And stay away from the flocks of tourists. Sleeping on a stranger’s couch (or if you’re lucky, in their spare room) can scratch that deep travel itch to find the ‘real’ life of a city – the one that only locals know.
The first place to start with all of this is over at couchsurfing.com – the heart and home of the vibrant couchurfing community. This is where you will find free beds, friendships and hopefully, deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans.
Our guest blogger, Adam Schofield, is a professional DJ, and freelance writer, from Bolton/Manchester UK, wrote a series of books about couchsurfing the continents of the world. He has just crashed on his 110th couch, at the home of Roy Abrahams in Toronto and is full of good tips to keep you surfing safely and getting the most from these great interpersonal experiences.
Here are his top 10 tips on how to be a good couch surfer.
The more information other members can access about you, the greater your chances will be of obtaining a host. When creating your member’s profile on couchsurfing.com, fill out all the appropriate fields to describe yourself, your interests and intentions. Also, make sure to include a cracking photo. Unlike passport authorities, smiling is encouraged… the bigger the better.
The CouchSurfing community unites to provide info on their website such the host’s validation credentials and written references that can give you some peace of mind before you decide to stay on the couch of someone you've never met before. The validation system on Couchsurfing.com is extremely important and here's how it works
There are three distinct levels of verification, each represented by an icon on your members profile page. How are these obtained?
Level 1 – Add Your Home Address.
Simply add your home address details to your profile. This will not be available for others to see. Once this is complete the first icon will appear on your profile.
Level 2 – Address Verifications Via Your Credit Card Address.
Make a donation of $25 to couchsurfing.com via a credit card registered to the same home address you embedded in your profile. The donation helps maintain costs of the website running and the credit card security check .
Level 3 – Password Security.
A snail mail will be posted to the home address you supplied with a unique password. Log into the CouchSurfing website and enter it to get your level 3 verification icon proving that you are who you say you are, and do in fact reside at that address.
How does verification benefit you?
Couchsurfing.com utilizes a specific search engine enabling you to tailor a search for your host based on gender, age, location, profession, language barriers, disability accessibility and especially, those who have taken the time and dedication to become verified. This way you can rest in the knowledge that your experience will be safe. The network will always have a record of its members should anything happen.
When staying in a hotel, you like to read about it first before making a decision, don’t you? The same applies to CouchSurfing. Make sure to read profiles during the selection process. The more you know about your host before your arrival, the better your expectations will be. Strike up a little rapport with your hosts via Skype or MSN chat a few weeks in advance and get to know each other before arriving. Always address the host by their name when requesting a couch. Spam mailing several hosts or groups looking for a quick couch will often make you look disorganized and disrespectful.
Be sure to give an exact date and time of arrival and if you’re lucky, a host might offer to pick you up. If making your own way there, be sure to get clear and precise directions and a contact number should you have any problems. One advantage of CouchSurfing is that your host can tell you the cheapest and safest way to get to their house and you can avoid the usual scams of overpriced taxis at the airport.
My experience has led me to believe that a warm roof, clean drinking water and a safe place to store your bags are the three most crucial concerns. Anything else is a bonus. So, be considerate of the small expenses we take for granted. Remember, someone has to pay! Pay attention to water, electricity and gas consumption and even toilet paper, soap, and cooking essentials. Always keep your area clean and offer to help your hosts with household chores, cleaning and cooking. Never expect free food. When it happens, be grateful. Manners are essential and should be always maintained. And need we say, remember to wash yourself too! Considering all these points will not only create a smoother experience but will often lead to a lifetime friendship with your host and a positive reference on your profile for other potential hosts to read before deciding to host you.
Before arriving at your destination, post a welcome message in the group for that city or country on couchsurfing.com. Introduce yourself to the local members and other travellers in the area... even suggest a meeting. The sooner you post your welcome, the more time you will have to coordinate your plans with others. There will undoubtedly be other members wanting to get together for tours or a night on the town. This is my favourite feature of being part of the CouchSurfing community - you can quickly meet trustworthy friends in unfamiliar places and discover great, cheap places to visit, eat and enjoy like a local.
Familiarize yourself with your host’s neighbourhood as soon as possible. Hotels might be easy to find, but houses and apartments can look the same. Try and obtain a small map and mark your host’s location. Listen attentively to their advice and be sure to have a contact in case you get lost. If your host gives you a key, safeguard it at all times.
You should never invite strangers back to your host’s house without permission, nor disclose their address.
It’s great to spread the word about CouchSurfing and share your experiences, yet wise to consider who to direct the idea too as there are some that may try and take advantage of others. Decide if the person you are about to tell is someone you would like to surf with or be hosted by in the future. Should you have any problems with a member, speak with local city or country CouchSurfing ambassadors or contact the dedicated member dispute team who will decide what course of action to follow
Remember to always remain open minded, non judgmental, smile and enjoy the couchsurfing experience. It’s more than a free couch, it’s an opportunity to learn and share from each other, bring together our individual worlds, helping one another utilise the short time we have to embrace all that life has to offer.
Share your best CouchSurfing stories and tell us your top tips to get the most from the experience.