If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing (CS) and you really want to travel around the world but without having to spend money on hotels, this article is for you!
I first heard of CS through a friend. In this article I’d like to tell you what it’s like to be a part this unique community and encourage you to at least take a look at the idea of offering your home to those who might be coming through your town. If you’re unable to host because you still live with your parents or have a really tiny place that only fits just yourself and perhaps a pet, then it’s no biggie – you can indicate on your profile that you’d be happy to show people around and have coffee with them.
How it works is that everyone who joins, regardless of whether they want to be travelers, hosts (or both), writes a bit about themselves by filling out a detailed profile of who and what they are about. You also have an opportunity to post photos that enhance other people’s chances of “getting to know you more.”
I opened an account during the summer of 2011 because I was getting ready to go to California and I wanted to stay at other people’s places rather than staying in a hotel. This isn’t just about saving money – it’s a great way to meet and get to know many people you would otherwise not get to meet.
Before I could send a CS request to anyone (i.e. to stay with them at their places), I needed to build a detailed profile of myself along with a handful of references. In the beginning it’s a little challenging because you start out with zero references. As you can imagine, this community relies heavily on other people’s recommendations/comments before they either contact you for a place to stay (or you contact them).
The first thing I needed to do was to find friends from my hometown who could vouch for my character. That was a good start. Then I used the Facebook function on CS to find FB friends who were already members of CS and proceeded to write a recommendation for them. It’s a good idea to give others that you already know a reference first rather than asking them to give you one. Zig Ziglar, the motivational speaker is famous for saying something like, “To get what you want, you have to give what other people want first.”
When you write a reference for someone, CS automatically lets them know via email and gives them a link to give you one in return. Easy peezy!
In case you’re wondering, you can give those you know a glowing review even if you’ve never hosted them before. What you’re doing is you’re helping them build a good reference list and they’re reciprocating. It’s a win-win situation. That’s how everyone on CS gets their start.
Last summer, as a spanking brand new member of CS, I sent a CS request to a handful of people in California where I was planning to spend up to 2 weeks for both business and pleasure. Rather than staying in overpriced hotels, I was hoping I’d have a couple places to crash. Unfortunately the responses were late because I had already booked myself a hotel in all the places I was staying. But those who did respond told me that while they were sorry to have gotten back to me so late, I was welcome to contact them again if I were to visit their hometowns sometime in the future.
This summer (2012) I decided to go on a crystal hunting expedition in Arkansas. The reasons behind that is beyond the scope of this article but I’ll write about it sometime in the future. Fortunately the first person I contacted with an impeccable (and numerous) reference list accepted me, a first timer/newcomer, to stay at his place for one night. I was stoked!
I couldn’t wait to give CS a try.
While it’s true that some people will not take a chance on someone w/ little or no references, there are those like the Arkansas guy who are “risk takers” (and probably a good judge of character) who will welcome a newbie like myself. After my one-night stay was over, not only did I take the initiative to give him a great reference but he also followed suit and gave me an even better review!
Here’s what I wrote about my host:
After traveling 600 miles in ONE day, I was relieved to see Lloyd sitting out on the front porch with a couple of his neighbors. As soon as I arrived, he gave me a hearty welcome to this weary traveler. I immediately felt at ease and knew that I had made the right choice to stay at his place.
He has a warm, open-hearted personality that I took to a liking immediately. It was obvious he read my profile and knew about my lip-reading skills. I’m grateful he gave me, a first-timer guest, a chance.
We went out to dinner in “old downtown” Hot Springs at this beer joint/eatery. I was not very hungry but enjoyed a few beers.
We enjoyed bantering for a bit and then a friend of his showed up and pretty soon we were all having a great conversation, mostly about flying, walking among nature, crystal digging and other things.
I can see why so many people have stayed with him – he truly is a good host. I have absolutely no reservations about recommending him!
A few days later he came back with this:
My experience with Stephen will be one that is more memorable than the average couchsurfing experience. Stephen’s communication before he arrived was excellent. Upon his arrival after a 600 mile car trip, Stephen was kind, cheerful, positive, inspirational, grateful, and many other adjectives that I don’t have the eloquence to use. He has lots of great things to say based on his life experiences. If I had been wiser, I would have spent last two days traveling with Stephen instead of doing my own thing. He left me with a copy of his book “Obstacle Illusions” which I can’t wait to start reading.
So there it is – my first reference from a host!
Within a month of joining, I began searching for groups within CS to join and found two groups: “Queer Couchsurfing” and “”Deaf and Signing Couch Surfers.”
I decided to send a general request to both groups in hopes of finding a host in Sedona, AZ where I was heading later in the summer of 2012.
Apparently a Brazilian guy saw a general message I had sent to the Queer Couchsurfing group and contacted me. The ironic thing about hearing from this Brazilian guy that is I was actually thinking of going there after a recent successful crystal hunting expedition in Arkansas! (See photos of crystals I had dug up before and after they were cleaned)
Brazil has the largest quartz crystal deposit in the world followed by Arkansas. Not only were his references impeccable but his photos gave me a warm feeling about him as a potential host. He wrote in his message that he had read my profile and liked what he learned about me because not only is he learning Brazilian sign language but he’s working in an internship that involves working with deaf children! He also said he wanted to buy a copy of my book. It was obvious the guy thoroughly read my profile and customized his email to my liking!
Of course, I responded with enthusiasm and accepted his invitation to visit and stay with him in Brazil sometime in the future. If he had sent me a “cookie-cutter” type of invitation, I would have sensed something wasn’t right and probably would not have responded. When you receive an invitation and/or a CS request (i.e. a person wants to stay with you), you truly have to rely on your intuition whether this person is the real deal or not. So it goes without saying that it’s really important to read their profile on CS and look up not only their photos but also check their references.
CS also has a feature where members are “verified.” When you first sign up, you are asked if you want to be a verified member which involves CS confirming that you are who you really are and that your mailing address is accurate (the mailing address is never shown to anyone – it’s for their records only). The way they do this is by asking for a one time payment of $25 via credit card. This gives them ongoing revenue to keep this site “free” and allows them easily verify your identity and location.
I’m a verified member and you should be too if you decide to join. It’s a small price to pay for lifetime membership. If you move, you pay again because your credit card will have a new address on it and they’ll have to start the verification process all over again.
After I received the Brazilian guy’s invitation, I not only looked through and thoroughly read his profile but I also glanced at numerous photos in the photo gallery to get a feel for his energy and character. You can truly tell a lot by looking at photos. The more photos, the better. He has a really cute dog that got my attention and when I wrote back to him, I told him how much I’d love to meet his pooch if i were to stay with him (I’m a dog lover!).
Update: I just got back from a 3 week trip to the Southwest and as you can already see, I stayed with two Couchsurfing hosts while in Sedona, AZ. It just keeps getting better!
Bottom line: If at first you aren’t successful in getting those w/ long and positive references to take you in, you could always take a chance on someone who’s never hosted before because they’re just as eager to build a reference base. Everybody has to start somewhere!
The beautiful thing about the CS system is that it’s set up in a way that when a host accepts your CS request, it will automatically ask the host (and you) to leave a review at the end of the hosting period, which makes it easy for you to remember to leave a reference for your host (and vice versa if you are a host yourself to leave a reference for the surfer).
Join Couchsurfing and if we know each other, send me a character reference and I may do the same for you!