Couchsurfing has been one of the strongest cornerstones of our travel around the world over the past few years. Due to the endless and eager generosity of friendly locals we’ve been sheltered from the elements, given food to fill our belly, and entertained by their stories more times than we can actually remember.
We’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve spent the night on the couch or spare bed of a new friend made through the website, and because of their generosity we’ve always aimed at being the ideal guest that we’d like to have in our own home.
Because of the increasing popularity of the accommodation-sharing and friend-making website over the past ten years there has been a noticeable difference in how some people use the service, most chiefly to satisfy their own needs and towards their own gains.
Like you we’ve also heard the horror stories of awful Couchsurfing guests who have used and abused the generosity of their host so that they either; get a free night of accommodation, a free meal, and free storage space.
Neither of us want to see those guests continue to shift how people perceive Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing is NOT an opportunity to score free accommodation as some others may have you believe.
Nine times out of ten a Couchsurfing guest will leave a host feeling happy to have opened up their home to strangers. They get treated with respect and gratitude – but every so often there’s that one person who gives travellers a bad name because of one, or a number of mistakes they’ve made. Sometimes there’s a cultural faux pas that a stranger to a new country may not understand – for example: sometimes using footwear indoors in Japan could be perceived as rude – other times it’s a simple and harmless matter of one person’s idea of cleanliness differing to another person’s.
Learning To Be a Good Couchsurfing Guest
There’s no perfect and simple solution to being the perfect guest – but as long as we all try to be a good example of how respectful a Couchsurfing guest can be, the more likely the service will be respected and used more widely.
The more respect there is, the more people use it. The more people use it, the more countries we can all visit and experience through the eyes of a local.
Even after more than fifty Couchsurfing stays we’re not perfect, but we’ve learned a lot about the little things that can be done to be a good guest and a respectful human being.
In this post we hope to pass on a little of what we’ve learned so that you too can be a good guest and open up the possibilities of having a fun and fruitful experience.
Here are our tips:
1. Make Your Couchsurfing Profile Honest
Be yourself. There’s nothing worse than reading an incredible profile about someone only to find that the person behind the text isn’t as open-minded or friendly as they seem.
It’s easy to think when you’re sending out fifty Couchsurfing requests at a time and getting ZERO replies that it’d be best to write what people want to read rather than what you truly believe, but in the long run you’re setting yourself up for an incredibly disappointing experience.
You write that you’ve a "bubbly personality" when in reality you’re an life-long introvert who can’t stand to be at parties.
Fast forward to your stay with your host and they’ve invited all of their best friends around for a BBQ and you’re set to be the star of the show.
Oh no. Crowds. People. Help. There’s nowhere to hide.
Everyone is disappointed.
Not only did you have an excruciating time, you also had to spend another three days with your surprised (and slightly annoyed) host who cancelled plans to go away to stay and party with you instead.
Be honest about who you are and what you like. People not only want to meet people who share the same interests as they do, they also want to meet people who have the complete opposite interests so that they can learn something new too.
We’ve stayed with non-vegans before because they wanted to learn more about veganism. Everyone wins!
2. Send Honest and Personal Couchsurfing Requests
Don’t copy and paste the same information into every request because I can guarantee you that the host has seen it a hundred times or more. They’re pretty easy to spot, especially when you don’t mention anything about them or what it is about them that interests you enough to want to spend a few days with them in their company.
Your requests need to be as honest as your profile. If you’re interested in meeting somewhere because they’re former professional DJs, then say as much in your request.
Want to learn more about the way a host cooks? Tell them.
Interested in learning how to juggle? Tell them.
Always wanted to hear more about the way an artist thinks? Tell them.
Writing an honest Couchsurfing request not only shows that you’re interested in the person themselves, it also shows that you took the time to read their profile too which most rejected requesters never do.
3. Use More Than One Host
Your host might look and sound fantastic from their profile, but what if there’s an awkwardness between you?
What if you’re not exactly how you sound on your own profile? You’ve now five days in someone else’s home who you can’t connect with no matter how much you try because there’s no chemistry there. It’s not you, or them, it just is.
Sometimes people just don’t connect and when they don’t it’s normally not best to have to spend long stretches of time in the other person’s space.
Our recommendation is always to split time in a destination between two hosts, typically up to a maximum of three nights with any one host.
Sure, the idea of having to move around every couple of days might not sound ideal to everyone, but look on the bright-side:
- You meet more people.
- You stay in different parts of the town or city you’re in.
- The culture of the community from one neighbourhood to the next can be wildly different
- The cafes, restaurants and bars differ from one district to the next.
- There may be more things to do in one neighbourhood than in another.
4. Keep Your Host Up To Date
Letting your Couchsurfing host know your itinerary and movements is a minimum requirement.
