weeks in advance, wrote to about 25 people out of which 15 replied out of which 5 accepted my stay.
That was when I was starting out. Now I’ve got 26 good references, write to someone and normally get accepted straight away.
One good piece of advice for couchsurfing is to be genuinely (!) interested in the person.
FIRST: Comment on something your possible host has written or shown on their profile! Be interested in the people! Read their profiles!
For example: “Hey ____! I’ve seen you’ve been to Germany. I am living there and there are definitely some cool spots to visit.”
Introduce yourself! Say your name, what you do and why you want to stay at the couchsurfers place. (You can write that once and copy paste that part)
And then end with “Let me know if I can crash your couch, have a nice day, Blabla…”
Make sure not to write one to for sentences only. I always decline those people and don’t even waste time to check out their profiles. They most likely just want to stay for free and are not interested in me as a person.
Couchsurfing is about giving and receiving. You give your couch- you receive conversations or hang out with the person.
I actually wrote my final thesis at university about Couchsurfing in the context of a sharing economy and whether traveling makes you more generous … and how companies can apply this to their employees to gain more benefits. It’s about 32 pages in German and no I am not going to translate it. If you want to know more about that you can send me a message though.
When I apply for a couch I always tend to write that I am pretty awesome at making pancakes (they actually contain caramelized bananas, Oreo cookies and liquid chocolate inside -BAM). My dad used to make them for me when I was smaller and they will definitely let you stay there for longer haha!
HOW LONG CAN I STAY?
1-3 days are fine. Do not ask for more. You’re not a creep! If I want to stay longer I ask for 2 days and start with pancakes once I arrive. This normally gives me 2+ days in case my couchsurfer is free.
TIPPS FOR SURFERS
Be respectful! Clean up after yourself. Ask if you can help with anything. Be interested in the host. Ask them about their lives and you will learn so much!
Most importantly though: be thankful!!
Those people let you stay at their home, which is awesome! Appreciate and verbalize that! 🙂
WHO DOES COUCHSURFING?
All kinds of people. It’s not just hippies! I actually often stayed with a lot of young business men or students.
Most girls I had written to tended to decline me when I asked and I do have to admit I enjoy the company of guys when we go out and have some drinks. Most of them also like the stuff I like and love beer. Kind of sounds legit.
HOW DO THE COUCHES LOOK LIKE?
Well sometimes you sleep on actual couches and sometimes you’re lucky and get your own room with a beach front.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE?
Yes. 1 out of about 30. I was hosting a girl with her granny. Yes, her granny! I kind of thought that was fun. How wrong was I to be.
Granny arrived, sat at my couch and started reading all night, fell asleep and almost burned my wallpaper with the night light, snored like a chainsaw and left grey hair on my toilet seat. Uuaaaah!! I’m still shivering!
Turned out those two just wanted to stay somewhere for free and we’re not really social. I stopped hosting people for 2 years after that.
Other than that I only had positive experiences. And I’ve always done couchsurfing, when I was traveling alone. No problems here.
ARE THERE BAD REVIEWS?
Yes, there technically are, but no one tends to write them openly. I guess it’s some guilt issue. You stayed somewhere for free and don’t want to mess with the person after. And you kind of go in without any expectations, so what should you be disappointed of?
It would be good to write it more openly. I have to admit that I did not give those two a review at all, though I should have.
HOW TO SPOT HIDDEN BAD REVIEWS
Check out the profile and look at the reviews. How long are they? Are they personal? Those are good signs! Someone who likes the person they stayed with gets into detail about their stay!
Short reviews like “It was a great stay. Thank you so much!” Are bad! If a person has a lot of these- choose another couchsurfer to stay with.
I do not apply to stay with people who have zero or only 1 review and whose profile is not compete, neither do I accept them at my place.
If you don’t have any reviews yet, you can either start hosting, have some friends write some for you or be honest about it.
Write to the people and say you’ve just started with couchsurfing, describe yourself and say why you want to to start (!) couchsurfing with this person …
CAN YOU DO COUCHSURFING IN SOUTH AMERICA?
I’d generally say you can easily do couchsurfer in more “expensive” countries with a good infrastructure. But I’ve had some great experiences in Panama and Colombia and I’m sure other parts of South America are just fine as well.
Check out the people I’d say and set a filter in your search on how many references they have. There are a LOT of people in South America that set up a profile but never actually participate in Couchsurfing.
In Brazil I’ve had a few requests from guys from São Paulo who wanted to stay at my place IN São Paulo.
Wtf dude! That’s not how it works.
I tend to decline a lot of requests as a host. But you can choose your people when you surf and when you host, so I guess you should be fine. And as South America is a country with great and friendly people, you can definitely find a good place to do couchsurfing.