Sunday, 13 November 2016

Seven tips for having a great couchsurfing experience

When you are traveling on a budget one of the biggest costs is likely to be your accommodation. A great way to bring down this cost is to go couchsurfing. The idea was started by a small group of people in 2004 and now the website has 12 million members in over 200,000 cities around the world.

If you’ve never couch surfed before then it can be a bit intimidating to think about turning up in an unknown city and staying with a complete stranger. Here are some tips to help you pick a good host and ensure that you have a positive experience.
  1. Create an intersting profile

Imagine that you are the host that is going to open your home to a complete stranger. You’d probably want to know a bit about them first so make sure that you have some good pictures. Always be smiling in them and if you can get one or two that you you being happy in a group situation then that may make you appear like a friendly person.

It shouldn’t be an essay because hosts are busy people and may not have the time to read it. Write a couple of paragraphs about who you are, any interesting hobbies you have and what you can offer the host by way of entertainment. Take a look at some other profiles to get an idea and follow the prompts that the website offers to make it easier.

  1. Plan ahead

Ideally you want to start looking for hosts in your chosen location at least one week before you arrive at a destination. If you leave it too late you will more than likely find that people already have guests, have other plans or simply don’t see your message in time to respond.

  1. Read reviews carefully

The hosts profile should give you an idea of the person, what space they have to offer in their home and other details that they choose to share. However, always take time to read the reviews that have been left by other couchsurfers as this will give you a better insight to what sort of experience you can expect to have while there.

Don’t forget to leave your own review after your stay to help future couch surfers make their decision. The host should hopefully leave you a review as well which, assuming it is positive, will make it easier for you to get more hosts in the future.

  1. Personalise your request

When trying to find a place to stay it can be very tempting to send a copy of the same message to multiple hosts. This may seem like an efficient method as you’d think the more people you contact the more likely you may be to get a positive response. Hosts, particularly active ones with many reviews, will often get several requests a day and they can tell when your response is a copy and paste job.

A better approach would be to take the time to write an individual post to each potential host that mentions some of the things they talk about in their profile. Hosts are more likely to respond if they can tell that you have taken the time to read their profile properly.

A quick way to do this is write a message with the basic details such as where and when you are going. You can save this on couchsurfing as a ‘message template’ then simply add the name of each host with a paragraph or two that is unique to them.

  1. Ask questions

A host's profile doesn’t always give enough information for you to plan your visit. Some things to check before you go could include:
  • Are bedding and towels provided?
  • What time will the host be available for you to arrive? They may have work and therefore not be home till the evening or may have plans that you have to work around.
  • If you’re staying for more then one night, will you be able to come and go as you like? Some hosts are reluctant to give you a key and others don’t mind.
  • Are you allowed to cook at their place? This is a great way to save money while travelling as eating out all the time can be quite expensive. Don’t forget to offer them some food as well if you are cooking.
  • What time does the host normally go to bed? Particularly important if you’re arriving very late/early or if you plan to be out late into the night.
  • What is the public transport like? If they’re right in the middle of the city then this won’t be a problem but if they’re further out then it’s good to check. Once you have their address you can search on Google Maps and check directions to the city centre which will give you public transport details (this won’t work in all countries).

  1. Offer something in return

It’s not expected that you bring a gift (after all part of this is about saving money) but if you have space in your luggage it is nice to bring a little something from your country or home town. A good but inexpensive thing could be a little piece of confectionery or a postcard of where you are from. If you are staying more than one night then you could also offer to cook your host a meal or take them out for dinner.

Try not to worry about this too much though as people will not be offended if you don’t do this. Couchsurfing works because the expectation is that in return for staying with hosts you will also offer space in your home so that other people can benefit from staying with you when they visit your area.

  1. Relax and enjoy

Couchsurfing is not just a great way to save money but is one of the best ways to truly experience an area from the perspective of a local. You will meet interesting open minded people, get advice on the best places to eat, drink, visit and often find yourself enjoying home cooked meals, being invited to parties and making new friends that you will keep in touch with for years to come.

The most important thing is to relax, be yourself and enjoy the experience.

Have you couchsurfed before or hosted couchsurfers? What advice would you add? Perhaps you’ve never tried couchsurfing before and still have some unanswered questions. Add your comments below and I’ll try to answer them for you.

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