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CouchSurfing 101: 10 Tips for First-Time Surfers

Last updated by on 6 Comments

CouchSurfing: 10 Tips for First-Time Surfers to Overcome Initial Hesitations via Proper Etiquette

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the basics of CouchSurfing – how to sign up, safety considerations, the benefits, and basically what it’s all about. What I didn’t do was highlight my first experience ‘couch surfing’ at CouchSurfing.org and some of the written/unwritten rules of etiquette for those interested in giving it a shot.

These rules are just my suggestions based on a combination of my experience and recommendations from the community, and are not meant to scare anyone off from the CouchSurfing experience. A lot of these suggestions are coming partly from the perspective of how I would want to be treated if someone ‘surfs’ at my house. You can also check out CouchSurfing.org’s surfer tips here.

couchsurfing tips

1. Give your Host as Much Advance Notice as Possible

I let my first host know a month ahead of time when we were interested in surfing. If you ask the day or week of, odds are that someone is going to have to change their schedule in some way to accommodate your visit. And then you’ve already put your host in an awkward and inconvenient situation. Plus, you have to deal with the guilt of know that’s the case. Be considerate by planning in advance, especially since this person is welcoming you into their home.

2. A Small Gift or Act of Kindness

By rule, hosters cannot charge surfers for their stay. However, it is recommended that you give a small gift, which could be an act of kindness. I knew that my host was a wine lover, so my wife and I bought her a bottle of wine from a local winery. Couchsurfers have detailed profiles of their interests. If you’re staying with a host who loves thai food, for example, buying the ingredients and cooking up a thai dish for dinner would be an excellent way to show your appreciation.

3. Reimburse for Goods Consumed

The only thing my wife and I consumed from our host was a tea bag or two. However, I could see the circumstance where you eat a few meals or drinks. In that case, it would be kind to at least offer reimbursement, however, I’m guessing that in many cases, your host will politely decline. You should at least offer.

4. Work Around your Hosts Schedule

My biggest CouchSurfing surprise was that our host basically said “here’s a house key, come and go as you please”. That was a huge convenience for us, obviously, and there’s a huge amount of trust (or blind faith) involved there. I’m not sure if this is the standard in couch surfing or not. In the case of my host, it almost had to be, as she had social plans most of the time we were in town.

Despite this attitude from our host, it’s probably best if you at least give your host an idea of when you think you’ll be coming and going so that they can plan accordingly.

It’s important for you to be flexible with your hosts schedule, not force them to be flexible to yours.

5. Make an Effort to Build a Friendship

As I said in my previous CouchSurfing post, it’s not, nor should it be all about the ‘free ride’. If you’re just CouchSurfing to save a buck or two on your travels, you’re doing your host and yourself a disservice. This is a great way to meet and make friends with like-minded individuals around the world. We spent a few hours on multiple occasions chatting with our host about CouchSurfing experiences and our personal lives, learned a lot from each other, and made a new friend in the process.

6. Choose a Host that you Anticipate has Similar Goals

Right or wrong, I have a perception that there are two kinds of CouchSurfers, based on browsing through a ton of user profiles to find the best possible host:

  • young drifters: college age easy-goers who may or may not have an actual couch for you to sleep on (and if they do you’ll have to move the pizza box elsewhere). Nice people, for sure, but if you’re a middle-aged couple, it might not be a good fit for you to host or be hosted by them. They are probably interested in partying in their hometown or yours and are more likely in it b/c they don’t have the money and want to give or take a free ride to others like them. Great for some people, not a good match for others.
  • travelers/social butterfly’s: these are the people, mostly beyond the college years who want to travel the world, expand their social network, and want to provide the best experience possible for those they are hosting or surfing with. These people have the money to stay in hotels, but choose to surf or host for the experience instead (and see the ‘free’ aspect as a nice added bonus).

My wife and I fit into the second category and sought a host that we felt fit in that category as well. We were correct in our pick, and it turned out to be a great match.

You should also make an effort to include as much info. about yourself in your profile before asking anyone to host you. This way the host feels like they know you a bit better and will feel more comfortable in hosting you.

7. Leave no Trace Behind

This is all about being considerate. Make your bed, clean your dishes, throw out any trash, vacuum up any dirt you dragged in, etc. Treat others as your grandparents would want to be treated. It’s just the right thing to do. Plus you don’t want to develop a reputation as being an inconsiderate couch surfer.

8. Offer up your Place to your Host

If you live in Paris, Indiana and your host is in Paris, France, odds are they may never take you up on your offer to host them back, however, you should at least make the offer (and mean it) if your host provided a good experience for you.

9. Leave Good Feedback

There is an element of ‘review’ credibility on both sides on the CouchSurfing site. If you had a good experience with your host, make sure that you recommend them and talk about your experience in the CouchSurfing interface. Your host will appreciate and most likely reciprocate.

10.Your First CouchSurfing Experience may be Best with an Experienced Host

A tip here, if you’re a CouchSurfing newbie, is to find someone who has both hosted and surfed a number of times. They were in your shoes once and had the same questions/hesitations as you – and can get you up-to-speed by sharing their CouchSurfing experiences with you. Because we stayed with an experienced host, there were no awkward moments (i.e. where should we leave the key?). You want your first experience to be a good one, so pick a good host.

CouchSurfing Discussion:

  • What funny/crazy hosting or surfing stories do you have?
  • Have you ever had a bad CouchSurfing match? Or a great one?
  • What other CouchSurfing etiquette would you recommend?

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6 Comments »
  • Tracy says:

    These tips seem like just good habits/ good guest requirements. When ever someone comes over and stays for a few days I expect them to at least keep after themselves. Clean their own plates, Clean up if the have made a mess, just things of that nature.

  • Rebecca says:

    I’ve been hosting couch surfers since 2006, and have met some awesome people – some of whom became real friends, even! I started hosting when I was a grad student in a college town. I was close to campus, and the area was very easy to navigate for my surfers, most of whom were checking out the school to make decisions about potential grad programs. Since then I’ve moved to Detroit, MI (where the lack of budget accommodations means I get a constant stream of request from surfers). I live on the edge of the city, where public transportation is very limited. I’ve had situations where surfers became lost in potentially dangerous areas after bus service ended – scary for them and for me. So I would also add this bit of advice: like a Boy Scout – Be Prepared! Do some research into your destination so you can be as independent as possible. (Because of this, I’ve limited my hosting to only very savvy travelers or people with cars!)

  • Joe says:

    Hmm. I’ve only really couch-surfed with actual friends of mine. I don’t think I’d be comfortable staying in a complete strangers house. They’d at least have to be a friend of a friend.

  • Wizard Prang says:

    Hi. I think Clean their own plates, Clean up if the have made a mess, just things of that nature.

  • Michael @ Keen To Travel says:

    Nice article, all absolutely valid.

    I think I personally fit more into the first category of surfer, but of course I want to make sure that I’m in no way a burden of drag on my host so make every effort where possible.

    I surfed in London in August for a night (My first time) and had a great time. Would definitely recommend it to anyone!

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