Six Habits of Highly Effective Couchsurfers

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Bunking up on a stranger’s couch in a foreign city is trickier than staying with familiar folk. In addition to basic etiquette, here are six habits to master before you send out that first request through www.couchsurfing.org.

Giny + her brother-in-law Markus from Austria, two of my favorite guests.

Jiny + her brother-in-law Markus from Austria, two of my favorite guests.

Since opening my home to couchsurfers more than two years ago, I’ve welcomed 200+ strangers from around the globe to my Amsterdam apartment. My guests have included singles, couples, friends traveling together, mother-child duos and even a baby—adorable five-month-old Layla, who arrived wide-eyed from Paris with her Argentinean parents. While most have been 20-something students and 30-ish professionals, I’ve also hosted retirees and empty-nesters in their 50s and 60s, many searching for renewal in the second half of life.

French couchsurfers in the kitchen

Couchsurfers Roxane + Caroline made quiche lorraine for an authentic French dinner.

A Cultural Education

From virtually every experience, I’ve learned something about the customs of a foreign land. With tales of his family, a Pakistani army captain shed light on arranged marriages. An Austrian girl showed me post-war guilt up close and personal. A lesbian couple from China illuminated Asian intolerance for gays. Americans from numerous states have helped me see my own culture from afar. I could go on, but I’ll just say this: I would never have known all these things had I not learned them from those who’ve lived them.

Playing dress-up with Renaissance Woman Bernadette Golden.

Playing dress-up with Renaissance Woman Bernadette Golden.

In addition to helping me better understand foreign cultures, my guests have left me a legacy of trinkets, drawings, recipes and other tangible and intangible gifts. From them, I’ve learned what it takes to be a successful couchsurfer, as well as a good host. Being real, flexible and willing to go with the flow are parts of both equations. So is good communication, reliability, open-mindedness and an understanding that couchsurfing is about more than free digs. As Condé Nast Traveler’s William Sertl puts it, it’s an alternative travel resource that “brings hippie wanderlust into the modern age in a smart and open-to-all-ages Internet way.”

What To Know Before You Go

If you’ve ever crashed at a friend’s place, you already know the basics of connecting with people and making global friendships. But bunking up on a stranger’s couch in a foreign city is trickier than staying with familiar folk. In addition to basic etiquette, here are six habits to master before you send out that first request through www.couchsurfing.org:

Adorable Layla + her Argentinean parents

Adorable Layla + her Argentinean parents

1. Authenticity: Be real! Whether you’re a host or a guest, a profile that reflects who you are, how you live and what kind of traveler you are is essential. If you want positive responses, create one with recent photos of you (not the scenery you’ve visited), CS friends and references. Don’t have references? Get verified through CouchSurfing.org for $25 and you’ll automatically improve your CS image. Whatever you do, don’t misrepresent yourself. If you’re a party animal who likes to hit the clubs until dawn, approaching potential hosts as a tee-totalling culture vulture will backfire. Trust me.

Alas, you can’t control everything in your profile. Both hosts and guests can leave references that help other surfers know what they’re all about. Surfers who want to avoid creepy or amorous hosts will check out references if they don’t want to risk a similar experience. By limiting requests to hosts who’ve been verified, e.g., had their address and identity checked through CouchSurfing.org, you can boost the safety factor.

CS guests Kayleen (from the U.S., enroute to India), Daniel from Serbia + Suz from Eagle Rock, CA.

CS guests Kayleen (from the U.S., enroute to India), Daniel from Serbia + Suz from Eagle Rock, CA.

2. Engagement: This starts with a personal, not copied and pasted, request to potential hosts. Make it specific, with details about length of desired stay, how and when you’ll arrive, what you want to see and why you chose that person. Showing interest in both your host AND your destination demonstrates you’re not just trying to travel for free, which is not in the true spirit of couchsurfing. For hosts, knowing something about guests’ interests, lifestyle and sightseeing agenda will foster connection. If it’s clear their eating, drinking, smoking, sleeping and partying habits clash with yours, don’t ask for trouble by inviting people into your home who don’t appear to be kindred spirits.

