Couchsurfing is a network of travelers who host and guide other visitors while someone is visiting their city and country.
For this article, I will talk about the company Couchsurfing.com, which is currently the largest hospitality or homestay network in the world. I am not sure if the term couchsufing was coined from the company, or if the company based their website on that term, but for the purposes of this article, the capitalized version will refer to the company.
Couchsurfing is quite a great community, full of travelers and people who love traveling. This company aims to facilitate “inspiring experiences” by helping travelers connect with their destinations on a more personal level.
Couchsurfing provides this mission statement:
The Couchsurfing (CS) community and the entire experience is completely dependent on the regular people that use their site, called couchsurfers. Couchsurfers are regular people that love to travel and experience more of the truer side of life at their destination(s).
Though couchsurfing was the term coined because many hosts would allow a traveler or two to stay at their flats and “surf their couch,” members of the Couchsurfing community also includes the “surfers,” as well as people who might not be able to accommodate at the moment but would be able to meet for a meal, a cup of coffee, etc.
Hosts should not ever charge their surfers for anything, and CS goes so far as to say on their website that anyone who does would be removed from the community. I personally like the idea of bringing my host a little souvenir from my home, and helping out with chores around the house or treating hosts to a meal or a drink is a good practice, but should never feel obligatory; no participation in any of the Couchsurfing activities are required or obligatory, yet all are encouraged.
Couchsurfing hosts are the backbone of the community. These are the folks who make travel possible for many people, by offering up a spare room, air mattress, or literally the couch for travelers to stay. Hosts usually go far above and beyond, often times taking their guest(s) out for tours, cooking them meals, and introducing them to other local people.
Couchsurfers, or simply surfers, are the people that are traveling and looking to make a connection while abroad. Though the term surfers may sound like it implies that they need accommodations, it is generally accepted to refer to all traveling members of the Couchsurfing community who take part in a Couchsurfing function while away, including meeting a local for a simple meal or drink, going to a CS meet or gathering, or meeting a native for a tour of a part of their city.
CS ambassadors are those that Couchsurfing members that have both a great love for the Couchsurfing project and a deep desire to promote the wonderful experiences that CS has to offer. Most perform unpaid, voluntary administrative work on the website, as well as reaching out to new members.
Couchsurfing groups are self-explanatory; they are groups formed by Couchsurfing members with a general theme. There are many themes that groups focus on, such as music, sports, politics, etc. The most general groups created on CS are the various city groups, which are made of members who share a love for their city and are made up usually of local residents, upcoming travelers, and past travelers. Members of groups sometimes meet up and create events for members, as well as anyone who happens to be traveling to the area during the event’s time.
Events on Couchsurfing are usually created by group members and focus on a theme. For example, on a trip to Warsaw, Poland, I was invited to go to a party that the CS Warsaw Group puts together about once per month. The party was fantastic, composed mainly of locals who love to show travelers a good time. I had a great time and made quite a few lifelong friends.
Create Your Profile – First thing’s first, you gotta register with Couchsurfing and set up your profile. Your profile has all kinds of areas to fill in: your personal description, photos, languages that you know, philosophy, your past and future travels, and much more. Be as detailed as possible!
Connect – If you are new to the CS community, you will need to make some friends and allow other members the opportunity to trust you. A good idea is, if you have a Facebook account, you can link Couchsurfing with it to see which of your Facebook friends are also members of CS; this way, you get a bit of a jump start in friendships. Join a CS group or two, whether in your own city or one you are planning to head to soon, and build up some relationships online and in person. Attend some activities.
Start the Couch Search – When you have your upcoming travel dates set, a good idea is to begin the couch search a week or two in advance of your departure; this way, you will be able to send requests out with sufficient time for these members to respond.
Also, you can correspond via email, Skype, or phone with your potential host to get to know one another a little better before actually meeting in person; this will not only help you feel comfortable, but will probably grant your host a bit of comfort as well. On the CS navigation panel after you’ve logged in, there are several tabs; to perform a couch search, you should click on ‘Search’ rather than the tab marked ‘Couch.’
