I’m not claiming to be an expert on Couchsurfing. It would be enormously presumptuous of me to think that I can speak with authority on something I’ve done only a couple of times. But although my first couple of Couchsurfing experiences were very positive ones (as I hope all my further ones will be), I know that not everyone is so lucky, and so based on my stories and those of others, I’ve compiled this little list to make your first Couchsurfing experience as great as mine was!
I first used the Couchsurfing website when I was in Germany, and stayed in Munich for a couple of nights before flying home after my first Workaway placement (post on this to come later). I found my host about a week before I was due to arrive in Munich at the end of March, and everything went very smoothly! I then used the site again to find a host in New Delhi towards the end of my travels in India.
In Munich, I stayed with a young couple, and my host was lovely and very accommodating; she came and met me at the bus stop after my late-night train to Munich, which saved me a lot of faffing around and probably getting lost! Not only was she a great host, but she also came with me on my trip to Neuschwanstein Castle with some other international friends living in Munich!
Without further ado, here are some tips to make sure your first Couchsurfing stay is the best it can be!
- Check out profiles for legitimacy and see who you’re comfortable with
As a solo female traveller, I’m going to be honest and say that I feel far more comfortable with the idea of staying with a woman or family than I do about staying alone with a man. Of course, the vast majority of guys out there are honest and genuinely nice guys, but that’s not true of everyone. I just felt more comfortable, especially with it being my first real solo travel experience, and with my relatively young age, going with the more secure option. On that note, though I have no experience with that myself, I’d recommend against a fling with your host/guest whilst Couchsurfing. It could lead to MAJOR awkwardness and uncomfortable situations in the morning!
Have a look at hosts in the area you want to stay in, and browse through profiles for someone who sounds like a good host for you. Someone with a more filled out Couchsurfing profile is more likely to be someone who is truly interested in hosting and making sure their guests enjoy themselves, wherever they’re staying. The exception to this is newbies; when I first set up my profile, it was fairly empty for a couple of weeks whilst I got going with it. Check for feedback! No feedback, or negative ratings, means warning bells. If other travelers have enjoyed their time with a host, they’re likely to be on the right level. Read the profile properly, and send a polite, individual request.
Women especially have to be on the lookout for dodgy characters, and although I’ve not run into any in person, I did get a random message from someone in Delhi offering me free transport and sightseeing in exchange for making a porn film. So watch out, because not everyone is a like-minded, well-meaning traveller!
Trust your instincts. If you don’t think someone sounds legit, they’re probably not. But if your gut tells you that you’d be great friends, chances are you will be!
If you’re wondering, I did turn that Delhi invitation down!
- Match your interests!
There’s no use picking a host who couldn’t be more different from you. If you want to go out sightseeing before hitting the hay early, and they like to party into the night, or if you hate children and they’re a family with five of them, things probably aren’t going to work out! Part of the reason I got on so well with my host in Munich was that we have similar interests and attitudes regarding life and travel.
This also helps assuage the awkwardness of a first meeting with someone you’ve only communicated with online. If you share some interests, you’ll have more to talk about! Lay out your expectations before you arrive to make sure that there’s no conflict of interest.
- Know your plan
It was a happy coincidence that my host had a day off from her job at Munich Airport the day I wanted to visit the castles, and she offered to come with me! Because I had a clear plan of what I wanted to do whilst staying there, I was able to spend more time with her and get to know her better than I would have had I just slept in her house and not spent any time with her.
Tell your host what you’re hoping to do in their town or city, and they will probably have some tips for you to get off the beaten track and see some more things the location has to offer; you get an insider’s knowledge for free! And if you’re really lucky, like I was, they might come along with you!
- Say YES to things, be confident, and enjoy yourself!
I was a bit leery of inviting other people to come on the trip with us when my host suggested it, but I’m so glad she did! Two guys from a Facebook group called “Munich International Friends” came with us to the castles, and we had a great time! By getting to know some people who otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to hang out with, I had even more fun, and was able to find loads of things we had in common.
Saying “yes” to unexpected offers when they come up can hugely enrich your travel experience! Within reason, though. I’m afraid that we had to say “no” when my host’s boyfriend invited us out clubbing when we got home, due to being absolutely shattered from the day of hiking and looking around the castles!
Ultimately, your host is doing you a favour. Be respectful when staying with them and thank them for their help. But don’t forget that you have something to offer too! Everyone you meet on your travels has new stories to tell, and something new to teach you. Don’t be a shrinking violet; your host wants to get to know you! They wouldn’t have agreed to host you if they didn’t want you around.
It will be a little awkward at first, but don’t be afraid to throw yourself into a new experience and try your best to make new friends on the way. If you’re at all uncomfortable, speak up for yourself and don’t worry about offending people. It’s better to feel secure than to spend a night being polite but worried about the host you’ve chosen. Most of all, have fun!
- Leave feedback!
Feedback is one of the things which makes the Couchsurfing website so successful. You can rate your host and your experience, and write a comment about your stay there. This is a great way to firstly, let your host know how much you appreciated their help, and give assistance to other travellers trying to choose a host. Building good feedback helps both hosts and surfers, so please don’t just drop off the face of the earth after you’ve left your host! Keep in touch, and do the polite thing and leave them some feedback.