Annie + Melanie from France

French guests Annie + Melanie

3. Adaptability: If you’re looking for five-star accommodations, book a luxury hotel. Alternatively, turn to Airbnb, which connects travelers with locals interested in renting space. While some CS hosts offer comfy digs and perks like WiFi, keys and sightseeing guidance, the lower your expectations, the better your chances for a happy stay. Going with the flow, even if that means sleeping on the floor or in cramped quarters, goes with the territory. Adapting to that reality will help you avoid disappointment.

4. Communication: Effective surfers understand their hosts are real people, not hotel clerks. While trains and planes can be late and people can get lost in foreign cities, it’s rude to arrive hours after your expected arrival, or not at all, without informing your host. Whether you use a mobile phone, Internet cafe or airport WiFi, be sure to let your host know if your plans change.badge_AmsterdamInterNations

Over your stay, give him or her a chance to show you around, introduce you to favorite sights and share a meal or drink. If you have an agenda that includes no time for your host, there’s really no point in couchsurfing. As a host, it’s also your responsibility to provide guests with the contact info and directions they need to arrive safely at your pad. Once there, discuss their plans and itinerary so you’re all on the same page.

Couchsurfers in the kitchen: Aussie Onnie + chef Decem from China

Couchsurfers in the kitchen: Aussie Onnie + chef Decem from China

5. Resilience: Being turned down is part of couchsurfing. Being able to shrug off rejection and view finding a couch as a worthwhile challenge will help you enjoy the pursuit. To improve your chances, create a complete profile that gives potential hosts a sense of who you are. Avoid generic, prefabricated messages. Throw in some of your hobbies and interests. And don’t forget to include reasons why you’re interested in staying with each potential host.

The more personal your request, the more likely you are to get a positive response if your host is available. Sorting potential hosts by “newest member first” could boost your chances, since new hosts may be most enthusiastic about inviting travelers into their home. Also look at the response rate of hosts, which can reveal how interested they really are in having guests. Hosts may be more receptive if you tell them you’re willing to sleep on the floor (if you really are), since that may relieve stress for them.

Americans Margie + Diane, who still keep in touch after meeting in my apartment last spring.

Americans Margie + Diane, who still keep in touch after meeting in my apartment last spring.

6. Reciprocity: Savvy couchsurfers understand give and take. In exchange for your host’s hospitality, it’s nice to show gratitude with a trinket, bottle of wine or favorite food from home. Other forms of giving back include preparing a meal, taking your host out, helping with clean-up, watering plants, or contributing food or toiletries to help support the cost of your stay. By making your host’s life less stressful, you’ll improve your chances of getting a good reference, which in turn improves your chance to finding future couches. Being cheap and rude will give you a bad reputation in a community based on trust and references.

Tired couchsurfers Jorge + Luis

Tired couchsurfers Jorge + Luis from Mexico

Reciprocity also entails feedback; if your host disappointed you, a message explaining the problem might smooth things out. If that doesn’t work, it’s your right to leave a negative reference to let other surfers know what they might experience with this host.

121 thoughts on “Six Habits of Highly Effective Couchsurfers

  1. kitchenroach says:

    I found you on couchsurfing and wanted to send you a couchsurfing request hoping you would host us. I think we would had a really good time together but Doug can’t do the smoking.

    Like

  2. Leo Willems says:

    Great post, i recognise alot of items in the list. When i talk to my friends i often get the comment: “i’d never do that”. When i ask why they wouldn’t it’s usually a lack of trust. It’s sad but true. I only had positive CS expierences. I usually write to hosts who are different then myself. It keeps things extra intresting. The more positive sounds about this great network go out the more people will start trusting other people and that’s a huge benefit!

    Like

  3. Zita says:

    Great insight into the CS world. I did my first CS experience when I lived in Asia (KL, Malaysia). Many (young) people are coming to Asia to travel there. I was living and working there, we had a great community of expats in this city. We helped each other a lot and also the other travellers. It was just a really great experience which I believe nowhere else I will live again. Now I want to meet people from different countries and that’s what CS is giving me.

    Like

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    visit this web page all the time since it gives quality contents, thanks

    Like

  5. Choongyee says:

    A really informative post indeed! I’m planning to couchsurf during my eurotrip next month and i’m glad i chanced upon this post. It’s really important for people to understand these points if they want to have a good experience couchsurfing.

