You’ve probably heard about CouchSurfing.com by now; for the last couple of years, it’s been getting some big-time media attention. But for the uninitiated, CouchSurfing is a networking site that connects travelers with local residents in locations around the world, providing an extremely inexpensive alternative to hostels and B&Bs. But CouchSurfing isn’t just about budget accommodation. From the Mission Statement:
CouchSurfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it’s about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!
It’s a big goal, but as far as I can tell, it’s working. I hosted several groups of surfers when I lived in the UK, and have recently gotten back into hosting here in Ottawa, and I have never been disappointed by the visitors I’ve received. Hosting is a great way to meet travelers (and feed the travel bug when I’m temporarily settled somewhere by hearing their stories!) and is a great excuse to take a second look at my own home, by taking my guests on walking tours, bringing them out with my friends for the night, or just making recommendations. For surfers, it’s a great way to see that elusive “real” life of a destination, to get local advice, and of course to save some cash for more travel.
But like any system, CouchSurfing isn’t perfect, or a sure thing: after you’ve searched for couches available at your destination (and there are tens of thousands of members, in an incredible array of cities), you still have to find a host who’s free and willing to take you in. Most of my surfers told me they’d had trouble getting replies to their CouchSurfing requests, and when I’ve tried to surf I’ve had the same problem. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up to help score a couch:
• Check the last login date of your host-to-be, and also take a look at their percentage of email replies. Obviously, the closer they are to 100%, the more dedicated a host they are. (I even reply to spam to keep my % up.)
• Shy about being a female at a male host’s house? Don’t be. Most male hosts get far fewer requests specifically because of this concern, while female hosts in popular destinations are sometimes double- or triple-booked on summer weekends. Check out the guy’s profile, check out CouchSurfing’s safety precautions, and then go for it.
• Same goes for a surfer’s age. There are plenty of veteran travelers on CouchSurfing – and many have settled down now and have comfy spare bedrooms to offer in choice locations. Don’t feel restricted to hipsters your own age. (Hint: the boomers who were backpacking in the 70s have all the best stories anyway.)
• If you’re hoping to surf in a busy, popular destination like Paris or New York City, try some of the more out-of-the-way hosts. The one with the view of the Eiffel Tower is likely to be booked solid, and besides, staying in a loft in Brooklyn could wind up being far more interesting than flopping at a hostel in Midtown.
• Give as much detail as you can. I never quite know what to say to surfers who email and say “Yeah… I want to come to Canada… Sometime soon…Can I crash at your place?” If you know when you’re going to be in town, say so. (Also how long you’ll stay, how you’re getting there, how many of you there are…) And if you don’t, let the host know when you can fill them in with more detail.
• Spread the love! Email as many potential hosts as you like and see who says yes first… But remember to TELL the ones whose offers you won’t be accepting that you’ve found something else. They won’t thank you if they spend Friday night waiting by the phone…
For more on CouchSurfing etiquette, check out this article. Happy Surfing!