Couchsurfing: Pros, Cons & Tips

Thursday, April 14


Whether it's because you're still a student or you simply do not possess a budget big enough to stay at the majestic Hôtel Plaza Athénée, you may have considered Couchsurfing once or twice. For those not familiar with the concept, Couchsurfing (founded in 2004) is a community which allows people from all over the world to connect with each other and stay with locals while traveling (which makes them "surfers") or host someone who's visiting their city for free (so-called "hosts"). The service is very appealing to those who would much rather spend their money on sweets from L'Eclair de Génie or the James Bond 007 exhibition at Grande Halle de la Villette (which is super pricey), than give hundreds and hundreds of euros for staying at a cramped hotel room. Having used Couchsurfing three times - once in Donetsk (Ukraine) and twice in Paris - I thought I'd share my tips, especially since back in 2014 we had quite a terrifying experience which I think I should share with you so that you don't ever find yourself in a similar situation.

My tip #1 is: never (and I mean NEVER) couchsurf alone. For obvious reasons, most of the hosts tend to be men, but I wouldn't advise couchsurfing alone even if you managed to find a female host or a family that doesn't mind you staying at their place for a few days. Safety is key, and no matter how many positive reviews the person has or how charming he or she seems, it's still a stranger whose behavior may be unpredictable - and if something happens, trust me, you don't wanna be on your own.

For example, last time my best friend and I travelled to Paris, we decided to stay with Mehdi, a Moroccan living close to Arc de Triomphe, ravishing reviews and a personal recommendation from my real-life friend. At first, it was all alright - yeah, the apartment was far from clean and tidy, but should we really complain about that? Then, turned out he was expecting two more (unfamiliar with each other) girls, meaning the four of us had to stay in the very same tiny room - none of us was warned in advance. We thought, okay, no problem, it's not big of a deal.

The last evening things started getting creepy: our host left for a party without saying anything to us, and we found ourselves sitting in a restaurant past midnight because we couldn't get to the apartment as he never gave us keys. When he finally returned, we all went to bed straight away, but didn't get much sleep: our host was walking between our beds for hours murmuring something.

In the morning, when I was in the bathroom, he suddenly broke into, threw out my belongings, grabbed me by the arm and started kicking me out. I was, quite frankly, terrified. I asked my friend to help me pick up my things, changed quickly in the toilette while she was blocking the way for the host who was mad and looked as if he wanted to beat the sh*t out of me, we packed in a matter of minutes and left hastily - my friend nearly fell down the staircase because the host was pushing us out of the apartment. And so we found ourselves on the street on an early sunny morning, scared (I had a huge bruise on my shoulder), but thankful that there were the four of us to support each other. Later on, we reported Mehdi and his page was deleted from the website, so it all ended up well.

That being said, I would once again highly recommend you to think everything through if you're planning to couchsurf on your own. It's nice to save up some cash, but it's much more important to come back home safe and sound.

A trusty friend to travel with is found, but you don't know how to get started? My tip #2 is to fill in your profile. You want to give the potential host an idea of who you are, what you like, what your hobbies are - you wanna appear nice and outgoing, someone who's fun to chat with. Do encourage your friends (especially those you met while traveling) to write you some - positive - reviews. Do get verified if you can (€18/year). And don't forget to add a relevant picture, as it will increase your chances of being accepted! 

So your profile is looking all nice and sweet - now how do you find a host? It's time for the tip #3 - be picky! First, type in the basics: the city you're traveling to, the dates and the number of travelers. Then I suggest choosing the following filters: "has references", "verified", "accepting guests", "last login date - in the last month", "join date - in the last six months", "accommodations - private room, public room". I personally would also set age (22-35) and languages spoken (English). Then starts the fun part: examining profiles! Carefully read the "About" section and see if you two will vibe well - if you are a Real Madrid fan, you may not wanna share the apartment with a Barça aficionado. If everything is fine, go to the "My Home" section and see what can the host offer. Some people are so perky, they will offer you "a spot in their bed". I also once came across a profile of one man, who had a divine apartment but encouraged surfers to walk around his place... Completely naked! Another (wonderful!) couchsurfer that we stayed with in Paris had three snakes - and although I'm totally fine with it, I assume there are people who could be put off by this.

Now that you have a list of hosts you would love to stay with on your next trip, it's time to get in touch with them. My tip #4 is to never use the copy-paste option when messaging the potential host. When approaching someone, you want to let the person know that you studied their profile carefully and are not just contacting 50 hosts at the same time because you're desperate to find the accommodation (even if you in fact do). Tell them why exactly do you want to stay with them - maybe you're dying to meet the aforementioned snakes or you two share the same love for Game of Thrones. Popular couchsurfers' inboxes are bombarded daily with messages from surfers that are looking for a place to stay at, and you want your request to stand out positively. Also, do not get in touch with the hosts earlier than a month before the trip: hosts are not hotels, they are people, their plans may change and they may want to decide to go abroad as well.

When you finally found someone to stay with, don't forget to purchase some souvenirs before taking off - that's my tip #5. You're not paying for that sofa you'll be sleeping on, but it's nice to pay off for the host's hospitality and generosity. Generally speaking, food and books always make nice little gifts, but do feel free to use your fantasy to the fullest!

My tip #6 is not to forget that couchsurfing is first and foremost about communication and learning about other cultures. That means, you should be prepared to be active and open-minded and willing to share a meal or have a conversation over a glass of wine or participate in a party - this is what your host will most likely expect of you, since making new friends is really the reason for them to let total strangers into their apartments for free. If you're a 100% introvert you might wanna consider staying in a hotel after all, especially if your trip is more than 5-7 days long. I personally struggle with this a lot: as much as I love meeting new people and spending time with my friends, it's always a little bit daunting for me when I'm always around people and are expected to be cheerful and easygoing all the time. For example, during that last trip to Paris my best friend and I seriously considered (while dining at McDonald's - classic, duh!) booking a hotel room for just one night, because we felt like we really needed a break. If you're an introvert and decided to couchsurf after all, I would recommend scheduling in some me time when you can just walk around the city on your own and have a lunch without feeling the need to chat with anyone.

Finally, my tip #7 is to be polite, respectful and not leave a mess behind. Don't throw your stuff everywhere, offer to wash the dishes after dinner, remove hair from the bathtub drain after showering, put the hair dryer where it's supposed to be, don't laugh out loud watching a Korean TV show in the middle of the night (#guilty). Basically, just make sure the experience is pleasant for both you and your host.

Phew, that's a lot of typing! But I'm glad I finally touched upon the subject of Couchsurfing, as it's been something I've wanted to do for a really long time. Have you ever couchsurfed? Have you had any exceptionally good or terribly bad experiences you wanna talk about? And if not, are you tempted to try out the service anytime soon?

2 comments

  1. Couchsurfing tends to take after sexsurfing a lot these days :) 6 years ago it was so much better

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see what you mean Olga! Yeah, one can definitely see in the profiles of some hosts that they are willing to get a certain "payment"... Quite frankly, that's disgusting and harms the community a lot. :/ I mean, if two single people met and fell in love with each other, it's one thing. But turning hosting people into a source of one-night stands... Ugh. Makes me sick!

      I personally give my opinion on this clearly in my profile, which says:
      "PLEASE do NOT mistake CouchSurfing for a dating site. I'm not looking for a boyfriend here and I will not accept invitations from men that are willing to offer me a "spot in their bed". Thank you."

      Delete

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