    Like

  6. Atul Sethi says:

    very eloquently put, I am going to link this up in my couch surfing profile for people to read :)

    Like

  7. Clara says:

    Great post. It should be on the CS website :)) It clearly says what couchsurfing is about :)

    Like

  8. Freda says:

    My first couchsurfing experience was about 4 weeks ago. Very new to this, I hope I become more comfortable and gain more experiences through CS. It’s quite challenging traveling alone, but meeting people along the way is definitely worth it.

    Like

  9. manolito says:

    Hi all
    The first thing I did was put a link on my profile of this site.
    This site says everything how you can get through hosting and surfing a richer lifestyles thank you Wordgeisha
    Now I’m going to try to make a good couch request :)
    gr,oetje

    Like

  10. Tapedos says:

    Hey Folk! I am in love with Cs and with these Blog. So interesting informations about the true CSuser.

    Like

  11. Carmen says:

    Beautifully said! I think that you put CSers thoughts into words! Everyone who is signing up to CS should read this, to understand its true spirit.

    Like

  12. Carmen says:

    Beautifully said. I think you put the thoughts of CSers into words :) Anyone that signs up for CS should read this! Then they will understand what we are all about

    Like

  13. Briana says:

    absolutely love the quote by William Sertl! Two of my friends and I are hoping to stay with you in a couple of weeks, we would love to meet you!

    Like

  14. Beatrice says:

    As I’m new to couchsurfing, this post is really helpful and informative about what it is all about and how to make the most out of the experience. I find your blog really helpful, I especially like the “Free things to do” posts, since I’m a student and a budget traveller!
    Anyway, I’ve sent you a couch request, my friend and I would really want to meet you : )

    Like

  15. Lukasz Kornas says:

    I’ve just been recently introduced to the couch surfing community and at first I had a few reservations about the idea. Safety is probably the number one concern for most first timers as I imagine many people have issues with trusting complete strangers both as surfers and as hosts. I think my skepticism was largely due to ignorance and once I started to explore the website further I began to realize how wonderful the community is and how ground breaking the concept was. Many people have an interest in the history and culture of the world but what better way to experience it then from the people who define and live it. It’s possible to read about the history and culture of these magical places in books but to truly understand what makes these places so unique is to know the individuals that together create the community. The idea to open your home to a traveler is so wonderful. It is an intimate invitation that encourages the sharing of culture and ideas. In today’s rapidly changing world where the exchange of data and information is digital and often feels impersonal, the members of this community open their homes to their international guests; share my shelter, share my table, share your stories and your travels, and both traveler and host can learn so much. I have always thought of myself as a citizen of the world, and this community helps to open up the borders and invites and encourages us to travel, learn, and explore. Fare thee well on your adventures.

    Like

  16. Alina Baranova says:

    I`ve never tried couchsurfing and really want to feel it! I`ve read a lot about it but this post describes coachsurfing exactly as I understand it – like a friendship! Host and surfer are friends (maybe not very close friends – no familiarity or friends rudeness!) but they respect each other, try to do the best of them and enjoy communication! I think that`s really great and waiting for my first couchsurfing trip!

    Like

  17. Morgan says:

    These seem like excellent tips for life in general! Thanks for the advice. I’ve gotten used to couch surfing friends’ couches, but I’m so excited to make new friends by couch surfing and broaden my horizons this way. It’s must help immensely with what John Green calls ‘imagining others complexely.’

    Like

  18. WordGeisha says:

    Reblogged this on UnClogged in Amsterdam and commented:

    It’s summer in Amsterdam—high couchsurfing season, which translates into 10+ daily requests for me and my couch. Most of these requests ignore basic couchsurfing principals and get template responses from me. Guests I accept seem to have a great time, if 100+ positive references are any indication. To help more surfers understand how to better land a couch, I’m re-posting this story.

