Couchsurfing 102: Navigating the Site
Remember when I said that Couchsurfing is about more than just finding a place to stay for the night, that is is about companionship, exploring the personality of a city, and making meaningful and lasting friendships? This is an important concept to keep in mind when utilizing the website, as some Couchsurfer hosts might become offended if it seems your singular concern is their couch. They want to feel like they are making a genuine connection by opening their home to you, and to know that you are as intrigued by their company as you are by the prospect of cheap sleeping arrangements. Many Couchsurfers are very up-front about this pet peeve, writing on their profile quips such as “Please remember my house is not an inn, and I am not an innkeeper.” Others give small tests, embedding “code words” in their profile information that you must write in the subject line of your Couchsurf request, to prove to them that you spent the time to read about them instead of sending out Couchsurf requests en masse.
If you are looking for Couchsurfer hosts in a particular city, type this information into the search bar. Decide the qualifications that you are looking for, but don’t rule anyone out. Would you prefer staying with a man, a woman, someone your age, someone younger? I would recommend that women who are traveling alone stay with women, although this is probably an overcautious piece of advice. I have never met anyone through Couchsurfing.org who was anything less than fantastic, generous and amicable, but sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry. I have always had company when Couchsurfing and have stayed with men every time. When I first began using the site, I weeded out older hosts, preferring to stay with and get to know people my own age. However, we ended up staying with an older man in France– probably in his mid forties– and he was one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He cooked us dinner and breakfast, told us stories of when he was younger, helped me practice my French, and drew us a map to the best hiking trails in the city. I will never again discriminate against someone older when seeking out Couchsurfing hosts, and my advice to you would be to do the same. You never know what package will contain the best sort of human being, regardless of age, color or gender.
When you’ve selected a person you would like to stay with, send them a Couchsurf request. Some people prefer to receive an official request, while others prefer you send them a detailed message instead. Most will indicate their preference on their profile, and if they don’t, they probably are fine with either. When writing your request, be sure to be humble and thankful. Let them know you appreciate that they open their home to strangers. Let them know the things you read on their profile that intrigued or impressed you, the things you have in common, and the things you would like to learn from them. Tell them something you can teach them if you come to visit, and that you would like to share drinks with them in the local pub. Couchsurfers love this sort of personal connection building– it is why many of us are so in love with the site.
Finally, don’t forget to leave references. References are the most brilliant and safety-regulating part of the Couchsurfing community. Both hosts and surfers leave positive or negative reviews on the people they’ve hosted and the people they’ve met, respectively. It is important to let other potential surfers know that your host baked you the best beignet you’ve ever had, or surprised you by taking you to their favorite museum. It is equally important, though significantly less pleasant, to let everyone know if the person was unfriendly, if your living quarters were very unpleasant, or if they made you uncomfortable in an way. These references are very useful for future surfers and allow for regulation and balance among the Couchsurfing community, always encouraging travelers (and hosts) to shine brightly!