What Is Couchsurfing? Here’s What You Should Know

Surfing is an action water sport. Couches are pieces of furniture in your home. So what do these two things have to do with each other and what is Couchsurfing?

It’s all about a cultural exchange.

Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to travel actively. You have the opportunity to get up close and personal (metaphorically speaking!) with locals – its like a front seat ride on the rollercoaster of daily local life.

The concept is simple: there are hosts and there are couchsurfers. There is typically (and never in any case I have come across myself) no exchange of money for the accomodation they provide you. Instead, you pay it forward. You might couchsurf for some period of time, then when you have your own place the assumption is that you will too be a host for others.

How Do I Do It?

Get yourself a Couchsurfing account, and follow the procedures to get Verified. Its important you do as many steps as possible to give yourself the best chance at being welcomed as a guest.

There are three steps to becoming a fully verified user:

Verify your mobile phone number
Verify your credit card with US$25 payment for life!
Verify your home address

The most basic one to verify is your mobile number. They will simply send you a text message containing a verification ID, which you then type into your Couchsurfing account.

As a host, it is important to have people’s trust – so verifying your home address is the best way to do that. Verifying yourself via this option will trigger a letter to be sent to you via post, again containing a verification ID, which you then type into your Couchsurfing account.

The final verification method is via a US$25 payment to Couchsurfing. If you’ve had a great experience and feel you can support the concept financially, then this is a great way to do so. The membership is for life (as at January 21, 2015 when I verified!).

Set Up Your Profile

Don’t forget to enter your nameage and country of origin – there are other spaces for occupation and education, but these are not necessary if you don’t want to include it.

There is an About Me section, which allows you to give more information about yourself. The subheadings are:

Why I’m on Couchsurfing
Music, Movies & Books
One Amazing Thing I’ve Done
Teach, Learn, Share
What I Can Share With Hosts
Countries I’ve Visited
Countries I’ve Lived In
Australia, France

Once you’ve done that, go ahead and put up some photos of yourself. Don’t be shy, it’s not a dating website.

Create A Public Trip

In the search function at the top of the page, you can enter the name of the city you will be visiting next. By doing so, it will show you a list of all hosts available in the immediate and surrounding area.

There’s a button called: Create A Public Trip – you’ll enter the proposed dates, whether you travel solo or with others and then give some information on the reasons for your trip there.

As soon as you publish this, like magic, the system will notify all potential hosts in that city – sit back and watch the invitations come through! Just like you, hosts have profiles and you can sort through the ones you are most interested in staying with. Make sure you base your decision on compatibility and not just looks!

How To Pick A Host

So by now a few hosts have contacted you directly, inviting you to stay with them during your proposed dates. They may have also proposed some activities and sightseeing. You can use the private messaging system within the Couchsurfing site to ask questions about the accomodation, any plans they may have proposed or plans you might propose to them. You are not obliged to stay with any of the hosts that contact you – perhaps you want to contact a host directly yourself.

A Cultural Exchange

You’re getting free accomodation out of this, so what can you offer in return? As a backpacker, we don’t often carry a lot in our backpacks, nor are souvenirs incredibly useful to us. So think of something that you take with you wherever you are in the world!

It’s all about a cultural exchange. You get a first hand experience of what it is to be local, so offer up your experiences of home or other places you have been. Offer up your stories and your philosophies. Offer up your friendship and opportunities to network with other travelers. Offer up enough of yourself to allow your host to know what it is to be you.

Either that, or you have beers together at the pub or you cook a meal at home together. It really depends on you and what you’re into.

Even If You Can't Stay Overnight

If you have already booked into a hostel, then you can still use the site to meet other travelers. In fact, its a great way to meet locals who are super excited to show you around their town. You can try local food, see a local movie, walk through local streets less frequented by travelers. I’ve done this many times before and in every occasion a very different experience, go for it!

Keep In Touch

Finally, whatever your experience was as a couchsurfer or host – make sure you leave a rating and some feedback on their page (on the Couchsurfing website). Positive feedback will add credibility to your profile and enable you to continue your Couchsurfing journey. Negative feedback will hopefully put some things in perspective and allow others in the Couchsurfing community to be made aware of certain things.

Facebook is a simple way to keep in contact – so why not connect there?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


More in Essentials
Hostel Dormitory Ettiquette And How To Behave In A Backpackers Inn

If you've ever shared a room with anyone, you'll know...

My Life’s Possessions In A Backpack

I meet many travellers who fit all over the spectrum...

Workaway Is The Answer To Your Travel Dreams

I know most people want to travel for little to...

The Ultimate DIY First Aid Kit For Backpackers

My mother is a nurse, so she knows a thing...