    Like

    • Nina says:

      But I think it’s great, that they get a response from you…
      There are not many things I dislike more than not taking a few seconds to reply to a couch surfing request…
      Thank you for this nice impression of what couchsurfing really is about!
      Hope you have a good time and that you choose the right people to host ;)
      take care, nina xx

      Like

    • Katharina & Raphaela says:

      Hallo Melissa,
      since we are new in this couchsurfingcommunity it was like a guideline to read your thoughts about the habits everyone should respect for having remarkable experiences. We agree to the fullest! And we would like to meet you in Amsterdam soon – if your L-couch will be available?!
      Regards from mother & daughter
      Katharina & Raphaela

      Like

  19. Donna Meyer says:

    I am brand new to the CS community and philosophy — though I’ve been attracted to the idea for years. I only joined the site a few days ago and had a lot of questions. Now I don’t. You have answered them all! Thanks so much. Perhaps we will meet when I am in Amsterdam this fall.

    Like

  20. Fantastic post, I love couchsurfing and although currently travelling really miss hosting. I truly believe it is the best way to learn about the world from real people glad to see others enjoy hosting too…

    Like

  21. Fer says:

    Great post, Melissa! Everything makes total sense when you understand that couchsurfing is about giving as much or even more than what you take.
    I cannot wait to try it out.

    Like

  22. Great post, Melissa!
    It totally makes sense when one approaches couchsurfing as a way to give as much or more as what you receive.
    I cannot wait to try it out. :)

    Like

  23. Elsie O'Neill says:

    Fantastic post! A great insight into the couch surfing world. If surfers and hosts adhere to these guidelines, couch surfing can be a great way to meet people and have fun!

    Like

  24. Very useful! Sure it can help a lot of beginners couchsurfers like me! :)

    Like

  25. Nela Vojtová says:

    CS is really cool site. I’ve started using it for real 2 months ago and hosted one girl from Hong Kong. She was kind of the ideal of a Couchsurfer. She had all the habits you’re writing about. Probably read your article. :D

    Like

  26. Kate Green says:

    This is a super useful blog post! I’ve included a link in my couchsurfing profile to help new surfers :) As someone who has hosted a bit but is relatively new to surfing, it’s a great refresher on how to be a good surfer too. I’ve had great experiences hosting, but they would’ve been even better if some of the surfers had paid more attention to the communication part (i.e. arrival time, keeping informed of plans, etc). Completely agree that copy & paste requests are a waste of everyones time.

    Like

  27. Allison Skok says:

    Great post! Especially for a new CS like me. It’s nice to have guidelines for what hosts and surfers should expect. After reading this and many negative comments on CS profiles, it has solidified my belief that communication is key! I will definitely be looking up wifi hotspots/ cafes before I arrive in any new city!

    Like

  28. Justin Vachon says:

    Whoa, I was truly blown away by what I read! I feel (theses days even more since i’ll be doing a lot of travels in the next months) that the essence of what CS truly is, is being lost. I’ve read numerous profiles and people sometimes (not to say most of the time) miss the point. It’s not really about sleeping or having a roof over your head or just saving some money or hooking up even (ho god..), it’s really, as you write; sharing, being honest, wanting to learn (about culture, life of others, ect). If every Surfer and Host would think like you, Couchsurfing would have been (at least for me) much easier and somehow much more useful than it is right now. Great read.

    Like

  29. This is so helpful, and really embodies what CouchSurfing is all about! I used CS a few years ago while traveling through Asia and stayed with an Indonesian family during Ramadan. On Eid, sharing in the celebration with them was one of the highlights of the entire trip. I hope that when people stay with me in Rome or Chicago that I can provide similar memorable experiences. They’re much more important than the quality of the couch/bed or amenities a hotel can provide. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  30. As someone new to the couch surfing community this article is so incredibly valuable to my traveling partner and I. Few resources exist which describe couch surfing for its true nature, meaningful connection and an opportunity to learn about a culture from a local point of view. While a great way to save money, I’m glad you address how cost efficiency is not the true mission statement for cs. How lucky we are to have such a community in existence in an increasingly technological age! Thank you for inspiring me to make connection my couch surfing priority, as well as gratitude and hospitality when I have the opportunity to host myself.