If your friend was visiting you from out of town and didn’t call ahead to let you know that they were going to be six hours late because they missed the train connection, you’d be pretty annoyed. Not only did you carve out some time from your day to meet them at the station, you also cancelled an appointment and had prepared a meal for when you both returned home.
Emailing, texting, or calling your host in the run up to your stay is a simple and common courtesy that requires little effort, yet goes a long way.
We always send a follow up email to our host to let them know that we’re still coming. We text them about delays and call them if we’re able to as well.
Make sure to write down the phone number and address of every host you’re set to be hosted by so that even if your mobile phone runs out of battery you’ll still be able to politely call them via a pay phone to keep them up to date.
5. Stick To The Host’s Schedule
Whilst your having the time of your life hitchhiking around Europe without a care for what time you wake, eat, or sleep; your host woke early, went to work, and hasn’t eaten since lunchtime because they’d hoped to cook a meal with you.
You can’t always predict that time is going to stay on time, but trying your best to match the schedule of your host can go a long way to show your appreciation for their generosity.
If they only have one set of keys then be mindful that you’ll have to come and go when they do. It’s rare that it happens, but be mindful and attentive if it does.
6. Remember That Couchsurfing Isn’t Free
It’s rare that anything that is advertised as being ‘Free’ generally is, and in the case of Couchsurfing the same can be said.
Whilst it might be free accommodation to you it’s a night or two of electricity, gas, water, and sometimes food that is being paid for by your host.
Now you might feel that the above is a small price to pay for a couple of nights, but imagine for a moment that your host has another surfing guest every few days or so. Over the course of a month that’s a lot of money spent on the above. Yes, no one forced the host to invite guests into their home, but it doesn’t mean that we as caring travellers shouldn’t be at all times respectful of the fact.
Be the value of a stay. Give thanks to the host by being the best guest they’ve every invited into their home. Buy breakfast, cook them lunch, take them out for a drink, or pay for their entrance to a club on Friday night when a fun time is exactly what they need.
You don’t have to spend a fortune. In fact, you don’t have to spend much at all – however, if you’re not spending £50 a night on accommodation is it so much to ask to spend at least a few Pounds, Dollars, or Euros to say thanks?
7. Share Food As Well As Stories
Sharing food is the best kind of fun. In fact, we’re always happy to cook a meal and try to do so on the very first night we arrive. Come to think of it, we’re always keen to cook as many meals as possible, especially when there’s the opportunity to learn a meal from our host.
Having a meal together or bringing food from home can be a fantastic talking point around which you can get to know more about your host and the location you’re in.
Ask to learn how to cook their favourite meal and it’s highly likely that they have a story about how they came to learn it or a story about another time they shared the meal with someone else and something hilarious happened.
Franca never leaves it long after arriving before asking about local and traditional food. What’s popular? Which ones are vegan? Do you know how to make it? Can we make it?
When I look back at some of my favourite Couchsurfing experiences I can hand-on-heart say that food was the centrepiece to it.
Share your knowledge and love for food and you’ll make a great impression that can last for years.
8. Clean Up After Yourself…and Keep Yourself Clean
Back from a day of trekking? Leave the mud on your shoes outside before you enter. When you cook, clean. When you shower, mop up any water that ends up on the floor. Also, don’t forget to remove that ring of dirt from the bath after you shower.
Speaking of showers…
There’s really no excuse for not showering and staying clean. Okay, you’re on your first holiday and you’re "finding yourself" so you’ve been walking around barefoot for the past six months, but that’s not to mean you can start honking up someone’s ‘castle’ with your oniony armpits and cheesy feet. Have some respect for your host and for yourself.
9. Don’t Waste Water or Electricity
On the subject of showering, staying in the shower for 45 minutes because it’s your first wash in a week isn’t fair on your host. They’re paying for the water and electricity required to heat it so please pay some respect to the quantity you use.
Charging your computer or mobile phone is completely legitimate so you’ve no concern there, but leaving the TV on all day or the air conditioning at full blast whilst you’re not even in the house is going to create a mountain of bills for the host to deal with many weeks after you’ve departed.
10. Keep Yourself Small
Imagine coming home to find someone else’s stuff is everywhere in your apartment. Dirty clothes have sporadically started to appear around the house and there’re soaking wet underwear hanging over the shower that you don’t remember leaving when you set off for work this morning.
Being clean and neat in someone else’s home really shouldn’t be something that anyone should have to recommend to another person, but you’d be amazed at the number of times we’ve heard about messy and smelly Couchsurfing guests who’ve somewhere managed to create chaos during the course of a single day.
Keep your belongings in your backpack or right next to it. Don’t let it spread across the floor. If possible, keep your belongings out of the way as if they were invisible. If you’re staying on the sofa keeping your bag in the hallway where people rarely need to walk or stand is the smartest option, then you can relocate it next to the sofa when you’re due to sleep so that it’s near you when you need to shower or change.
