Couchsurfing.com is nothing short of a vagabonding phenomenon, and, as we recently noted, it might even be catching on with corporate travelers. On the surface it has obvious appeal — free accommodations on the road can extend your travel budget by weeks, if not months, and you’ll get to meet locals everywhere you go.
But not every couchsurfing experience is a great one. While I don’t subscribe to the argument that couchsurfing is dangerous (popular with travelers’ mothers everywhere), there are some potential downsides — poor hosts, lack of selection for last minute hosts and more.
The author of one the travel blogs I follow, Travel Vice, recently had a bad experience with a couch surfing host who sounds like a passive-aggressive nightmare. The whole story is almost painful to read, but some lessons emerge for anyone thinking of trying out couchsurfing.com:
- Communicate with your hosts. Travel Vice’s author ultimately blames the whole ordeal on lack of communication, both from the hosts and guests. Make your plans clear to your hosts and make sure they are okay with them.
- Make arrangements well in advance. Just because there are 10,000 options available in an area doesn’t mean any more than ten of them are actually willing to put you up. And as couchsurfing.com gets more popular, finding a couch gets harder. The author of Travel Vice reports a roughly 62% failure rate when soliciting couchsurfing members, especially if you do it at the last minute.
- Approach more hosts so you have more options. You might think being selective is the best tactic when it comes to picking a host, but in order to be selective you need to have options. It turns out couchsurfing is a bit like picking up people in a bar — the more you approach, the better your chances are for success.
- Make sure everyone in the host household is happy with the arrangement. The Travel Vice tale reveals a welcoming husband and a frosty wife — make sure the whole family has embraced the couch surfing idea. It’s almost impossible to avoid a situation like that solely through the website, but if you find yourself in one, leave as soon, and as gracefully, as you can.
- Although not specifically addressed, it seems like a good idea to under-stay your welcome — remember the proverb, nothing stinks like overstaying guests. By the same token, don’t show up a day late.
While Travel Vice’s post makes for a good cautionary tale, don’t let it put you off the couchsurfing idea altogether — the number of happy reports on the site far outnumber the negative ones.
For some more tips on how to get the most out of couchsurfing.com, see our earlier write up.
[Photo credit, Chazwags, Flickr]