    Like

  31. Hello Melissa! Thanks for posting this. Can’t agree more to everything you wrote. I actually plan to write quite the same thing based on my experience.
    I think the challenge starts from the process of sending and receiving request. Everyone needs to learn how to be respectful. For example, even if our request is rejected, it is nice to reply again and say thanks. That is to appreciate him/her because not everyone kindly makes time to reply request, particularly if they can’t host. I feel bad if I told people that I am not able to host them and they disappear without saying anything. It’s like they need me just because of my couch, not me as a person.

    Like

  32. Owen Guo says:

    Great insight, Melissa! I am envious of the guests who had stayed at your house:)

    Like

  33. vicki struthers says:

    I am hoping to have my first CS experience with Melissa at very short notice. I told my friend about it & he said he couldn’t think of anything worse – isn’t it funny how people are so different. When Melissa told me that if I can stop with her there will also be someone from Portugal & someone from America, so it might be a bit of a squash, my immediate reaction was – GREAT!! how exciting, it just gets better & better & I began to visualise how interesting & fun it will be. I fall into the empty nester category and CS has the potential, literally to open up a whole new world for me. Another friend I’ve told about it (also an empty nester) feels envious that I’ve got the confidence to do this, but as Melissa says on her profile, once fear is overcome, life is there to live (words to that effect, not a direct quote). It is now my mission to encourage my other female friends to come with me on future trips. Doing something outside your usual experience can be daunting, but I think CS makes it easy.

    Like

    • WordGeisha says:

      Getting out of your comfort zone is the 1st step toward growth. So kudos for being brave in middle age, Vicki…I look forward to meeting you soon!

      Like

      • Vicki steuthers says:

        Oh Melissa, you literally brought a tear to my eye because I do feel like I’m being brave! However, I also have a gut feeling that I will be making lifelong friends, and that is very exhillarating!

        Like

  34. pheesnep says:

    I noticed your tweet saying you woke up to 51 couch surfing requests, this is the reason why! You know the etiquette and are so genuine in your opinion of how it all works. For that I have a lot of respect. Furthermore you’ve given a full and open description of yourself and your experiences, which allow people to feel familiar to you. I come at this from a purely surfer perspective as I have no ability to host, and many other hosts come across as standoffish, or write so little about them it feels very risky or dangerous to try staying with them.

    Like

  35. Amanda says:

    This is great advice! I am new to Couch Surfing and it’s great to get upfront information about what it’s like to consistently host different types of people. I am currently in the process of becoming a verified member since I have no references to speak on my behalf :)

    Your blog is wonderful! Keep it up!

    Amanda

    Like

  36. Vero says:

    Such a great and real post! Couch Surfing is in its basic essence and amazing and priceless way of travelling and getting deeper in various cultures, but mostly.. it helps people open their eyes. Sadly that some user decided to misinterpret this concept or even worse, abuse it. It’s people what makes it so wonderful, not couches. Everybody should read this article to understand :)
    Let the real CS souls make friend around the world!

    Like

  37. Melissa Mae says:

    I love the idea of couch surfing but I’ve never tried it. But I just sent my first request to you so hoping to make a good start!

    Like

  38. Chanelle says:

    I am new to couch surfing and looking to go to Amsterdam in 2015. I big dream of mine!! I found this post on your couch surfing profile. Thanks for all the great tips! Makes complete sense!

    Like

  39. Tory says:

    Do you have more great artclies like this one?

    Like

  40. Danielle C says:

    Thanks for this great post! I’m new to couchsurfing and am about to couchsurf through a few European cities (including Amsterdam), so this is helpful to know before I start the process of finding hosts.

    Like

  41. Amanda Mae says:

    I appreciate this post as a relatively new CouchSurfer. I found your blog on CouchSurfing and I think I’ll be utilizing it even more during my stay in Amsterdam. It would be fun to meet you and hear about your life experiences, so I’ll send you a CS request right now! :)

    Like

  42. adodhia says:

    Hey Melissa. I whizzed through your blogs and i am def going to try some of those places out….the pointers on this blog are great. I have surfed from Congo to Brazil and had a great time without exception because of a genuine interest in my hosts. I still have a handwritten note of thanks from 2 singaporean girls who stayed with me a couple of years back in Nairobi! Although i dont insist on a gift or anything like that from a surfer its nice when they cook for me or leave me a message or we keep in touch….

    Like

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