The phrase couch surfing has drastically evolved from its origins of crashing on a friend’s couch for a night, then hopping to another friend’s place. In 2004, a group of like-minded entrepreneurs came up with the idea to create an online community catering to fellow world travelers looking for an economical lodging option. From that spark of an idea, Couchsurfing.com was born.
Since its creation, couch surfing has taken the idea of sleeping on a friend’s couch for the night and transformed it into a free online community. Registered couch surfers worldwide connect through the website or app and offer their couches or spare rooms for fellow travelers. Free of charge, the intention is to foster cultural learning and exchange in a safe and open platform. Experts agree it’s a prime way to save money. Learn more about how this works!
Other couch surfing communities
While couch-surfing pioneered the open community of couch-sharing enthusiasts, they’re not the only game in town. Here are a few other credible options you can compare:
WarmShowers — This is an inclusive site focused on the principle that we all love a nice, warm shower. Focused on the bicycle touring community, this non-profit connects cyclists with hosts willing to open their homes to traveling cyclists.
BeWelcome —Similar to Couchsurfing, BeWelcome is open to all travelers interested in a cultural exchange.
Trustroots — Trustroots provides more than just accommodation for travelers. On this site, you can find other globetrotters nearby and connect as friends, help them with questions, or offer them a place to stay.
MovingWorlds — This volunteer-based organization provides free housing for those looking to share their professional expertise. Based on your skills and travel interests, they’ll pair you with a host and a volunteer opportunity, giving you a chance to share your education and experience while enjoying free accommodations.
TrustedHousesitters — This might be the perfect platform if you want to travel more but worry about finding a caring, trustworthy house and pet sitter. TrustedHousesitters pairs travelers with individuals looking for people to take care of their home, pets, or both, so they can relax knowing their fur family is safe.
How to get started
The most popular sites, like Couchsurfing, make it easy to get started. With a quick setup — including some personal information to verify your identity — you’ll be able to check out all the places where you can stay for free or get started hosting.
TrustedHousesitters and MovingWorlds require more information. Due to the more personalized nature of the connections, there is a more detailed vetting process to protect everyone involved. Still, both are relatively easy online applications.
How to be a great host
Attracting the best couch surfers or guests can largely depend on the host profile you put forward. Below, we’ll give you some tips to ensure your profile appeals to guests who are as great as you:
- Enhance the images on your profile. When traveling, you want to feel secure in your accommodation choices. Investing in lodging options remotely is done by having great photos on your couch surfing hosting profile. Offer potential guests high-quality photos taken during the daytime and a complete view of your home.
- Create a compelling description. If your home has a beautiful woodland or coastal view, include a description that paints a picture with words. Something like “Picture-perfect sunrise views of the water to wake up to each morning” goes much further than “view of the water,” for example.
- Be clear about what you can offer to a guest. Take some time to consider how much of your home you want to offer couch surfers. If you don’t have a laundry area that you’re comfortable with them using, make sure to say so. Being upfront and clear helps set expectations and boundaries, avoiding potentially awkward conversations.
- Include some fundamental guidelines and rules. On the note of boundaries, be careful to politely establish rules that you need your guests to follow. Examples could be asking them not to come and go between certain hours, using amenities like a hot tub, or having friends or other guests over.
- Use the keyword strategy. Many people traveling will start with a search engine. This process means search engines will use the text in your profile to determine how relevant your hosting profile is to potential guests. Use this to your benefit by using attractive keywords frequently while still keeping it natural.
- Understand the selection procedure. Each site has its selection procedures, so you’re not locked into having any guest in your home that inquires on the website. Read over the particulars of each platform before you sign up so you know what to expect.
- Trust your gut instincts. Safety is paramount, so if you have a bad gut feeling about a potential guest, trust yourself and decline hosting.
- Build up your references and reviews. Hosts can leave references for guests, and guests can leave reviews of the host. This process helps with transparency in couch surfing and is an integral part of the process.
Cleanliness and extra amenities:
Cleanliness for both the guest and host is essential to couch surfing. Here are a few things you can do to help your guests have an enjoyable experience:
- Disinfect properly before and after a visit — This is important to keep you and your traveling guests safe and comfortable. Hard surfaces, doorknobs, bathrooms, and kitchens can all be hotspots for germs to lurk.
