Couch-surfing has been my top choice of accommodation during long travels. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s sort of free home stay which embraces the cultural exchange and local experiences. The accommodation arrangement varies from a sagging sofa in the kitchen to an entire comfy bed facing the ocean; and your host may generously cook for you every day or suggest otherwise. But…nothing is such a free lunch! Why on earth someone would share his or her comfy home with you for free? What kind of favor are you expected to return? Can you trust your potential host?
Female travelers often have more concerns regarding our safety, and it is definitely not easy to tell if a stranger is reliable without face-to-face encounters. I know. I’ve been there. Here are a few easy steps to get a reliable host, based on my experiences:
Step 1: Make yourself reliable by completing your profile. Choose a smiley photo of YOU (not a group) and shares a few things about yourself. Be honest, but witty. Show off your sense of humor.
Step 2: Screen out the hosts without a profile photo and a phone/address verification. Look for those with a detailed profile. Serious hosts wouldn’t mind opening up about themselves: what they do for a living, why they’re on couch-surfing, what books they’ve read, what amazing things they have done. The more detailed, the better.
My favorite types of hosts are students, travelers and outdoor seekers because they have good reasons to join this community. Students are intellectually curious and eager for knowledge, they love meeting people from around the world to exchange the language/culture stories. Meanwhile those who are travelers themselves share with us the passion for adventures — more than anyone else they understand our quest to spend less, see more and live for the experiences. They will be the best hosts and probably travel companions in some short trips e.g. trekking. The easiest to recognize the travelers-hosts is through photos, traveling groups (where they are active members) and public trips (where they send out couch-surfing requests).
Step 3: Check the references. Look for really experienced hosts with as many references as possible. Read both positive and negative ones (if any). If your host only accepts a single woman, find out why. Read carefully what other guests had to say about their experiences.
Step 4: Send requests
Don’t just write a general message. Make it personal. Let your host see who you are as a person. Be as sincere as you can. Also if you contact more than one person, always customize the message. Mention something about the host’s profile that makes you interested in staying with him or her.
To illustrate, this is one of my messages:
I’m backpacking around Europe for one month and will visit Prague for a couple of days. This is my first solo travel/adventure experience, and I’m new to couch-surfing too, but I’ve realised that it’s an incredible way to make friends, learn about a new culture and listen to unbelievable stories from the hosts who are also experienced travelers. To be honest it means a lot to a budget traveler like me. I’d be very grateful if you can host me for two nights here. There’s so much I want to learn about Prague — the food, the history, the culture, as well as your travel stories, backpacking tips, highs and lows of your journeys.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
P.S. I’m glad you’ve been to Vietnam. I’ve travelled across Vietnam and I’m curious what you think about my country. 🙂
Step 5: Keep watching
If your request is approved, congratulations! But it’s not done yet. Ask for your host’s phone number (viber/whasapp) and take some time to get to know him/her. You may want to ask for some advices about the destination, where to go, what to see, what to prepare, etc. If possible, send a friend request on Facebook. Carefully watch the way your host interacts with you and other friends. Use your instinct to tell if he/she is a genuinely nice person. If you feel something is not right, find an acceptable excuse to cancel the request. Always trust your gut but remember, it’s just a little doubt so be nice and polite.
That’s it for now. Believe me, couch-surfing is a wonderful way to peek into the local life and a must-try experience for any travelers. You just need to know how make the most of it.