Since I started travelling solo, over 2 years ago, I found Couchsurfing to be immensely useful. I have been on CS for over 6 years though, I started surfing with others only during my solo escapades. It is an excellent way of meeting new people, understanding cultural differences and discovering secret places, by hanging out with locals. So contrary to what some people might think – It’s NOT just a free couch but so much more.
The minute you start considering Couchsurfing as a means of having a “free couch” and saving on your travels, it loses its purpose entirely. I have, personally, made friends for life by hanging out with locals in different countries and enjoying their company and hospitality.
So, how does Couchsurfing work?
I attended some traveller meetups and events last month and I was amazed at how many people had never heard of Couchsurfing. At first I thought they are probably living under a rock to not know CS – I mean, hey, who doesn’t know about it, right? Then, I realized the people who didn’t know about it had never travelled solo. It is more popular among solo travellers who find solace in having a companion while visiting a new destination.
Its true that Couchsurfing is best experienced on solo travels, however, it is for anyone who wants to immerse in new cultures and experience their destination – just like a local would. So, I feel everyone should be aware of how Couchsurfing works. I chalked out this step-by-step guide to literally spoon feed newbies to the entire CS process as I would love more and more people to experience surfing at least once.
Step 1 – Create a Verified Profile
When you sign up on Couchsurfing, the first thing you need to do is build your profile. I would suggest using Facebook to join as it gets your basic info into your CS account right away.
Next verify your profile. You cannot skip this step as it is integral to come off as authentic when you are sending a couch request or hosting someone. A green “verified” sign surely helps gain authenticity as a new user. For this, you will have to verify your phone number with a simple PIN which they send – easy stuff!
Step 2 – Build your Profile
Now that you have a verified profile, it’s time to build it up. Before you do that, you need to understand your purpose – Do you plan to host other surfers at your place , meet new people or stay with others during your trips? Or, all of the above? Personally, I have done all 3 but I would recommend to start with meeting people to get your feet wet. After you meet some great people, you will feel more confident and start hosting few people to get some positive references on your profile. Post that, you should try and stay with others – only when you are sure of the process and comfortable with it totally.
Okay so to start with, add as much info as possible in your profile (No personal stuff like your address or phone number, please – There are crazy people everywhere). Just basic profile info about your interests, your travels, amazing stuff you have done etc. Add pictures from your travels or just any pictures of yourself so that you come off as a genuine person. Imagine if someone with no pictures on their profile would want to meet you or stay with you? Your answer would be a big fat NO. So, don’t be that freaky person. You can check out my Couchsurfing profile to get an idea – https://www.couchsurfing.com/people/jyotsna.ramani
Step 3 – Add Friends
You can connect your CS profile to Facebook (if you didn’t already). You will be surprised to find few of your FB friends are there on CS – Yes, there are people who know about it already. Add them to your friends list. It’s always better to meet/ host or surf with someone who already has several friends. Since your profile is brand new, you can ask your friends to endorse you on CS by sharing references.
Please don’t ask people you have never met or don’t know at all.
Step 4 – Start interacting
Now that you have a solid profile, its time to start interacting with fellow travelers. Join some local groups and you will see there are many travellers in your town looking for hosts or someone to chat with. Jump right in the conversation and offer to host people or show them around. You will make friends, learn about their cultures AND gain some CS experience off it. You will also have a couch ready for yourself in other countries – The more people you host/ meet, the more references you get.
A word of caution before your meet/ host/ stay with others – Always use your brain, be smart and check references/ interact online before catching up. Your safety is in your hands so follow my tips for a safe Couchsurfing experience.
Step 5 – Try Hangouts
(New Edit – 1st Jul) Hangouts is the brand new addition to Couchsurfing family. Its a nifty new app which you can download on your iOS or Android and start meeting people right away. It is a goldmine for those traveling solo and looking for company for any activities/ tours or just to talk travel with a fellow backpacker over coffee or beer. Click here to download the app now and start hanging out with fellow surfers.
Followed all steps? You are a Couchsurfing pro now. You will feel confident in travelling to new countries on your own as you will be assured of a friend waiting for you there. So, its not just a free couch but a way to experience travels like never before.
Stay tuned for the next piece in my “Couchsurfing 101” series. I am determined to encourage everyone to couchsurf – safely and have an awesome time by doing so.
Have you tried Couchsurfing or plan on doing so? I want to hear about your adventures – share in comments below.