It is a brave new world we live in. People are no longer satisfied with the norm. They are no longer satisfied being told that they have to live a certain way, or do things by tradition.
This is where couchsurfing comes in. Yeah, we’ve all done it before in one way or another. Maybe on your friend’s couch, or maybe your parent’s, sister’s or cousin’s. But sometime back in the early 2000’s, the creators of Couchsurfing.com had a vision. A vision of a world where people lived in an open, loving world where they not only helped others, but shared their homes and resources with strangers, so that they could make their once impossible travel goals easily achievable.
Enter the Sharing Economy
In 2004 the vision became a reality, and couchsurfing.org was open to the public. In the first year, the website had just over 6,000 members. Now, ten years later the community is over 6 million members strong! And I’m proud to be one of them.
But what does it mean to be a part of this community?
In a nutshell, it means you can travel like a gypsy, but wander like a local; and you’ve got friends all over the world, you just haven’t met them yet.
Most people get into couchsurfing because they want to travel but don’t have unlimited funds to do so. That’s why I started. I wanted to be able to travel the world but have more options than hotels, motels and hostels. I mean, if you are on a budget and you can remove $30 a day for a hostel, then you’ve just opened up some serious eating options!
But before I started traveling, I hosted some travelers. I wanted to get some good references on my profile to make me more host-able. So I opened my doors to some people who turned out to be an endless wealth of travel stories and liveliness. It was eye opening, but it was only just the beginning.
As I began traveling using couch surfing myself, it became apparent that this was more than just a cheap way to put a temporary roof over your head. The more I traveled using the website, the more like minded people I met, and the more memorable experiences I had.
In Savannah, Georgia, I was hosted by someone who was also hosting three other couch surfers, and we ended up night swimming in the ocean and exploring the city together by the guided hand of our host. It was truly memorable.
In Flagstaff, NM, I slept in a closet and got some awesome advice about hiking the Grand Canyon.
Meanwhile, in Moab, UT, a real bed awaited me!
And in Southern California, I fell madly in love with a beautiful woman who brought me along on a road trip through the southwest United States that was one of the highlights of my life.
Since then, I’ve hosted many travelers and traveled quite often using the website myself. So far I have over twenty couch surfing experiences and all have been absolutely fantastic.
Even still, some of the hosts I’ve met only do it because with all the culture that comes through their door, it’s like traveling without having to even leave your home!
So you want to Couchsurf…
Where to begin? Number one, go to Couchsurfing.com and create a profile! And don’t be lazy either, fill it out. You don’t have to write a novel or post a portfolio of pictures. But let people know who you are. I’ve had far to many couch requests from people without even the basic information or pictures on their profile. There’s no better way to ensure you won’t get hosted. So put up a few pictures that represent you well, and write some brief text about you. It goes a long way.
Next, you should try to host people before you surf. Nothing irks community members more than people who are just trying to take, but give nothing in return. One of the first things I look for when deciding if I will host a surfer is if they have hosted before. And of course, we want to see positive references.
Okay, your profile is trimmed and you’ve got a hosting reference or two. What next?
Send out your couch requests! Make sure it’s not too long, most people have ADD. Short and sweet is the key here. Tell them why you’re coming, and how you’ll be spending your time. Be honest.
When searching for hosts, I like to filter my results by last login. I’ll typically search for those who’ve been online in the past week. From there I will punch in keywords such as “skydiving” or “snowboarding” so that I can find hosts with similar likes. Everything else is up to my discretion at that moment.
By filtering by last login, you make sure you’re actually searching for people with active profiles. One thing I’ve also found, is that a high yield strategy is sending requests to new members without any references. Typically, these are people who haven’t had a chance yet to build some references, and are itching to get something so they can go surf! I just make sure they have a good profile. After all, everyone’s got to start somewhere.
You’ve found a place. Be a good surfer!
Once you’ve found a place, the hallmark of a good couch surfer is one who leaves something by which to be remembered. Yes, we joined the community to travel cheaply, but that doesn’t mean we should try to travel for free. With couch surfing, you should always aim to be providing some kind of value as a guest. Some memorable gifts I have received were: a couple of bottles of home brewed beers, a mini Hawaiian license plate, and of course, some house keeping and a home cooked meal! You don’t have to break the bank, but try to be thoughtful. Remember, this is the sharing economy.
We understand too if you don’t have a budget for gifts and such, and most people aren’t really expecting anything anyway. So when you send your couch request, just be honest and let your prospective host know what to expect. If you plan on cooking a meal, let them know. If you are flat broke and can’t bring anything, let them know, but offer some good conversation or something less tangible in place of a gift. Members of the community are very giving by nature, but no one wants to feel used. If you are staying with someone, at least try to make them feel appreciated. And if you can’t spend any face time with them, you should be up front about it in your request.
The longer you stay with a host, the more you should try to do or give. After all, you are encroaching their personal space, and using their utilities. If you stay for a week, you should be doing or giving much more than if you only stay for a night.
But hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth either. If your host wants to treat you with food or something else, don’t feel like you’re overstepping your boundaries! People in the community are all too happy to give.
Leaving An Impression
Couchsurfing is a lot like hiking. Leave No Trace! When you depart your host’s chambers, leave them with memories, not a mess. Fold your blankets, tidy up and try to leave the place better than you found it. It goes a long way.
Couchsurfing is such a beautiful thing, because once you really start getting active in the community, it starts to play its own role in your life. Even though it’s a give and take, and the ideal is to share what you can. What you see is people wanting to give, and it makes you want to give more.
When you show up on a stranger’s front porch for the first time, and they give you their house key, it gives you a lot of hope in this world. What more can a person ask for?
So join the sharing economy today and join couch surfing! You’ll be glad you have.