How Does Couchsurfing Work?

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Couchsurfing: How to sleep free at almost any destination

How Does Couchsurfing Work?

Imagine having friends in just about any city you care to visit who let you stay at their house for free and share their insider knowledge. The Couchsurfing website and partner app lets you do exactly that, even if you don't know a soul in town. It's safer than you might think, and, best of all, you usually don't have to sleep on an actual couch.

How Couchsurfing works

Couchsurfing's website brings together travelers who would like to experience local culture with hosts who enjoy meeting new people from around the globe. Both hosts and guests can be verified by credit card or PayPal, showing others that they are likely using their true identity. Guests can search the database of hosts in the cities where they want to travel, read profiles about the hosts and accommodations and send a Couchsurfing request to hosts they might like to stay with. Hosts then have an opportunity to ask questions and correspond back and forth with guests before confirming a stay.

How safe is Couchsurfing?

Mama always told you not to go home with strangers, so the whole Couchsurfing concept might be setting off alarm bells in your head. Although your safety is ultimately in your own hands, Couchsurfing is no more dangerous than any other form of travel when you follow the safety tips on the website and advice from seasoned Couchsurfers.

Start planning well in advance

Being pressed for time is the worst thing you can do when planning a Couchsurfing trip. Start the process months in advance so you have plenty of time to review hosts, references and accommodations and get to know the people you'll be staying with.

Review each potential host's profile and references

Look beyond the pictures of where you'll be staying. Read and reread what your hosts say about themselves and what their references say about them. If you're a single person and you're not looking for a hookup, check carefully for any clues that your host might be. The "wink" sign made with a semicolon (;) in descriptions or comments might be a sign that your host is looking for more than an evening of conversation. Pay particular attention to references by people of the opposite sex from the host.

Use the Couchsurfing messaging system to correspond with the host

There's no need to give someone your email or phone number until you feel comfortable with them. Unlike booking a hotel, your conversation should go deeper. Find out how many people live in their home, any safety precautions for their area, cultural expectations in their area and whether your phone will work at their home. Not only will you gain much-needed information, you'll get a feel for who you are dealing with.

Book with only people you feel comfortable with

Couchsurfing emphasizes that there's no need to feel rude if you're just not feeling good about it. Some women feel comfortable booking stays with only women hosts. Other people feel comfortable staying with couples or families.

Get their information and inform your friends

Know your host's phone number and address, and let your friends and family know where you're staying. Make a plan to check in with someone who will contact authorities if she doesn't hear from you.

Meet them in public

Arrange to meet your hosts in a public place to make sure you're comfortable with them in person. Have a backup plan such as a nearby hostel or alternate host if you get a bad feeling about staying there.

Be a good guest

Just like staying with someone you don't know, it can be uncomfortable for hosts to invite a complete stranger into their home. Get verified, fill out your profile and let your hosts get to know you a little before you stay at their home.

Although no money changes hands, you can show appreciation to your hosts for their hospitality with a small gift. Bring them a gourmet food item from your home state such as maple candy, cook them a dinner or buy them a bottle of wine from the corner store near their home. It's not required, but it's a nice way of saying thank you.

Always leave feedback

Help out the next Couchsurfer by leaving feedback within 14 days of your stay. Your hosts won't be able to see your comments until they leave their own feedback or until 14 days pass. If you had a bad experience, report any safety concerns to the Couchsurfing Trust and Safety team right away so they can take any appropriate action needed.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.