Couchsurfing has had its ups and downs over the years, but it’s still going strong and according to the website themselves, they still have over 15 million users in 200,000 cities around the world. That’s a lot of scope for traveling, cultural exchange, meeting new people and making new friends, as well as the possibilities of showing people around your home and leaving a good impression of your country to visitors.
However, some people have been known to abuse the hospitality of others, forget their manners or use the network for insalubrious purposes. Thankfully, such incidents are rare, but nonetheless, we decided to pen a Couchsurfing etiquette guide – as even the politest of a traveler or the most welcoming host can forget the Ps and Qs sometimes! So, whether or not you’re an old pro or a surfing newbie – we have got you covered for the main points to remember – and this one is for the surfers. We also wrote a great guide to Couchsurfing for hosts.
Right from the get-go, you should be creating a good impression, so any contact you have with a potential host should be courteous and respectful. It goes without saying that you should have a solid profile with great reviews – but if you’re new you need to focus on building that. Put up some fun pictures that are clearly of you, get a couple of friends to write a testimony saying how awesome you are, and write a detailed, interesting biography. You’re much more likely to get hosted if you’re honest, transparent and you look like a lot of fun!
We know it can be a pain and time consuming, but whatever you do, don’t copy and paste host request emails. Hosts will see right through it – and some even include a special code word in their profile you need to quote to make sure you’ve read it all! Clever eh?
And there’s nothing worse than seeing an email addressed to John when your name is Dave. Craft each surfing request individually to the host and you’ll have the offers flooding in.
Actually, show up. It’s remarkable how many people request to surf and then let the host down at the last minute. Sure, plans change, but at least try and stick to them – or give your host as much warning as possible. You’re guaranteed to get a bad review if you mess them about. Telling them you’re not coming two minutes before you’re supposed to be there isn’t a smooth move. Remember – people have lives.
Be rude. This covers a huge range of potential events or encounters, but you need to remember you’re a guest in someone else’s home – it’s not a hostel (we have a separate comprehensive guide for finding the right accommodation) – and there are advantages and disadvantages as a result. Unless otherwise arranged, bringing a party back from the bar at 3 am isn’t going to go down well. Helping yourself to food and drink without being offered, bringing an uninvited guest, making a mess of the place, breaking stuff and generally being an obnoxious lout is to be seriously frowned upon. Use that ol’ common sense once again and you’ll be fine.
Get involved! One of the best things about surfing is having a local to show you around and get immersed in their culture, so if they’re offering to be a guide – jump at the chance! Go out with your host if and when you both can, and you’ll get to know the “real” side of the place you’re in – not just what appears in the travel books and on the tourist trails.
This is arguably Couchsurfing’s greatest advantage – the cultural exchange you will experience living with a local – so don’t pass it up because you’re too hungover.
Outstay your welcome. A common Couchsurfing offense and a cloudy topic of debate; figuring out the length of stay is vitally important in keeping everyone happy. It’s amazing how many people take a host for granted and stretch out on the couch for longer than agreed – particularly upsetting if the host has a busy life and other commitments. So, if you’ve said three nights, keep it three nights unless otherwise arranged.
Share the love!
Couchsurfing is “free” but don’t just take, take, take! It’s lovely to bring something from your home as a gift, or offer to cook for the host, or leave a nice souvenir to remember you by! There’s any number of ways you can pay it forward and boost the karma – so ask your host if there’s anything you can do or help with.
Nobody likes a freeloader, so pull your weight and you’ll leave a great impression. You’ll no doubt get a great review. Alternatively, find a cheap hotel if you don’t want to make an effort.
Steal anything. Do we really need to mention this?! But yes – it does happen. Things have gone missing from a hosts’ apartments whether accidentally or intentionally. We’ll give you all the benefit of the doubt, but check your belongings and make sure you have not “packed” anything that isn’t yours. This goes for hosts too!
Know what to expect from your host and stick to it. This covers everything from when they’re going to be home, what their other commitments are, how much time they have to spend with you and the logistics of the space you’re living in – to whether or not they’re attracted to you. Couchsurfing can be really fun for consenting adults – but know the limits of everything in any situation.
Be afraid to respectfully decline anything. If you don’t want to do something then you don’t have to. If you’re not feeling a good or comfortable connection with a host, or there’s a dodgy vibe, you can always look elsewhere and do it tactfully without hurting people’s feelings.
There might be many reasons why you’re not happy in a current surf situation – so remember you don’t have to put up with your host’s outrageously smelly feet if you don’t want to.
DO! DO! DO!
Have fun! Yes, it’s a cliché we know, but Couchsurfing is a tremendous amount of fun that has significant benefits for all involved – if done with a little bit of love, care, and common sense. Use these top tips and you’ll be a veteran in no time. Likewise, to the old pros who have been surfing for years – it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the etiquette – and keep this wonderful experience alive.