From there, you can search and refine the search with several requisites, such as gender, age, safety features, and whether you need a place to stay or simply want to meet a local. When writing a message requesting a couch, be as sincere and personal as possible; you should really take the time to read each potential host’s profile and write a request mentioning how the two of you would be a good fit.
Also, similar to a resume, don’t copy and paste a generic letter to everyone available in the city, as most CS members are adept at sensing this and will likely be turned off.
Set your Itinerary on CS – The other, more passive way of obtaining a couch is to announce your travel itinerary on the Couchsurfing site. Go to the ‘Couch’ tab and click on ‘Itinerary.’ This will bring you to a page where you can fill out the city(ies) that you will be going to and the dates that you are looking for a couch/meeting with a local.
People in the area that you are searching will most likely see your request highlighted the next time they log in, and if they can accommodate you, they may reach out to you to see if you need a place to stay. I posted my itinerary for my 2012 mileage run, and I received all kinds of messages from the warm people of Warsaw asking if I needed a place to stay.
Keep Track of Your Hosts and Requests – Once you’ve sent out your requests, you can keep tabs on who has accepted or denied, or even marked you as ‘Maybe,’ by going to the ‘Couch’ tab. Under ‘Couch,’ click on ‘Surfing’ to see your latest requests and invites. This is a great tool to organize all your past and future hosts, especially if your next trip finds you staying on more than one couch.
Surf! – Do the damn thing! Couchsurfing will hopefully provide you with a great experience of your destination, as well as a unique, local perspective to the city you are visiting. Be prepared for anything – don’t assume that you will be able to rely on your host to show you around at all times, or provide you food. Have backup plans just in case.
Follow Up – When you arrive back home, a good practice is to leave a reference for your host as soon as possible. Describe your time with them, and leave honest feedback so that future surfers will know what to expect. Keep in touch, if you both want, as many of these people can become lifelong friends, stemming from a short visit. I found this out myself, several times.
Surf Again! – Plan for your next Couchsurfing adventure. If you somehow got turned off by your initial experience, don’t let it stop you from trying it out again in a different location. There are too many great possibilities as to how wonderful a time you could have; the potential is unlimited.
The Couchsurfing community is, for the most part, a decent crowd. Most hosts and surfers generally just want to connect with locals, taste the local culture, and share experiences. Many people cringe at the thought of staying with a complete stranger or inviting one to stay at their place; and in fact, there are no guarantees when it comes to safety, theft, or other bad experiences.
CS has several different ways to help members get to know one another, such as vouching, verification, and leaving references. Couchsurfing bills themselves as a “Trust Network.”
Each CS member has a profile page, and this is the most important factor in deciding who to approve and not. Profile sections are encouraged to be filled out in its entirety, so that other members can get a general feel for the person. Sections include: Personal Description, How I Participate In CS, CS Experience, Languages Spoken, Locations Traveled, Philosophy, Interests, and much more.
This is currently the only thing that is paid for on the Couchsurfing site, and it provides the majority of their revenue. Verification is an optional check on a member’s name and address, usually by sending a postcard to the address which was requested for verification. A small payment of $25 is charged, and users will have a logo in their profile showing that they’ve completed this process.
Couchsurfing is a social community, so like Facebook, friends can be added to your profile. When a user accepts another as a friend, they usually fill out information like their level of trust for that person (not displayed publicly) and a short blurb as to how they know each other.
References are usually a few sentences or paragraph that describe one member’s experiences, level of trust, and attitude towards another. These references benefit future members who may come across, as well as the person being referenced, by giving another voice to their statements and allowing others to make more informed decisions. Fields such as whether the members have met face-to-face and time spent together are required. Positive, neutral, and negative references can be left.
A CS member cannot vouch for another until they have been vouched for 3 times, or if they have completed the paid verification process. Vouching is similar to references, but aim to be heeded to a higher degree.
