With the holidays coming chances are good you will be doing a good bit of travel. Travel means expensive hotels and food cost. At least it did before CouchSurfing was established in 1999. It is a simple concept: you put up at a stranger’s place while traveling (instead of staying at a hostel or hotel). There is even a social network of the same name devoted to other “CouchSurfers”, like you. There are over two million users spread across 237 countries using this social networking site that focuses on this type of hospitality exchange.
This is how it works. Before you travel, rather than booking a hotel you visit this social networking website. If you find an available host at your destination, they can offer their place for you to stay during your trip there. In return, if they are ever traveling your direction, you open up your couch to them.
As simple as it sounds, for a newbie there can still be confusion as to standard practices and things to watch out for. If you are considering CouchSurfing for the first time, here are a few helpful tips to help you get started and make a good impression on your host.
Plan ahead & offer advanced notice
Chances are good that you plan your vacation weeks in advance. You should give your potential host as much notice as possible too. Keep in mind that hosts also have a life of their own. If you wait until the last minute to tell them that you are on your way, they may have to change their plans to accommodate you. The best thing to do is to make them well aware of your plans before you travel so that they are able to plan accordingly. It will save them the inconvenience of changing their plans and it will save you from being the one responsible.
CouchSurfer hosts are not allowed to charge a fee for the use of their couch. That does not mean that you cannot show your appreciation. They are after all saving you the expense of a hotel accommodation. Each person on the website fills out a profile that includes their personal likes or dislikes. Read up on the person you plan to visit and give them a gift that coincides with the things they enjoy. For instance, if you read that a person enjoys a certain type of wine, consider bringing a bottle along; or if they enjoy a certain type food and you know how to prepare it, offer to whip up a meal while you are there. Small gestures like this go a long way in showing that you appreciate their hospitality.
If you consume food belonging to your hosts or use up a whole box of Kleenex, replace them or give them a little reimbursement for using their items. At least offer to do so: even though most hosts will decline the offer it is polite to do so and helps them feel better about having you back the next time you travel their way.
Clear up any mess you make
As far as possible, you should ensure that you restore the conditions of your host’s place before you leave. Make up your bed, vacuum where you put your shoes, take out your trash etc. You should treat their home as though it is your own or at least do the same as you would for your relatives and friends if they were to invite you to their home for a night or two.
Make a sincere offer to host them
It does not matter if you live in the middle of nowhere. Offer your place to your hosts if they are ever in your area. They may never take you up on your kindness but at least you have let them know that you appreciate their efforts and wish to return the favor.
Select an experienced host
If you are new to it, you will probably have an easier time if you choose someone who has been hosted by and also hosted others in return several times. The reason is simple: they have been there and done that. They will understand the sort of concerns or doubts you may have and you will feel less awkward raising them. For instance, they will tell you where to leave the key when you head off for your vacation. This will help ensure that you have a great first experience with CouchSurfing.