Couchsurfing - an online platform which connects travellers wanting to stay in people’s homes with locals who want to welcome travellers into their homes. It has been equated to a free version of Airbnb, although this is misleading as rather than lack of payment being the main point, it is simply a convenient consequence of the Couchsurfing ethos.
My Couchsurfing experiences are relatively limited having used it a few times while travelling but I never hosted anyone. However, I hope I can give a competent outline of how it should be used.
As a guest, the most important thing to remember is to not just be a freeloader. If you simply want a free place to crash and don’t care about the human connection, you’re in it for the wrong reason. Couchsurfing is primarily about getting to know people – a different, more conscious way to travel. This also involves respecting the fact that you are in someone’s private home, meaning you might have to adjust yourself to their routines and way of living. For example, while some hosts are happy to give you a key and let you come and go as you please, others aren’t; if this is the case you may have to go out early in the morning and stay out until the evening. Continuing along similar lines, remember that your host’s house is not a hotel. Offer to wash the dishes, hoover the floor or even cook for them. Couchsurfing is fundamentally based on kindness and this needs to flow both ways.
If you want to host, the most important thing (for students at least) is to check with the people you live with. Remember that while you might feel ready to welcome a stranger into your home, your flatmates might not be – you must consider their boundaries as well as your own. If you’ve decided that you can host people, make sure you have accurately described your home in your profile. Will your guests have a room to themselves? An air mattress on your bedroom floor? A sofa in the living room?
It is also important to outline your personal agenda – whether you need them to follow your schedule, or any household rules. It is possible for misunderstandings to occur between guests and hosts, and the best way to avoid this is to be totally clear from the outset.
Finally, the key to being both a guest and a host is to have a good profile. Put some effort into describing yourself and add a few good quality photos which show your face and things you enjoy doing. You want people to be comfortable with the idea of sharing a home with you; this is very unlikely if your profile simply says “I like travelling” with a grainy picture of you on a night out five years ago.
But most importantly: Couchsurfing is a fun and fulfilling way to travel. Enjoy!