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November 18, 2008

Lessons from a couchsurfing nightmare

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]

Posted by | Comments (8) 
Category: General


8 Responses to “Lessons from a couchsurfing nightmare”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Couchsurfing is more – in a human, spiritual way. It’s traveling like a pilgrim. I’m a host in Berlin – and yeah I have to say this is the best think I have done until now.
    Maybe you want to change experiences?
    My Blog: http://www.couchsurfing-host.com/

  2. Hostel Booking Says:

    Although i am in travel business, it took a while until the news reached me. Quite unconventional way of traveling, skeptics might say.

    Having browsed through several member profiles and reading through testimonials of people who have chosen to travel this way, I am convinced “unconventional” is not bad at all.

  3. kethy Says:

    hi , i am a host. And couch surfing is a brilliant concept. Me and my husband have hosted and met a lot of fellow travellers. Couchsurfing brings us endless talks…. we share with each other about our interests, travels, music, books and many more things. Till now the experience has just been superbily positive. But before accepting a request both me and my husband independently go through the request and the profile very very carefully.BEST OF LUCK COUCHSURFERS

  4. host nazi Says:

    Surfers can’t blame the hosts, period. Hosts have their own lives, and are open enough to accept strangers in their house. What do surfers expect, the red carpet? Unless the hosts have mental problems, then I am 100% certain no host sign up to host, just to make the surfer’s life miserable. How about you host, I go to your house, and you clip my toenail? Grow up.

  5. Maria Says:

    Yeah, meeting a stranger in a foreign country and sleeping in his house. Not dangerous at all… You’d better realize that’s an illusion. Consider whether this dubious new experience is worth making yourself completely vulnerable. It’s a sick world.

  6. Ian Morris Says:

    Csing has changed alot in the four years I have been a host.

    It has become alot less about poeple entering into the spirit of it and having an ‘experience’ and alot more about people needing a place to sleep while they look for student accomodation or just having a base.

    I have had some amazing experiences through hosting and a LOT of good people are still involved but now I think the hub of it is a lot more around meeting local like minded people when you are new to an area or revisiting old hosts/guests. I have hosted a fair few people who I would trust with my life but not for a few years now.

    I agree with the issues around people not showing up and eating you out of house and home though!

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