Over the last two years I’ve had over 50 complete strangers stay with me through Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.org). The basic idea is that as a host you offer free accommodation to travellers who need somewhere to stay. People make requests to stay at your home through the website in advance, you then decide whether to accept them or not.
1. Understand the selection process
When potential couchsurfers are looking for a place to stay, they will breeze through all the hosts in a particular city. Often there are dozens, if not hundreds, of hosts in each city. They are likely to select hosts firstly on the number of references, then by profile picture, then by what is said on the profile page. It’s in your interest to be selected by as many potential couchsurfers as possible, as this gives you the option to choose who you would like to host from a wider selection of people. By following these tips you can ensure you get a lot of ‘couch requests’ to choose from!
2. Enhance your profile pictures
You must ensure that you have at least 3 good pictures of yourself. Yes, of yourself, not of random exotic locations! People are looking at your pictures to gain an idea of if you are a trustworthy person, and what your personality is likely to be like. Ensure that your pictures show that you are a friendly, clean, happy person. Additionally one of your couch is recommended, ensure it is a good one though, with the bed made and looking clean.
3. Build your references
On day one you won’t have any references, which won’t stop you from getting requests in general, but it might stop you from getting personal requests, you will be left with ‘cut & paste/desperate’ requests. In the long run, you will want to build up a large collection of good references. It may be a good idea to find one or two friends who use couchsurfing, and ask them to write you a reference. One good reference is a million times better than no references.
4. Write a good description
Most couchsurfers are specifically looking for a genuine host, who takes the philosophy of couchsurfing seriously. Use your description to demonstrate that you are one of these people. Talk about how you discovered couchsurfing, and give your thoughts on the project.
Next, describe any hobbies that you have, what kind of person you are, and what your dreams are in life. This is important, as many people will read this then remember what they read when their conversation with you reaches an awkward silence. Thus, if you enjoy talking about James Bond movies, or The Simpsons, or Hilary Clinton even, then note this down, and be confident that it will come up from time to time.
Additionally, use this space to hint at the sort of person you would like to attract. For example, if you are a major lover of chess, put this in your description, and you will find other fans of the game will reveal this to you in their requests if they wish to play. You could get yourself a different playing partner each night of the week!
5. Some basic rules and your keyword
In the section about your couch you should include some basic rules for people staying at your house. This is not to put people off, but in fact to help them, and allow them to feel more at ease. On my profile I list various pieces of information such as the fact people don’t need to bring bed-linen or sleeping bags (I don’t want bed bugs!), and that they should use the proper couch request system (see my profile for the full list, feel free to copy it).
Additionally, at the bottom of these rules you should put your ‘keyword’. This is a word that you state people need to use when they are sending you a couch request.
For example I say: “If you put “Yeeeooo Oli” in your request to me I’ll know right away that you’ve read this, and it will massively increase your chances of getting a yes”.
Ignore requests from people who do not state your keyword. They are most likely ‘cutting and pasting’ requests to as many people as possible. Additionally, they won’t have read your rules, nor most probably, your profile or references. These are the people just looking to use you as a free hotel.
Stage 2 – You’ve got a great profile, and are getting a ton of requests, what next?!
6. Ignore these people right away:
People with no photos on their profile – they haven’t understood the reason for them
People who don’t use your keyword – they are lazy and just want to use you
People who don’t address you by your name – they are ‘cutting and pasting’
People who have no references – unless they have lots of photos and a good request
People who want to stay for an indefinite period of time – they want to live on your sofa for a month
People who’s pictures aren’t of them – they haven’t understood why photos are so important
Groups where nobody speaks a language you can at least understand – they will ignore you and speak between themselves all of the time
7. Avoid hitch-hikers like the plague
Due to the nature of hitch-hiking, it is impossible for your couchsurfers to give you an accurate arrival time. You do not want to be stuck waiting for your couchsurfers to arrive, when you could be doing other more productive things. Avoid this scenario by simply saying no.
8. Meet them off the bus/train from the airport. (NOT at your house)
Do not have your couchsurfers coming directly to your home. There is a very good reason for this. It gives you the chance to pass on any ultra-crazy looking people, plus you can ensure that the correct number of people are in the group. Additionally it gives you the chance to cancel there and then if you have bad feelings about the people. I have never needed to do this, but having the power to do so is important.
The other incredibly important reason to do this is that you remove the possibility of couchsurfers getting lost whilst looking for your house. If they have foreign mobile phones, then giving directions over the phone, even via text messages, can quickly cost you a fortune!
9. Prefer those who arrive by plane
Ideally you want to be hosting people who are arriving by plane. The reason for this is that you can confidently predict their arrival time, and plan your day accordingly. Ensure that you give them clear directions from the airport to the agreed meeting place. Where two forms of transport are available (e.g. bus/train from airport), pick the simplest option. You want to minimise the chance of them getting lost.
