Kate, an avid Couchsurfer in the New York City area, answers some common questions people have when considering Couchsurfing for the first time:
DID YOU HAVE SECOND THOUGHTS BEFORE COUCHSURFING FOR THE FIRST TIME?
To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought at all, since my friend was the one who organized it and brought me along. Trusting your friends (and strangers, for that matter…) is great, but I’d highly recommend doing some research of your own and being prepared (including having a backup plan, which I always stress, but of course did not have back then). On second thought, maybe it was for the best that I didn’t start googling, now that I’ve read some of the horror stories out there.
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU COUCHSURFED?
So far, I have stayed with six different hosts in four different cities, including NYC.
WHERE DID YOU FIND YOUR COUCHSURFING HOSTS / WHAT RESOURCES DID YOU USE?
Since my friend organized my first stay on Couchsurfing.com, I decided to set up my own profile and started finding hosts through the website as well. I have gone back to stay with some of them, and they also introduced me to other hosts they knew.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR TIPS WHEN SEARCHING FOR A HOST?
I would recommend looking for someone you think you would get along with. Look for things you have in common and mention them in your request. If you can, tell them that you’d like to get to know them during your stay. That is always appreciated and shows that you are not only looking to freeload.
Read through all of their reviews and look for red flags. There is a feature that lets you filter by positive and negative references (hopefully they won’t have any bad ones!).
Another thing I always pay attention to is accessibility (in terms of location, but it can also be vital otherwise, if needed!). It makes me feel safer, knowing that their home is close to public transportation or located in a populated area. This will not only be good for your travel purposes, but will also come in handy if you need to leave in an emergency situation.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BE A GOOD GUEST?
To me, this is simply a matter of showing good manners. Be courteous, clean, and quiet, offer your help with anything from cleaning to cooking. Small gestures go a long way.
Always treat someone’s space the way you’d want them to treat yours. Don’t forget to say “thank you” — many people do. If you can, bring a little something to show your appreciation. A bottle of wine is always well received, or even a small item from your home country to share your culture. I try to leave a thank you note after saying goodbye, this will guarantee to make your host smile and shows your sincerity.
WHAT MAKES THE CONCEPT SO SPECIAL TO YOU?
What makes it so special to me is that it’s a constant learning experience. Something I value in life is knowledge, and learning from other people’s wisdom. Through Couchsurfing, you meet people from all walks of life, different cultures and parts of the world. People with different backgrounds, different jobs, different stories and struggles. They are sometimes people you wouldn’t have met otherwise, be it because they are of different age groups or run in different circles. I love the little things you can learn from people, like their best restaurant recommendation or their favorite book.
HAS COUCHSURFING CHANGED THE WAY YOU TRAVEL?
It really has. I used to go with Airbnb a lot, but unless you are booking an entire home for yourself, you are essentially taking the same risk by sharing someone else’s. On top of that, you are spending money that you could be spending on other things, and what you are not spending is time with your hosts. Which results in fewer connections and authentic experiences in the destination you are visiting.
For my job, I sometimes get to stay in five star hotels. The luxury is nice, and who knows, maybe I would treat myself to that every once in a while if I had the funds. However, I have also learned that things like luxury are half as enjoyable when you don’t have anyone to share them with. Having Couchsurfed a few times, I now value so many things about it that you wouldn’t get from staying in a hotel.
When I travel for leisure, I am usually with someone. Not being alone makes me feel more secure while Couchsurfing, so if my travel partner is up for it, I will always prefer it over hotels or other options.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY BAD EXPERIENCES?
Thankfully, I haven’t. Every host I’ve stayed with has been amazing, some have become close friends.
The worst thing I have encountered so far are snoring roommates, which don’t concern me much as I’m an unbothered sleeper.
WHO WOULD YOU RECOMMEND COUCHSURFING TO?
I would recommend Couchsurfing to anyone who is adventurous and open to meeting new people. In most cases, to succeed in Couchsurfing, you need to enjoy being around others and hanging out with them. If you’d rather enjoy your own privacy on a trip and don’t have any interest in spending time with your host, Couchsurfing is not for you.
It also helps if you don’t have high expectations or standards for your place to sleep — if you do, you should stick with hotel rooms. Be prepared to sleep on couches (duh), or sometimes even yoga mats (I’ve done it before). It’s also good to have an understanding and tolerance of other cultures and their traditions and habits, in case you are in a foreign country.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW COUCHSURFERS?
Besides the obvious (being prepared, doing your research, staying safe, etc.), my biggest piece of advice is to be open for connection. Use the situation of staying with a stranger as a chance to turn them into a friend, and spend some time bonding. Don’t choose a host who you don’t think you’ll have anything in common with.