Travel is expensive; there is no getting around that fact. Even budget traveling can add up if you are on the road for a long time. The expense of traveling is one of the reasons that sites such as Couchsurfing, WWOOF, Houseshare, and others have become so popular. The specifics of these sites differ but they essentially provide a cheaper place to stay while traveling.
I was first introduced to Couchsurfing in 2013 when my mom signed herself up for it before traveling to the Netherlands. I was a bit skeptical of it. Who invites strangers into their house for free? According to Couchsurfing’s website, “Couchsurfing is a service that connects members to a global community of travelers. Use Couchsurfing to find a place to stay or share your home and hometown with travelers.”
What is Couchsurfing?
In laymen’s terms, Couchsurfing is a website that is all about meeting new people and reciprocating. You can stay at other Couchsurfer’s houses for free and other people can stay at your house for free. Despite its name, guests don’t always sleep on a couch. Sometimes hosts can offer you a bed, a mattress, or even a balcony to sleep on!
“But what if I can’t host people or don’t want people always staying with me?”
That’s not a problem! Couchsurfing offers options that allow your profile to show whether or not you are accepting Couchsurfers. They understand that sometimes life doesn’t always allow you to have guests. You can set your profile to whatever availability you have.
“Isn’t it dangerous to let strangers stay with me and for me to stay with strangers?”
Not at all! Couchsurfing has an incredible safety team to ensure that your experience is positive. Both hosts and guests have ratings and reviews so you can see if they are someone that you would like to share a living space with. I have never once had a bad experience with Couchsurfing and I haven’t met anyone who didn’t enjoy the service.
How to be a Good Host
It doesn’t really take too much effort to be a good host. All that Couchsurfing really asks you to do is provide a roof over the heads of whomever you are hosting. One of the benefits of Couchsurfing is that you’re expected to get to know your Couchsurfers on a personal basis. Using the service really connects you to a global community and gives you friends around the world. Other sites, such as AirBNB, are less personal and more business-like. But Couchsurfing really allows both the host and guest to benefit from making friends in new places.
Whenever I host Couchsurfing guests at my house, I always make sure to offer them some type of dinner. Sometimes they have already eaten but I always offer them dinner anyways. A small gesture like this can go a long way, especially if your guests are tired and just want to rest after a day of traveling. My go-to meal is a takeaway pizza from Little Caesar’s. It’s delicious, cheap, and my guests always love a little slice of America (quite literally).
Another service I offer my guests is the washer and dryer. I know that there is nothing worse than traveling for days on end in the same disgusting clothes. If you have a dryer, make sure you warn your guests about it. Some foreigners to America have never dried their clothes in a dryer and it wouldn’t be good to accidentally shrink their clothes!
I also always let my guests use the shower if they want to. Showers are often very difficult to come by while traveling and a clean fresh start is always a good way to begin the next leg of a trip. I used to think that every host offered a shower until one of my experiences in Austria. It had already been two days since I showered and my host didn’t offer me the shower, so I continued another four days before I was able to get clean. Quite an experience! Ever since then, I have made it a point to offer a shower to my guests and they always appreciate it.
Sometimes I have had guests stay for multiple days, other times they will only stay with me for one night. Regardless, I almost always cook them breakfast before they leave in the morning. My go-to meal is eggs (which are from my free-range chickens), bacon, toast, homemade jam, and coffee or tea. The kitchen cabinets are full of teas and snacks from around the world, which I think offers a level of comfort to my guests. If I know that they will be traveling on the road a lot that day, I will usually make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch – quite the American staple. Some people have never tried peanut butter before and I’m pretty sure that my sandwich has changed their lives.
These are just some of the things that I do as a host to ensure that my guests have the best experience at my house. My suggestions shouldn’t be followed religiously and you should do whatever works best for your hosting situation. There is not a right or wrong way to be a host as long as you are inviting and kind to your guests.
How to be a Good Guest
Personally, I think that being a good Couchsurfing guest is more difficult than being a host. You are an ambassador to your home and want to put your best foot forward when visiting a new place. Some people will even choose to bring gifts from their home to give to their hosts as a token of gratitude. I personally don’t do that because I don’t have enough room in my backpack but I know many people who do.
Before you depart for your Couchsurfer’s home, research the best way to get to their house. Some hosts will provide very detailed instructions and others will just give the address. Others sometimes offer to pick you up at a certain location and show you the way to their house themselves. This is very convenient but I will only accept this method if they offer. The last thing I want to do is cause more work for my host. But if they offer, I certainly won’t turn down extra assistance!
Once you arrive at their house, some hosts really like to visit with you and others prefer to let you do your own thing. My best advice is to just feel out the situation to learn what your host prefers. I’m not saying that you have to visit for five hours when all you want to do is sleep, but a little bit of chit-chat never hurts.
The golden rule of Couchsurfing (and staying anywhere) is to leave the place in better condition than you found it. This is pretty much common sense. Even if the host says you don’t have to make the room look nice when you leave, it is still a common courtesy to put everything back in order.
One of the most important things of Couchsurfing is to leave an honest review. Some people are torn between leaving a positive review for everyone and being brutally honest. I can’t tell you which one to write, but I recommend that you remain truthful in your reviews for hosts and guests alike. Be sure to keep in mind that cultural differences can sometimes be interpreted different ways. For example, it is customary in American culture to strip the bed of its linens, which makes it easier for the host to clean up after they’ve left. But in some countries, this may be perceived as being messy. Just keep an open mind!
Pros of Couchsurfing
I absolutely love both ends of the Couchsurfing process. Personally, I prefer to have people stay at my house because I don’t feel as though I am a burden to a host. Some of the people who have stayed at my house are still friends with my family and me.
Our very first experience with Couchsurfing happened in 2013. I went to pick up my single Couchsurfing guest and learned that two other Couchsurfers had been abandoned at the train station and had nowhere to spend the night. So of course I invited the two of them to spend the night at my house as well. When all three Couchsurfers left the next morning, I gave them my contact information because they were foreigners who didn’t know anybody in America. The following day they called me and asked if they could return to my house because they had fallen very ill. Needless to say, we welcomed two of them back for another week of unplanned Couchsurfing. It was such a fun week and I always will remember them as the best first-Couchsurfers I ever had.
That’s what Couchsurfing is all about. Being a part of a global community isn’t something that everyone experiences and I am so thankful that I am part of it. So get out there, sleep on some couches, and live your travels to the fullest!