Couchsurfing is one of the reasons why long-term travel can be affordable. It is also a great way to make friends for life.
Couchsurfiing is a network of over 12 million members who offer a place to stay to one another. No money is exchanged, and it builds on the principle of making the world a nicer place by bringing people together. Cool concept if you ask me.
I have met many cool and interesting people through Couchsurfing. When I had my own place in Rotterdam before I took off on this crazy travel adventure, I hosted several people and had a great time doing it. It was fun showing people from different countries the cool spots my city and giving them tips on where to go and what to do.
The first couple of times I had someone over at my place, it took some getting used to. After all, giving a complete stranger the keys to your house requires a lot of trust. Even though there is a rating/review system, and many members get their identity and address verified, it feels like a strange thing to do. I remember sitting thinking in the office at work: “This person I don’t really know is inside my house right now… and he has the key to the front door. Holy shit.”
But, the handful of people I’ve hosted were nothing but positive experiences. I took a cue from one of my friends, who lives in a beautiful house filled with expensive computer and hi-fi equipment. I’m not kidding; the guy has a movie theater built into his basement, surround-sound and HD-3D beamer and all. He has hosted over 200 people by now, and he never had a negative experience, ever. Nothing ever got stolen or destroyed.
That’s not to say you should be naïve. Even though there are community guidelines and people are expected to uphold community values, you’re inviting a stranger into your home. It’s a good idea to read through someone’s profile and references before doing so. Also, trust your gut, it’s usually right. Same with being a “surfer”. Don’t just blindly go into it.
Since participating in something like this requires an open mind, both as a host and as a surfer, there’s a good chance you’ll run into some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet. All walks of life are represented on this network. The last person I hosted before I left my apartment was a techie from Silicon Valley. He had quit his job to travel the world as a singer-songwriter. He was following his dream to make a living with his music. Awesome. We became good friends and are still in touch.
My guest Arik rocking out in “Cafe de Bel”, my favorite bar in Rotterdam
And sure, there are freeloaders, assholes, and creeps on there, too, but that’s the same everywhere. Again, be sure to read up on the person you’re about to hang out with. Don’t be naïve.
Here are some tips that make it more likely to get accepted as a surfer in other people’s homes.
1. Host other people
It shows everyone you’re also a giver and not just a taker.
2. Get completely verified
Get the phone, address and payment verifications. It’s worth the hassle and one-time $25 fee. People are much more likely to offer you a couch if you have the three green check-marks in your profile.
3. Make your profile great
List your hobbies and show what you’re about. Let enthusiasm shine through. Spend a lot of time on the “what can I offer others” section. Make it so that people want to have you around because you’re such a cool guy.
4. Find you Facebook friends on there
There’s a good chance some of your Facebook friends are already on Couchsurfing. Ask all of them to leave a positive reference. The more positive references, the better.
5. Liven up your profile with photos
Put a handful of your best pictures on there. Show your personality. Happy photos, photos of you doing cool things, and photos of you hanging out with other people are the best.
6. Create a public trip
If you’re planning on going somewhere, make a “public trip” on there long in advance with a good story. Most members receive a weekly digest of surfers visiting their area. Chances are someone contacts you to offer you a couch before you even ask.
7. Find the right match
Read up on someone’s profile before accepting a couch (or a surfer). Due to the “super open-minded/anything goes” nature of this social network, there are some people on there who are totally out there in terms of lifestyle and philosophies. Find someone who clicks with you. A friend of mine had a chick as a guest who was completely obsessed with raw food, and she got super pissed at him for grilling a hamburger for himself in his own house in front of her. You probably don’t want to hang out with psychos like that.
8. Be a decent human being
When you’re at someone’s place, be gracious, humble and thankful. Bring a present, help them out with something, or buy them a beer. Respect the other person’s place. Be careful trying to hit on your host, as this is not a dating site (although anything can happen).
9. Enjoy the ride & be cool
There’s a good chance you make some new friends for life.