Safety is going to always be a concern, and a community as large as this one will always have a few people who are up to no good. However, the community is generally a safe one, and concern for safety shouldn’t stop anybody from participating fully in Couchsurfing, so long as they make prudent decisions based on the factors above.
How to Host with Couchsurfing
There are different ways that you can host travelers who are visiting your area, without necessarily offering a place to stay.
Set your ‘Couch Status‘ – Under your profile options, select the tab that says ‘Couch’ (different from the main ‘Couch’ tab in the navigation bar), and select your status, based on whether or not you can host.
These include options such as Yes, Maybe, No, I’m Traveling, and Not Right Now (But I Can Hang Out). Keep up to date with your status, as other members can search accurately for what it is they are looking for. For people that can’t accommodate a surfer at the moment, the Not Right Now status is a good one to set, to let others know that you might be able to meet them for a short period of time, such as for a meal, coffee, or sightseeing.
Respond to Requests – If you set your status to Yes, Maybe, or Not Right Now (But I Can Hang Out), you may receive requests from Couchsurfers who are coming soon to your area. Read through the requests, and answer them honestly. Be sure to reply, whether or not you can accommodate their needs.
Be Proactive – If you are happily willing to host a guest, try searching for surfers who have posted their itinerary and are coming to your area. When you first sign in to CS, you may see some of the latest people who have announced their plans to your area, so why not reply to someone? As a potential host, a surfer is already quite grateful; if you seek them out, you virtually guarantee a welcome and pleasant experience for them.
Follow Up – When your guest leaves, write a reference for them; be honest and detailed. This will aid other hosts and surfers alike who may be on the fence about meeting the individual that just stayed with you.
Couchsurfing members are virtually all over the globe, even in Antarctica (they say). There are almost 4 million members around the world located in 86,000 cities, and speaking over 300 different languages.
General Statistics (March, 2012)
Couchsurfing members are all over the world; this map below shows the most concentrated areas with Couchsurfers.
As of March 19th, 2012, these are the top 10 countries with the most members:
|Countries||Surfers||% of CS|
Here are some general CS stats:
|Successful Surfings (approx)||4,243,646|
|Friendships Created (approx)||4,186,200|
|Positive Experiences (approx)||6,787,846|
|Unique Countries/Territories Represented||251|
|Unique States/Provinces Represented||3,092|
|Unique Cities Represented||85,930|
|Unique Languages Represented||365|
As of March 19th, 2012, these are the 20 cities with the most members:
|Top 20 Couchsurfing Cities||Surfers||% of CS|
|United States, New York, New York||74,910||1.9%|
|France, Ile-de-France, Paris||66,250||1.7%|
|England, London, London||57,001||1.5%|
|Germany, Berlin, Berlin||51,448||1.3%|
|Turkey, Istanbul, Istanbul||39,437||1.0%|
|Canada, Quebec, Montreal||32,766||0.8%|
|Argentina, Buenos Aires City, Buenos Aires||28,891||0.7%|
|Spain, Catalonia, Barcelona||26,335||0.7%|
|Austria, Vienna, Vienna||25,858||0.7%|
|Australia, Victoria, Melbourne||25,318||0.7%|
|Russia, Moscow City, Moscow||23,908||0.6%|
|Australia, New South Wales, Sydney||22,766||0.6%|
|Spain, Madrid, Madrid||22,646||0.6%|
|Brazil, Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo||20,886||0.5%|
|Poland, Mazovia, Warsaw||20,311||0.5%|
|Germany, Bavaria, Munich||19,422||0.5%|
|Canada, Ontario, Toronto||19,105||0.5%|
|Germany, Hamburg, Hamburg||19,099||0.5%|
|United States, California, Los Angeles||18,954||0.5%|
|United States, California, San Francisco||18,936||0.5%|
So, that was our complete guide on how to use Couchsurfing. Got any questions, tips, or updates? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
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