(meeting up with fellow couch surfer Paula in Rhodes, Greece)
Throughout my travels I’ve met many interesting individuals and I am so lucky to benefit from their advice, wisdom and kindness, in all shapes and forms. What has also been fantastic is meeting so many people who have experienced the many benefits of Couchsurfing either by hosting or being hosted themselves.
When I say benefits, I of course mean meeting a local in a beautiful country to experience a different culture and personality that differ from yours. Couchsurfing involves staying within the hosts home and receiving accommodation, which is provided as an act of kindness. I myself have been hosted a number of times through the Couchsurfing website and each experience has been unique, challenging and culturally rewarding.
It is a great way to meet new people and can be utilised by any age, economic or social standing, however it is often used by backpackers to maintain their tight budgets, but as this is a give and return community, it would be wise to offer a meal or a skill, especially if you’re a creative, to help out if necessary. Once you have your own permanent residence then it is always kind to offer others a place to stay. I know I certainly will once I finally decide where my homebase will be.
(Exploring Nice, France with my CS host Jeff)
The reason why I go into this in some depth is that unfortunately some people (mainly men, but I’ve been contacted by women too) believe they should receive more than a meal in exchange for accommodation. Many people have come to use Couchsurfing as a means to meet others and hook up as if it is the new Tinder… Now, as there is no exchange of money, people will deny this is requesting an act of prostitution, but the same foundation is there.
Throughout my the last 4 months I’ve certainly had many interesting experiences with the app and have had generous hosts, along with one, not so pleasant that I have previously written about. He continued to be harassing, both via text message and the app even after I left his home and it is those types of people that aren’t made for Couchsurfing. If this occurs to you then block and/or report them immediately. Sometimes even though my profile states in very clear terms that I am not on Couchsurfing for providing an… extra service… A few hosts have still tried to make a move when I arrive. This also doesn’t even represent the amount of inappropriate messages I receive from men around the world offering me to stay with them. Literally, just yesterday I was requested by a man to go to Iran to provide him a ‘relationship’ and improve his english and he would offer his home for me to stay. I have no intentions to go to Iran, nor have I mentioned on the site that I would be and I have no idea how he found me as we have no friends in common, but this is quite a common message I receive in an average day on the app. What’s worse is when it is more explicit.
Women shouldnt have to feel resigned to putting up with this behaviour, but it is the way of technology and the 21st century that is making it so easy for women to be treated this way. I don’t wish to make the site seem unsafe as I have had great encounters, one resulting in a new friendship with a girl I’m sure I’ll meet somewhere else in the world. The positive meetings should hopefully outweigh the bad. It is the memories of seeing a new city with a real local that should always be cherished, but your safety is of the highest importance when dealing with people you’ve never previously met with in person.
(Couchsurfing with Antonis in Larnaca, Cyprus)
To have a great experience it comes down to a few key points whilst using the site. Being a good judge of character is obviously fantastic, but online it can be hard to tell how honest a person is and that is why reviews are so handy when picking a host. Setting your boundaries by agreeing to certain terms prior to your arrival is essential. I learnt that early on as not everyone can spend all their time showing you around (you shouldn’t expect them to anyways!), nor do their work schedules always reflect the traditional 9am-5pm working lifestyle. Many places I have couchsurfed they work late into the evening, so be prepared to entertain yourself in town until late, especially if you’re an early to bed type!
Ask your host what their conditions are and if you’re comfortable with their terms then you’re already on the right track. Staying open minded is also essential as we all have to realise that not everyone will have the same train of thought, especially growing up within different cultures, with possibly very different morals. Couchsurfing is a community, full of many generous and helpful hearts. Most often they just want you to fall in love with their country as much as they are.
One of my main comments is to not take advantage of the kindness these people are extending to you. Realise you’re being given free accommodation in this city you are visiting, when often hostel beds in a dorm of 12 start at €10-15/night providing you aren’t in a luxury area. Don’t be a freeloader. Keep yourself and your designated area clean. Wash dishes if you use them, don’t take food that isn’t offered to you and also have something that you can offer in exchange for being provided a place to sleep. We do want to save money by couchsurfing, but having manners and offering something in return to a host, which is not sex (unless that is why you’re there and you’re comfortable with it) will get you a good review and most importantly, good karma!!
(Fondue with my CS host Jeremy in Geneva, Switzerland)
Something that has surprised me is the amount of backpackers I’ve spoken with that say they gave up on the Couchsurfing website because they can never find a host. It’s mentioned that they always get their requests declined and feel the site just doesn’t work for them. I believe this is because they go about it in the wrong way. By spending so much time and energy online searching for people in the area, putting together a great individual email to send to a prospective host on why they’d love to host you, waiting days for a response only to be declined not only wastes your valuable time before you arrive, but it makes it feel more like a chore that you will of course give up on eventually.
The best thing to do is to create an ad on the website or the app. Detail the dates you arrive, how many people are looking for a couch/bed/floor to sleep on (either just you or if you have a friend/partner etc. joining you) and write a brief explanation about what you want to do whilst in the city. This method has never failed for me as I always end up with many responses and offers to stay with people. Just be aware that with an ad will come the inappropriate comments and requests which should be ignored or reported, or hey, if it’s your thing then act on it.
The reason behind creating an ad is that Couchsurfing send out emails to hosts when people post they are coming to the city and the hosts can then contact you if they would be willing to have you stay with them. This shaves off so much time and energy on your part and all you have to do is wait for the offers to flow in. The only difficult part like I previously said is sifting through the crazies to find the gems.
( My CS host Moataz in Milan, Italy)
Be smart and do your research of the area your host lives in to see whether it would be safe to stay with someone in that particular town. Also, try to get them on whatsapp if you have selected someone to host you so you can chat and see if your personalities blend well. Even a Skype/FaceTime session can be helpful to make sure they are who they say they are and that their home seems appropriate for your needs. Don’t feel afraid to ask for their address to determine if they are as centrally located as they stay. If they refuse, then it can be a hint that maybe this person isn’t right for your Couchsurfing needs.
I will stress again that the main thing is to stay safe and have fun. Meet in a local setting and if you don’t feel safe ensure you know how to get to the closest hostel to make a booking there instead. You are not at liberty to stay with someone if you do not feel comfortable, this is your journey and you need to enjoy it. I will continue to place ads and stay with these unique locals across the world as I find it to be such a wonderful exchange of culture and knowledge. It has allowed me to see so many unique places I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to view without their help.
If you’re able to offer to host in exchange once you return to your home then that is a great way to pay it forward. No one should be couchsurfing only to take. If we all give back to the community with any of our skills whilst being hosted and then offer to be a host ourselves in return, it just spreads the love internationally. I’m sure you’ll agree, a little more love in this world isn’t a bad thing.
♥ Love from Leah