I know more than a few first time travelers who spent no time on planning and claim “Oh, I’ll just use Couchsurfing – it’s free!”.
It doesn’t work like that. Couchsurfing, as hippy as it sounds, is a community built on trust, and if your profile’s age is measured in days, not weeks, then you can bet its going to be hard to find a host at your destination. As a veteran Couchsurfer myself (during my year abroad in Europe, I was either surfing a couch or had someone on mine for nearly the entire 9 months) here’s what I’ve learned
1) Fill out all required fields on your profile and add at least 4 photos.
You’d be amazed how many people out there don’t even do this much. CS has several prompts for your profile that everyone has an answer to, like “One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done”, or simple “Interests”. True, it is probably a couple fields more than necessary, but you don’t have to write an essay for each one, just a sentence at the least. The point is not to have your page look empty, and to give possible hosts a sense of who you are.
On pictures, one or two doesn’t cut it. I’d say use at least four, and make sure your face is clearly visible in each one – no sunglasses or artsy backwards photos. Wouldn’t hurt to portray yourself hanging out with other people, too – it shows that you have friends.
2) Send out your Couchrequests 1-2 weeks before your arrival.
Hosts have lives; they’re not just sitting there waiting for couchsurfers to come through. So to have somebody with a half filled out profile message you a day before their required dates and ask for a place screws up their weekend plans, and makes it less likely for them to say yes.
Eliminate this by sending out your CouchRequests at least one week beforehand, and preferably two weeks if possible. This is enough time that they can plan out your visit into their life, but not so far ahead that they can’t plan it out.
If you are coming in within 24 hours, many cities have “Last Minute Couchrequest” groups on their city page, which you can post in and then hope a member will take you up on your offer. These have worked for me multiple times, but by no means should you rely on them.
Speaking of which, make sure you use the Couchrequest tool, NOT the message tool. CS has a whole separate inbox for Couchrequests as opped to messages, and lets you sort them by date and confirmation. Messages is just messages – use it for anything other than a Couchrequest. If you send a message, it’s annoying and shows you don’t know what youre doing. Don’t do it.
3)Send Couchrequests to double the recommended number of hosts.
Here’s the most misunderstood part of the CS process. People think you can shoot off a request or two a day before their arrival and get a yes immediately. This is just not true – people are busy, traveling themselves, or already have couchhosts. Most of the requests you will get to any trip will be “thanks, but I can’t”.
This means you need to send out a lot of requests in order to get one yes. The website knows this, and gives you a recommended number of people to send requests to that differs depending on how popular the city is. The touristy city of Barcelona had 14, I believe, while the smaller yet fun city of Austin, Texas has 8 as the recommended number.
This number is the absolute minimum you should send out in order to achieve success. I’d aim for 1.5 times that, and if time goes by and nobody is saying yes, send out more. It’s not much work on your part but gives you many more options in the network. Just go down the list that CS brings up for your destination and send requests to every single person until you meet your quota.
If you want to get more specialized, check the “Search by map” box on the Hosts page and then zoom in on that map to exclude the suburbs and only get people in the city proper. Don’t sort by name, age, or popularity though – those attributes generally don’t matter as much as you’d think. CS is all about meeting people you wouldn’t normally.
Lastly, when you send out a Request for a city on certain dates, your first request will have a box asking if you want to post an “Open CouchRequest” for that trip. Always say yes. This box makes your profile show up in the “Couchsurfers looking for a host” section on EVERY local’s home page, which is a huge boon. If someone bites on that, they’ll send you an invitation and all you have to do is say yes – boom you’re done.
4) Personalize your CouchRequests
“Hi, I am in the city for these dates and I need a place to stay can I stay with you?”
Does that message make you want to host that person? No. That language makes you just another hurdle between them and a bed. CS is a community, not a hostel, and while standards vary from host to host as to how much interaction they want, they’re gonna want you to treat them as a person.
When you’re sending out up to 20 couchrequests, it can be a lot to ask to read through every profile. So what I do is skim each one and look for just one thing we have in common, and then mention that in the request. Then I greet them by name, reference our commonality, and end by asking politely if they’re available to host me on the dates specified. That way they know that I read their profile, even if i didn’t memorize it.
Many experienced members sometimes have a password hidden in the Couch section or elsewhere on their profile that they want you to reference in the messages. It may be as simple as using the word EGGS at any point in your request, or something more detailed. They do this to try and screen out the freeloaders who don’t read anyone’s profile, so make sure to keep an eye out for such passwords and use them in your request.
That’s it! If you’ve sent out enough personalized CouchRequests more than a week in advance, and you have a respectable profile yourself, you’re almost guaranteed to get a Yes. Don’t worry about Vouching or Verified Profiles, those are for farther down the line. All that really matters are the references that come after a stay (make sure you always write up your hosts/surfers), and the completion of your profile.
Now you’re ready to get out there and meet a friendly local who will give you a ground level view of the culture. Just be prepared – part of the fun of CS is that you never know what you’re going to get other than a place to sleep – so don’t expect any more than that. Most times you’ll be pleasantly surprised with much more.