- Offer shower amenities — Many travelers are interested in couch surfing because it’s a great way to travel light, so offering shower basics can be a huge plus. For example, having liquid soap, shampoo, and clean white towels you can bleach after means your guests don’t have to pack those with them.
- Clean linen — On the note of having guest towels — this isn’t only a great amenity to offer but also means you can wash them after, keeping you safe from pests like bed bugs.
- Friendly kitchen — Having a sparkling clean kitchen gives guests confidence in the overall cleanliness of your home and also sets the expectation they should keep it that way. Biodegradable or compostable single-use dishes are a great option. You can also have guests drink from a water dispenser and offer instant coffee, tea, and small bagged snacks.
- Laundry room — It can be tough to do laundry while traveling, so guests will appreciate the opportunity to wash their clothes.
Safety is an essential part of a couch surfing and hosting experience. While there’s always a risk in opening your home to a stranger, follow these tips to stay safe:
- Locks — Locking rooms that are off-limits to guests gives you security, knowing your valuables and privacy are secure. You can lock entire rooms, a closet, or a cupboard.
- Cameras — Security cameras offer an extra safety measure. Just be sure you disclose where they are and don’t place them in areas where there’s an expectation of privacy — like a bathroom.
- Review profiles — Review guest profiles in detail before accepting a couch surfer. This is one of the best things you can do to ensure a positive hosting experience.
If you want to go the extra mile as a host, here are some great ideas to provide traveling guests with a positive experience:
- Have good internet — It’s tough to find good internet when you’re traveling, especially if you don’t have an active cellular data plan.
- Provide extra keys if you’re not around much — If your guest is only staying one night and you’ll be home, this likely isn’t necessary. Giving your guests convenient access is vital for multiple-day stays, mainly if you’ll be at work or out. If you’re uncomfortable giving out a key, consider installing a keypad that allows you to create multiple codes.
- Offer a ride — If you drive by a great tourist spot on your way to work, offer your guest a ride! You don’t need to go out of your way, and it’s a lovely way to enhance their experience.
- Consider a warranty plan — Having extra guests can cause more wear and tear on your appliances and home systems. In order to protect your assets, consider a home warranty plan with a coverage plan that works for you.
How to be a great (couch) surfer
As a couch surfer, hosts will leave references for you, which can impact your chances of being hosted at other homes.
- Respect the rules. Remember that a host has opened their home to you for free. Even if you don’t understand their rules, always respect them. If they seem too restrictive, look for another host.
- Give back to your host. A small gift is a wonderful option, but if funds are tight, you can do many things without spending your limited travel budget. For example, offer to walk their dog or water their plants.
- Clean up after yourself and pick up before you leave.
- Wash your clothes and offer to wash any bedding or linens you use.
There’s a safety and security element on your end and your hosts’ end. Play it safe with our tips below:
- Read a host’s profile and reviews. Your host will certainly delve into your profile, and you should do the same. If your gut feeling is off, keep scrolling and find another option.
- Tell someone where you’re at and share the location. That way, if anything happens, your trusted person knows where you’re supposed to be.
- Carry a fully charged battery adapter for emergencies. If there are any electrical issues, it’s always a good plan to have a battery pack all charged up and on you.
- Hide extra cash in a safe spot for emergencies. If you get into a pinch and something happens to your wallet or bags, you’ll thank your lucky stars for keeping a stash of cash on you.
- Ask where it’s safe to walk and if there are any places to avoid. Hosts are great resources since they know the area. They’ll let you know if there are any sketchy streets or aggressive animals if you’re in a more remote spot.
Great guest profiles will encourage the best hosts to accept your couch-surfing request. Get your profile in top-notch shape with these quick tips:
- Have a detailed profile about yourself.
- Include reviews and recommendations.
- Get verified on the site.
- Always use several (and up-to-date) profile pictures.
- If you’re a travel blogger, add a link to your profile so people on the site can get a better idea of who you are.
- Connect your social media accounts so people see you’re a real person.
- Attend social events.
Couch surfing is an incredible opportunity to see the world on a budget while also saving on flights and other travel expenses. Cultural exchanges happen when you learn how people live. The world is your oyster if you’re a great host and guest!