Traveling is a great way to discover new places, to experience new cultures and meet the locals. What is even better, is staying with them. There are so many amazing things to see out there that simply sleeping in a hotel or hostel doesn’t really make sense because there will always be hidden treasures, which only locals know about. What I am trying to say is, why don’t you do some couch surfing the next time you hit the road? You will not only have a free place to crash but if you are lucky enough, you will have a free guide as well.
There are many websites that offer free lodging by connecting hosts with guest but perhaps the one that pops into everyone’s mind is Couchsurfing. There are some basic rules that apply to all Couchsurfing-like platforms. I will try to outline the most important things you should pay attention to when you are looking for a couch, regardless of the platform you use.
Looking for hosts
Finding a local, willing to host you can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. Most hosts consider several things before they let you come in. First and foremost, almost all platforms let users rate their hosts and guests. In this sense, finding yourself a couch for the first time is the most challenging task on planet Earth. Well, at least that’s what some people say. But trust me, it is nowhere near that hard to find a shelter for the night. This is how the magic happens:
- When searching for hosts pay attention to their activity. If someone’s last login was 4 months ago, it is unlikely you will get a reply. Move on and message only people that have been active in the last 24 hours. Some websites even let you filter the results by this criteria. Now, once you have found an active host with a good rating, it is time to compose your message. Keep it short, nobody reads after the third sentence anyway. Say who you are, why you are in town and ask for a place to stay for the night. Be kind, not needy.
- To save time and battery life you can even compose a template and change the name of your host and the city. It works every time, and once you nail the right tone you can use your template in almost any situation. Just remember to change names accordingly. Otherwise, you will look like a complete retard. Once I forgot to do it and received a furious response. Well, I cannot blame the guy 🙂
Staying with your hosts
The single most important thing when you are in somebody else’s home is to show respect. Period! Do not act like a prick. Instead, you can bring some cookies, a bottle of good red wine or just tea. It’s up to you. Be kind and do not open up controversial topics such as religion, politics and in some regions, history. Ask about interesting sights, show some interest in your host’s town and country. Most of the time they will be more than willing to share with you thousands of amazing stories.
Try to be as packed as possible and generally, have a common sense. Yes, some people will let you stay for the night even if you act like a dick but remember that they can give you devastating feedback, which will practically kill your chances to ever find a host again.
P.S. Should I say that trying to get laid with your host is dumb?
When leaving, try to put everything in place. In other words, you should leave things the way you had found them. If your host was cool, give him a positive review and share your experience with members of the community. I like to send postcards to people who have been generous enough to let me spend the night at their home. You should try it, too. It will make them remember you. You will make them smile.
About the platforms
Couchsurfing – It is the most popular lodging website but it has its drawbacks. The company went for-profit in 2011 and to have full access to all of the features you need to verify your account, which costs $60 bucks the last time I checked. Without verifying your account, you are allowed 10 requests per week, which is insufficient if you plan to stay in a different town every night. Despite that, I never paid that $60 and I still manage to get a shelter. So yeah, it really depends on your traveling plans.
Bewelcome – Bewelcome is somewhat similar to Couchsurfing but as far as I am concerned it is completely free of taxes, fees and so on. Though I have never used it, it enjoys quite a large community so it should be working just fine.
WarmShowers – This one is quite tricky but it saved my life several times. WarmShowers is another non-profit platform that offers free lodging but it is entirely targeting bicycle tourers. If you don’t travel by bike, do not use it. However, if you are touring WarmShowers’ host are one of the greatest, since they themselves are bicycle tourers, meaning they know your needs. They will help you with mechanical issues, the will show you the best routes and won’t ever throw you in a middle of a party because they see how sleepy you are.
I like to draw a parallel between couch surfing and hitch-hiking. Practically, they are very similar activities. In both cases, you are trying to sell yourself to others in a way that makes them willing to help. So if you have any hitch-hiking experience, use it when you are couch surfing. It will help you understand your potential hosts. After all, trust your guts! If something doesn’t feel right, move on. It’s better to be homeless for a night than to stay with somebody who makes you feel uncomfortable.