Everyone has their opinion of couchsurfing I like to use Couchsurfing while still having my own place to stay to meet locals in a city that I'm visiting, hear some interesting stories, try some local favorites, and most importantly, have an experience that makes me want to go back.
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 meeting up using couchsurfing is awesome
Most Couchsurfers have jobs that mean that they can't host most of the time. Plus, most active members really try to put themselves out there for their guests.
Messaging someone about meeting up after work for a couple hours 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. Often, people who have cut back on Couchsurfing due to being busy at work are thrilled to meet-up with a traveler to show them their city.
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.
Experiences that I've had with couchsurfing
I've ran the gamut from meeting up for what turned out to be a free lunch with some female Ph.D students in Trento at their favorite sandwich place, met up for an all-night adventure wandering around Verona enjoying the history before going to an award-winning pizzeria outside of the city, met up for an incredible homemade Southern Italian meal (and culture lesson!) with friends of my couchsurfing host, and cooked dinner with a Ph.D student in Physics in Trento before discussing photography/rock climbing. I've also exchanged tips with some Couchsurfers about their favorite places to eat/hang out.
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?
It's really up to you. If you're new to this, meet for coffee or propose a short walk around the historic city center after work (5pm+). I typically propose a walk around the historic city centre since the locals often know interesting stories and a few hidden places. (FYI: Many hosts in busy areas like to get coffee with Couchsurfers in the area as a way of meeting them before inviting them into their home, so don't be alarmed if you're offered a place to stay.)
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 using couchsurfing & Tips for using couchsurfing
This is still a stranger, although a hopefully well-vetted stranger who you'll have things in common with. So, be smart. Tell a friend what you're doing ahead of time and have the phone number of a taxi available along with the address of where you're staying. Mary at Tiny Lady Big World wrote a really great post about safety on Couchsurfing for beginners that I liked a lot.
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.
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.
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 a good host using Couchsurfing
I often join the largest group for the city/region that I'm in. For instance, I joined the Trento Couchsurfing group. Then, I'll look through the profiles of the moderators as they're often the most active/engaged members of Couchsurfing.
If I'm not seeing anyone that I feel like I would get along who are active, I just search for hosts in the area. Then I put on the following filters:
You might want to tweak are the gender of the person depending on your comfort zone, the radius from the city (especially if you're in city centre since it makes it easier to meet up), and the language depending on your native tongue. The Verified box doesn't mean too much besides someone verifying their address, so you can ignore it.
Who do you decide to meet-up with using Couchsurfing?
What to look for in a good couchsurfing host
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 important as you need someone who responds in time.
What you have in common/their interests. If you have nothing in common, it won't be any fun.
Their references - The key into their personality and how they treat their guests
Languages in common. If you don't have a language in common, it's going to be difficult.
How/When do you message people on Couchsurfing
It's often better to do a couchsurfing request since they're more likely to get a notification and response faster. Messaging is okay, but some people never respond.
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?
Personalize the message if you have a shared interest, but I typically write something along these lines sent to a Couchsurfer I met up with (who loves history) and have since stayed with:
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 City or a drink would be great. Parle un poco language!
Let me know,
Now Couchsurfing has a Hangouts feature, so you can talk with that person online before you go!
How many messages to send!?
Two days before: I usually message 3 people I really want to meet up with.. If they don't respond within 24-36 hours, I'll message another 2-5 people the day before depending on how much I want to be social and if it's my last night in a city.
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.
What do Couchsurfers think of the idea?
They often love it and wish more people did it since it's a great way to meet people as they're often busy and it's a nice way to stay involved with Couchsurfing. A lot of them are really passionate about showing their communities to travelers, so they enjoy the chance without needing to really show someone around for 1+ days. . More often, they're sad that we won't get to spend more time together (especially if I'm not there long), but it can be a great opportunity to make new friends.
What do you think of Couchsurfing? Have you tried something similar and are you willing to try it?
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Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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