OTP's Guide to Couchsurfing Like a Pro

Photo by: loupiote

With over one million members worldwide, Couchsurfing, a free-to-use network that connects travelers with locals, allows travel enthusiasts to safely flop around on each others' international couches. Sign up as a host, a surfer, or both. If you play the game well, you can get a free place to sleep with the added benefit of a locals’ perspective on your destination—something you can’t find in a hostel. OTP wants you to surf like a pro. Here are some ground rules to bend.

To score a comfy, mothball smell-free couch, you must first expose yourself (verbally). From Facebook to AdultFinder, we're all used to making internet profiles by now. Couchsurfing profiles cover the basics: description of yourself, your occupation, interests, with the addition of previous travel experiences. Muster up as much cool as you have handy and bust out an eye-catching, thought-provoking, honest profile. People basically look at profiles to weed out the psychos, rapists and thieves. Stay away from sounding like any of those and you're in the clear.

Extended-hand, bathroom pictures are officially the douchiest things on the internet (with the exception of these guys). Instead, include pictures of you traveling and group photos (to show that other people like you). If you're desperate for good photos, mix it up with pictures of really cute puppies.

Sure CS hosts are giving it up for free, but no one likes feeling used. Generic requests will get you nowhere. Be sure to read their profile thoroughly before asking to stay at their place. Tell your potential host a bit about yourself, and be specific about why you want to stay with them (ie: you both did Peace Corps in Uganda, you’re both addicted to Harry Potter, etc.) Sometimes hosts will request a “copy and paste” phrase at the bottom of their profile to make sure you read the whole thing. Don’t be an obvious asshole by following their instructions.

In addition to the basic profile info, hosts will also include information on their housing conditions. Don't let “free” blind your judgment. For instance, if you’re allergic to dogs and the host has three, perhaps staying with someone else would be wise (and not cause death). Most importantly, don’t forget to read their references from fellow Couchsurfers who’ve met them. If someone says the host tried to suffocate him in his sleep, move on to the next profile.

It can be tempting to request a certain host because they're hot, but remember that Couchsurfing is a hospitality site, not a dating site. Getting to crash on someone’s couch for free is awesome enough; expecting to crash in their bed is pushing it. If you happen to stay with a ridiculously good-looking person, resist the urge to drunkenly hit on them (unless, of course, they hit on you first).

On rare occasions, a host will cancel at the last minute because of an emergency. It’s shitty, but there’s not much you can do about it. Line up some backups. Sending out more (personalized) requests will boost your chances of getting more “yeses” from hosts. Getting stuck with a super shady host is equally rare, but it happens. If you get a creepy vibe, trust your gut and get out of there stat. Call up your backup host or find a cheap hostel for the night where you can send out more requests.

Photo by: Becca Elizabeth

CS hosts never expect anything in return, but a little thoughtfulness is always appreciated. Considering all the money you're saving on lodging, you can probably afford to give them a bottle of wine, or offer to cook one night to show your gratitude. If you’re super broke, you can still do something nice, like helping with the dishes. Since you’re staying with real people and not at a hotel, don’t forget to pick up after yourself. The more respectful of a guest you are, the more likely they are to let you stay a little longer and the better of a reference you’ll get.

Couchsurfing isn’t just about finding a free place to stay; it’s also a great tool for meeting new people. If you’ve already lined up a place to crash, you can still message other members to see if they want to meet up for a drink. Join groups on the site, organized by geographic location or common interests, to get a few insta-friends in any place you visit.

To weed out creepers and phonies, Couchsurfing has developed an extensive system of references and vouching. Anyone who has stayed, hosted, or hung out with another member can write a reference for that person (i.e. should you do something awful, word of your douchiness will spread like wildfire). Members can also rank things like your level of friendship, how you met and how trustworthy you are. Building a list of positive references means that future hosts will be more likely to take you in. It’s customary for surfers to write a host reference first, and then they’ll reciprocate by writing something about you. It only takes a few minutes, and it ensures that Couchsurfing is a safe and reliable community.

The waves are best for surfing in large cities, but unless you’re traveling to rural Botswana you’re bound to find a crash couch just about anywhere.