BY MEREDITH TODD
The most memorable travel experiences I have had are those in which I gained an understanding of the city that reached a depth beyond that of your average tourist. This depth can come with visiting someone you know in an unfamiliar city, but if that’s not the case, the next best option is to make a new friend who knows the ins and outs. In today’s technological world of social networking and online dating, there are clearly many options available to us in order to accomplish exactly that; my favorite being through the well-known website, Couchsurfing.com. Here you create a profile for yourself that details your interests, travel experience, and any other tidbits in order to be a traveling “surfer” looking for a free place to crash while on the road,a host to allow surfers looking to travel cheaply to stay at your place, or both! Personally, this website has brought some of the coolest international people into my life and fostered some of the best travel experiences I have ever had. Having been both a surfer and host many times, I’ve compiled a list below for any first-time surfers.
1. Be honest and selective
As a host and as a human being in general, I would prefer not to feel like I could be easily replaced. Be thoughtful in your requests. What about this person made them stand out for you? What would you enjoy doing with them? Is there a life philosophy or an interesting trip they’ve taken that you would want to chat about with them at their fav local dive bar? Let your host know that you actually know something about them and that they’re not just another randomly selected profile lucky enough to receive a copy/pasted message from you.
2. Let them know why you’re coming
Are you looking to have someone show you around town? Do you just need a place to crash after sight-seeing solo during the day? Are you looking for insider tips of what to see and what tourist traps to avoid? Letting a host know exactly what level of interaction you’d like with them will help both of you decide if it will be a good fit. It’s fine if you don’t have a whole lot of time to spend with your host; some might not have much time to spend with surfers, but want to still be able to give back to the community by allowing travelers to stay at their place. In any case, showing up and feeling like you’re avoiding or a burden on your hosts is a buzzkill for everyone involved.
3. Use good timing
As a host, I myself prefer that someone asks for a place to stay about 4-5 days before they will be arriving. That way, I know pretty much what that time period will look like in terms of work and social activities, but will also give me enough time to clean and prepare for their arrival. In general, some hosts as well as surfers prefer more warning, but I would say the general rule would be no more than 3 or 4 weeks in advance. For most of the laid-back free traveling souls of the Couchsurfing community, people have no idea what or where they’ll be in six months, so asking that far in advance will probably not yield a good turnout.
4. Bring something
As a surfer, I love to bring a little gift to my host as a token of where I’m from or wherever I was most recently coming from. Any small trinket as a keepsake of the community and the interconnectedness of our world is a good symbol of the ideologies that the project was based on. If that’s not possible or feasible with how you’re traveling, consider making dinner or offering to take your host for a drink once you get there—something to show you appreciate them opening their home and their life to you.
5. Have a plan B
ALWAYS. No matter what you do or who you are planning on staying with, you should always have a backup plan. Being that it’s an unfamiliar place, you might end up in a part of town that you don’t feel particularly comfortable in, or might not mesh as well as you’d thought with your host. To avoid being left high and dry, make sure you know of a hostel or hotel nearby that you could stay at. Remember that even though your hotel seems like more than you had budgeted, your safety has no price.
Enjoy your stay, and afterwards, be sure to write a reference for your host via the website so that everyone will know what a rad person they are!