When you travel, lodgings are usually the priciest part of your budget. Some travellers address this problem by “couchsurfing,” or staying in the homes of strangers who offer sleeping arrangements for travellers. This form of travel opens up extraordinary opportunities for cross-cultural friendships and unique local experiences and, with just a few precautions, it can be as safe as a five-star hotel. Here are five tips to help you become a seasoned couchsurfer:
1. Spend time on websites dedicated to this service
Couchsurfing International, Be Welcome and Airbnb all offer extensive options for building a couchsurfer profile. They all have built-in safety measures, including requirements that you receive a postal mailing before your location is verified or that you log in with a social media profile that has been active for an extended period of time.
2. Focus on profiles
When you’re searching for hosts on these websites, look for profiles that include plenty of written material and photos, as well as feedback from previous couchsurfers. The more people post about themselves, the easier it is to see what kind of people they are. Like many other types of online commerce, reputations on hospitality sites are made or broken on the basis of feedback from other couchsurfers like you.
Be sure to create your own profile carefully, and spell out exactly what kind of experience you’re seeking. Don’t post racy photos or suggest you’re looking for romantic attention; in any case, these sites will delete such profiles. Most hosts will read your profile before deciding whether they are willing to host you, so it’s important to present yourself honestly and clearly.
3. Contact several hosts
Write to the hosts that interest you well ahead of time; usually at least a week’s notice is appreciated. Airbnb hosts, who charge a fee for lodging you in their homes, may have guests scheduled weeks or months in advance. You probably won’t receive responses from all the hosts you contact, but if you send a batch of requests, you can feel more confident that someone will come through. Some Airbnb hosts use a “book now” option that makes multiple contacts unnecessary.
4. Travel with a friend
While many couchsurfers are solo journeyers, travelling with a friend can give you a sense of added security as you venture into your first couchsurfing experience. You can also seek listings in which the host is an entire family, and those often make for a lively stay.
5. Always have a backup plan
Even if hotels aren’t within your budget, it’s a good idea to have one in mind for each location where you will be couchsurfing. That way, if your host has a sudden emergency or is somehow unable to provide lodgings at the last minute, you will not be entirely without alternatives in a strange city. Couchsurfing hosts tend to be responsible on the whole, but they are not hospitality professionals, and unexpected personal complications can arise.
Meeting locals is the best way to truly experience a culture and escape the tourist circuit. The majority of couchsurfing hosts are kind, hospitable people who are interested in meeting people from various places. A modest amount of caution and common sense is all you need to have a memorable journey and see a new place through a local’s eyes.
Always travel protected
Before starting any adventure, make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance plan in place to protect you from the unexpected.