10. Have them arrive between 7pm and 10pm
Agree a suitable meeting time with your couchsurfers, and have them confirm via SMS about half an hour beforehand. This way you can plan your day around their arrival, and ensure your house is clean and prepared.
I find that having them arrive in the evening works best. You meet them and take their belongings back to your place. Give them a moment or two to relax, offer them a drink and something to eat if they are hungry. Then afterwards you have enough time to wander around your city for a while and get to know them. The advantage of it being the evening time is that you will only need to talk to them for 2-3 hours at first. The natural break of sleeping then allows you to rest and recover from the excitement/nerves of meeting them. Spending more hours than this with them on the first day can begin to feel like too much, and lead to the conversation becoming boring or repetitive.
11. Host them for 2 or 3 nights
Hosting people for just one night is not ideal. The first reason being that you will have minimal time to get to know them. Secondly there will be minimal time for the couchsurfers to see your city. Plus they will most likely be interested in sleeping early, as the next day is a travel day for them, rather than talking with you about you or your city.
2 nights is workable, and pretty common. The ideal period is probably 3 nights, which gives you enough time to get to know the people, show them your city, and perhaps go for some drinks with them on one of the nights.
More than 3 nights and you will find yourself running out of topics of conversation. Additionally, the longer people stay, the more they are likely to have a lethargic lay-about attitude to their stay, which is not the sort of attitude you want filling your home.
12. Read up on them beforehand
It goes without saying that you should only host people that you are interested in meeting. If their couch request was positive, then look at their profile. Does your gut feeling tell you that you and this person would get along? Click on their profile picture and look at their pictures. Do you feel like this person would bring a positive vibe to your home? Look at their references, read carefully what others have written about the person. 3 or more good well written references from past hosts and you can be pretty sure this person understands couchsurfing and would be fun to host.
Once you have decided to host them, reply to their request with either an ‘Accept’ (when you have strong positive feelings about hosting this person), or a ‘Maybe’ (when you aren’t 100% sure you want to host them yet). You can use the ‘Maybe’ option to further judge them on how they reply to your messages, and to give you the option to cancel if you feel like you want to make other plans. Never cancel after giving someone an ‘Accept’.
Give your phone number to people, but not your exact address. Arrange to meet them somewhere as explained above. Try to exchange 2 or 3 messages with them before they arrive, wish them a happy trip if they are flying to your city/country. Their attitude will be better if they feel happy and confident about their stay prior to arriving, and the quality of conversation is often much better if they are happy and relaxed.
Stage 3 – Whilst they are staying at your place
13. Always offer them breakfast
Always offer your couchsurfers cereal in the mornings. Offer it to them specifically. Also offer coffee, water, and ideally some kind of soft drink. Offer them a drink when they arrive as well. These goodwill gestures will help enhance the bond between you. If you can, offer them food during the evening as well, 90% of the time they will offer to cook themselves. The cost to you of doing all of this is minimal, and the benefits extensive.
14. Show them your city
Always plan to spend several hours with your couchsurfers each day. You will most likely be working or studying, so your available time with them will be limited. Your couchsurfers will understand, and in fact encouraging them to go out alone during the day is recommended. This time apart will increase the quality of conversation when you do spend time together. Try to avoid other social contact whilst you have couchsurfers. You should spend your evenings entertaining your couchsurfers, or introducing your couchsurfers to your friends. If you have a free day, and are able to spend it with your couchsurfers, offer to take them somewhere, such as a local town or city. If your time is extremely limited whilst hosting, at least eat an evening meal with them.
15. Follow the golden rule
Treat your couchsurfers exactly how you would like to be treated if you were staying with the best host in the world. Go that extra mile to ensure that your visitors have a great stay. Offer to draw them a map if you think they’re a little navigationally challenged. Ensure they know they can help themselves to drinks and basic food. Pass on any hints you have about exploring your city. Do everything you can to build genuine connections with people. Help people out now, by offering them free accommodation in your home, and know you’re doing your small bit to make the world that bit more connected and peaceful.
If you follow these basic tips, your gut-feelings and have the right attitude, then hosting couchsurfers can be one of the most unique and interesting opportunities that the 21st century offers.
In the last two years I have hosted people from China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Czech Republic, France, Romania, Brazil, Chile, Peru, USA, Italy, Germany, Poland, UK, Ireland, Turkey, Spain, Greece, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong. Nothing bad has ever happened. I’ve made some fantastic friends, have an abundance of offers of a bed to sleep in should I need it, and have learnt many things about the world. All from the comfort of my own home. I highly recommended you give it a try!