Messaging someone about briefly meeting up after work is a great way to meet a local, learn about their culture, have some good food/drinks without the commitment of staying over, stress of finding a Couchsurfing host, and without them needing to really put themselves out there for you.
I go through some Couchsurfing safety tips as well as specifics on how to find awesome people to meet up with on short notice as well as when/what to message to find someone who will show you around the city you're visiting!
Why not staying over?
Couchsurfing is best if you want a traveling experience where you interact constantly with your host, but it's not good for trips when you want more time to yourself as your hosts often want to get to know you during your trip. I have Couchsurfed and been a host, but sometimes I really want more private time, so I rather not have constant interaction with my host. In this case, I get my own place, so others have a place to stay while I get my Netflix time in.
CS has some downsides: I've heard/read stories of uncomfortable encounters. I won't spend time with someone who doesn't respect my boundaries and me. If you feel uncomfortable around someone or something adverse occurs, leave. Listen to your gut. Do not be afraid to contact the police.
What kind of experiences have you had?
I've also met friends via meet-ups as well as hosted travelers in my own apartment. I made a close friend by hosting her, who introduced me to even more awesome Couchsurfers when we traveled together to Italy/Hungary. Since then, I've Couchsurfed quite a few times: solo, with my boyfriend, and with friends. I've had some amazing experiences, including one night of sharing wine while watching fireworks with my host, her friends, and my friends (Karin from Girl Astray).
What kind of local experiences for meet-ups are typical?
If you're feeling adventurous, propose meeting for a meal (lunch or dinner if you're feeling like you'll really hit it off!) or after-work drinks in a central location. The downside is that a meal lasts alot longer than a quick meeting, so if you're not enjoying yourself, it's a bit harder to leave.
If you have a hobby that can be practiced in your new place, mention it. I actually proposed rock climbing at a nearby gym with one of the Couchsurfers I met up with, but we did dinner instead.
How to stay safe/Tips
Remain in a public place/venue/cafe. Try to remain fairly close to where you're staying as it makes it easier to get back afterwards.
Define your boundaries and tell your host. I hate that I need to write this, but some people will not respect your boundaries. I find that saying that I have a boyfriend and that I'm just interested in learning about the city/culture/the person (not anything more) is quite effective even if you don't have a significant other. I had a host lightly flirt/compliment me when we first met, but he stopped immediately after I mentioned a significant other. A more general point: If you don't feel like they're respecting your boundaries, leave. It goes to the other way and you need to be a good guest as well.
If you feel even the smallest bit uncomfortable, leave. There's no obligation to spend time with them. That's the beauty of this way is that it allows you an easy out.
- If you're polite, say you need to go skype/call your family or your significant other (real or not). If you have texting/calling, there's no shame in asking a friend to call/text you as an reason to leave. Just saying that you have plans later on and need to get back is usually enough.
Depending on how you're getting around/public transit, it's good to be aware of when the public transit shuts off, how to get back (via offline maps), and roughly how far your accommodations are.
Always have the number of a local taxi as well as the address of where you're staying. In my experience, my Couchsurfing hosts have almost always offered to walk/drive me back, but if you just want to go, it's good to be able to get out of their ASAP if you're not feeling safe.
How do you find these people?
Who do you decide to meet-up with?
1. The last time they logged in. Look for someone who has logged in within the past month at minimum, if not two weeks. Response rate is a thing.
2. What you have in common/their interests. If you have nothing in common, it won't be any fun.
- The profile below is of a real Couchsurfer who I'd meet up with as I admittedly love discussing literature and board games. The last Couchsurfer I met up with was an academic who loved to rock climb and who was very into photography, so we had a fantastic time just talking.
- Look for 20+ references . It's an arbitrary cut-off, however it's a good guide to finding people who love Couchsurfing and are welcoming to travelers. As some girls have pointed out, having 100+ references doesn't guarantee anything, but it's a good start.
- A filled out profile is always nice.
- Be very critical of people with less than 10 references, mostly from friends. Zero reference is a no go.
- Photo necessary. More than 2 preferable.
- For men, I carefully read their interactions with female guests, especially solo female travelers. If I see a winky face or a flirtatious exchange, I close their page. Besides the fact I'm in a relationship, I don't want to be put in a bad/uncomfortable situation, so I rather not even put myself in that situation. If a guy exclusively hosts only women, I'm always pretty skeptical of him and his motives, so skip as well.
- If someone writes that the preferred/only place to stay with them is in their bed or has more than one winky face in their profile, just close out their profile immediately. If they mention the option to stay in their bed, nope.
- Do not meet up with someone with negative references and avoid people with neutral references
How/When do you message people?
Since it's typically a last-minute thing since most people (especially on Couchsurfing) don't really know their plans until that week, I wait until 1-2 days before. Try to send a message at night since most people don't check Couchsurfing unless they're home. I try to get in touch the day of our meeting to make sure we're still on.
What to say in the message?
I was wondering If you were available to meet up tomorrow. I am staying in Verona by myself and I'd love to meet other CSers. I already have a place to stay, but a walk around Verona or a drink would be great. Parle un poco Italiano!
Let me know,
How many messages to send!?
I've also gotten quite lucky messaging people the morning of although I've needed to send more messages (5-8 messages) as people often have plans.