November 1, 2012

Shoestringing: CouchSurfing 101

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Written by: Sarah
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“Aren’t you afraid they’re going to steal your stuff?” I’m always asked this when people find out I host surfers. The answer is no; I’m not afraid they’ll steal from me because I’m not an idiot and I do my homework. Common sense is pretty much all you need to understand how couch surfing works, and this guide will help, so pay attention kiddies.


Obviously it’s a big money saver! Hosts are not allowed to request money from surfers (although bringing a bottle of wine and cooking a meal is always appreciated). Money isn’t the only object though – having a host gives you an “in” in every city you visit! They give you the deets on the hot spots that tourists miss, you may get a personal guide, and they know the local deals and pricing which can be a great help in finding a more authentic (and reasonable) experience. You wouldn’t believe the amount of surfer-business I’ve sent Le Drugstore!


Contrary to popular belief, CouchSurfers aren’t only dirty hippies with no money! I’ve met CouchSurfers between the age of 18-55 and they have a tendency to be cleaner than most of my friends. These people can come from many countries, and many backgrounds (and yes, many levels of income).


One of the great things about CouchSurfing is that there is no requirement from you. You only host IF, WHO and WHEN you want. Options on the website let you turn on/off surfing requests, or you can set yourself to the “coffee” option meaning that you are not hosting but are willing to meet up with visitors.


A one-time fee of less than $30 and my guide is all you need! So read on and learn how to travel the world in one of the cheapest and most authentic ways available. (Keep in mind, this one time fee needs is used to verify accounts for security purposes. It must match your information and keeps people from opening multiple accounts)

Website Break-down

Your profile is what it sounds like: who you are, where you’re from, what languages you speak, what your philosophies and interests are, the status of your couch (open, maybe, closed, coffee) AND the most important part, REFERENCES!

References are exactly that – people you have hosted, stayed with, or traveled with can leave references on your account (one per person, editable at any time) about their experience with you. They are categorized as positive, neutral and negative. DO NOT TAKE NEGATIVE REFERENCES LIGHTLY! It takes a lot for someone to publicly say something negative. These references let you know a lot about what other people thought of this person, so take their references seriously. If you’re new, stay away from those with no or few references (3+ and you should be fine).

People who are in town and want to be shown hot spots can send you messages, but this is still the internet, so you may get junk mail from international creepers.

You can approve or deny all couch requests, and you never have to say yes to anyone you don’t want to. Even if you can’t host them, it is still polite to send them a quick message saying so as they can move on to other surfing opportunities, plus your profile boasts what % of people’s requests you answer so that people know how reliable you are in responding (yes or no, so long as you answer).

Surfing search offers a quick and easy way to sort hosts based on where you’re going, how many people you are, and if you want to search for hosts of a certain age or gender you can do so effortlessly.

The activities section has event pages with dates, times, descriptions, comment feed and guest list.

The site also has ambassadors who promote weekly events. Although these events are mostly going out for drinks, there are often outings such as paintball or a picnic – and if you don’t like what’s up, YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN!


All in all it’s a super community to navigate, but as always safety is number one:
+  References are most important, see what other people say about someone, and only post honest references as this is how the community keeps each other safe.
+  You’re never obligated to meet anyone, and report anyone who says you need to meet them to be a verified member. Report anything (requests/messages) that makes you feel unsafe/uncomfortable to the moderators.
+  Use common sense. CouchSurfing is a friendly environment, but there can always be a few bad apples.
+  Know where you’re going and be aware of cultural differences.
+  Have a backup plan! Hosts can decline to have you stay with them for any reason at any time, so a backup plan can save you a lot of headaches!
+  Have a welcome pack. Even if it’s a single page of house rules and mini map of your area with a “what to do when in Montreal” list on it, a welcome pack can be a great conversation starter and allows you to set your boundaries.

CouchSurfing can offer you a cheap and often more authentic way to explore no matter where you’re headed. Safety measures are in place and only YOU decide how you connect with people. I have hit up bar meets and I have hosted guests from New York State to Australia and Denmark. International friendships are a great way to create opportunities (and excuses) for travel, so if this is what you’re all about, head to for your own profile and plan your next trip!

Happy Surfing!!
– S.

PS: Please don’t freak out like Tom Crazy Cruise, these people are letting you into their homes, be respectful and appreciative or GTFO.

About the Author

A witty 21 year old Psychology student who is also studying Sexuality & Linguistics. Loves to write on how to deal with everyday life while being a broke university student and how messed up her love life always seems to be, not to mention her bizarre luck to have WTF moments every day of the week.



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  1. Ty

    Awesome Sarah!

    LOL: “CouchSurfers aren’t only dirty hippies with no money”

    House rules should be a must I think. I would consider doing this for sure.

  2. I have to say I have always been super cautious. I have signed up for an account and have it all filled out but have never hosted or surfed, but I had friends in grad school that hosted like almost every night and they LOVED it. You are giving me confidence that I can do it!

    • Sarah

      You should definitely try the activities section, even just for a random night out! Not only can they answer any questions you have but you’ll meet people from the community, travelers, AND you can always make a friend to get a reference to kick start your surf-ability!

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