11. Be Mindful of Security
Ensuring that you maintain the security of your host’s home is paramount. Close and lock the windows when you leave the property and triple check that you’ve picked up the keys before you leave to explore the city – especially in the cases where you’ve been entrusted with the only set of keys by the owner.
12. Never Bring People Back
As friendly and inviting as your host may be it’s not safe to presume that they’d be equally as glad to welcome your entourage of new friends you’ve made during your hitchhiking adventure today, or the drinking buddies you made during the late night pub crawl you signed up for.
One host once told us of a story that neither of us could believe.
After returning home from work they found the apartment empty. They waited for the Couchsurfer to return so that they could eat together but after a few hours there was still no sign of them. A few hours later and still no word. The surfer didn’t pass on their number as they said they would so the host had no way of double checking that they were okay. The host tried to stay up for as long as they could but eventually they had to sleep because of an early start the following day.
Four o’clock in the morning and the surfer returned home – and they weren’t alone.
After a little while the noise woke the host up and – rightfully curious to know why there were more voices than they’d expected – they opened the door and found that the surfer hadn’t just returned home drunk, but also with a number of beer-swilling friends.
Don’t be that guest. Don’t invite strangers into someone else’s home.
There really shouldn’t be any necessity for someone to be told not to take these liberties, but you’d be surprised just how switched-off, self-centred, and disrespectful people can be.
13. Remember That Your Host Still Has Work and a Life
Your host probably has work. If you’re staying with a family they’ll also have children to care for, wash, dress, feed, and prepare to shuttle to school. On some occasions your host might have two jobs just to make ends meet. Sometimes your host will have so many evening hobbies and functions that they’re a part of that you’ll only see them in the morning as they rush around sipping coffee whilst they prepare for the day ahead.
When travelling it’s easy to lose the realisation that people are still caught up in the 9-to-5 that many of us have escaped from. It’s easy to lose touch with how hectic life can be when it’s not all Instagramming your breakfast and sipping £1 cocktails on the beach.
Remember that your host has a life and try your best to work around it. Come and go when it suits them, not when it suits you.
Your host is already being kind enough to invite you into their home. The least we can do is to be kind enough to make it as easy to handle as possible.
14. Don’t Outstay Your Welcome
"Would you mind if we stayed another two nights?". Two nights turns into three, then five, and before you know it two weeks have gone by and the surfer is still there; and throughout the entire duration they’ve made themselves feel more at home whilst the host has been spending as much time as possible either outside the house or inside of their room just so they don’t have to confront the surfer.
People are often too kind for their own good and won’t say when enough is enough. They’re happy to host someone for a few days, but eventually they’re all going to want their privacy back.
Don’t put your host into the awkward position of having to ask you to leave.
By maximising your stay to three nights you not only make the host fully aware that soon they’ll have their privacy and space back, you personally can move on and see what another city or town looks like – or even better still – you can stay with another host in the same location and get to explore another side of it.
15. Leave An Honest Review As Soon As You Leave
Reviews are the core safety feature of Couchsurfing. Not only are they a great way of learning a little more about a host, how genuine their profile is, and the kind of things they do when they are hosting a surfer – they’re also a great way to communicate to a future surfer what they can expect.
On occasion we’ve stayed with hosts who sounded great in their profile and were fun and polite in their correspondence, only for us to arrive and have the most awkward time possible.
The host wasn’t bubbly. They weren’t as interested in travelling as their profile suggested. One host didn’t even like Couchsurfing, they only did it so that they could get a free bed on the next occasion they went travelling.
Leaving an honest review helps to separate out the unsuitable for Couchsurfing. Being coy with how you word your review just so that you don’t offend anyone isn’t fair either because the next surfer to come along is going to have a horrendous experience too.
Be sure to write your review at the next best opportunity, even if it’s a week or so later. The sooner the host gets more positive reviews on their profile the more likely they’ll have better guests in future and a greater chance at being accepted for their own surfing requests when they next have the time to travel.
I’m Starting To Sound Like Your Dad
Whilst writing this, all I could picture was a parent telling off their child for being untidy, lazy, and disrespectful. Most of what I’ve written is the bare logical and respectful minimum that every human being should be aiming to achieve as standard. Really there shouldn’t be any need for most of what I’ve written above, but somewhere along the line the bad eggs amongst the hundreds of thousands of us who travel have forgotten the laws of common decency our parents have taught us and it’s turning us into the kinds of guests we would dread having in our own home.
If you’ve read this far there’s every chance that you feel you’re already a great Couchsurfing guest already, and if that’s the case I applaud you, respect you, and ask that you do me one favour – share this post so that those who aren’t great guests can make those simple changes.
Do you have any suggestions on how to be a great Couchsurfing guest?