Joining the Community:
Groups, Meet-Ups, and Parties:
Let's Go Couchsurfing!
When select you are setting up your profile, you will also be asked to select whether you have a couch to offer, if you are traveling and therefore cannot offer a couch, or if you are at home but only able to meet up for coffee or a drink”. The last option is the quickest to deal with, so we'll start that. The “coffee or a drink” option is a great way to meet people from different cultures and build Couchsurfing references without the commitment of hosting someone. Many new Couchsurfers start off with this option.
Hosting a Couchsurfers:
When you set your profile to “have a couch,” you will also have the option to describe the living situation and your requirements for guests. You should make sure to let guests know how many Couchsurfers you can accommodate, whether the permit smoking, how far you are from public transportation, and how many nights is your maximum stay, along with any other information you would want them to know. Now just sit back and relax and wait for someone to request a couch. When you receive in Couchrequest, it will appear as a little notification on the menu bar on top of your screen. The Couchsurfer will have requested what days they want to stay, how they will be arriving, and written a personal request to you. You should read the request along with their profile, and see if you are comfortable offering them up this to say (as well as if you are available on those days) and then approved or deny them with a note of your own. Please do not simply ignore the request, as Couchsurfers often need to hear back so that they can make other arrangements, and your “reply rate” will appear on your profile. It is often good to trade telephone numbers at this point and let them know how to get to your house, or how you will meet up.
When your Couchsurfer arrives you should try to make them feel welcome while also making sure you are comfortable with them. 99.9% of the time everything will be great, but if things are actually uncomfortable, you are always within your rights to ask them to leave. When I host Couchsurfers, I tried to give them in introduction to the city to the best of my ability. Aside from letting them know about what to do and see, I make sure to warn them about and issues they might have or problems with pickpockets. If I have the time, I will show them around town, take them to meet ups and cook them dinner. If I am working and busy, I give them a map where I have drawn points of interest and good places to eat. Either way, I make time in the evening to learn about who they are, what their culture is like, and to share my own interests and culture. Basically, treat them like you would a friend we haven't seen in a long time and you will have a lot of fun!
One to two weeks before you go traveling is a good time to use the Couchsearch function on the website. This allows you to search by area for people who have couches available. If you are nervous about Couchsurfing, you might want to select only people who have been verified or vouched for, or who the same gender and general as you. You can also search for people with similar interests; I usually search for “tango" when I surf, which guarantees me a good night of dancing! When you find a host looks fun and trustworthy, send them a personal request by pressing “send CouchRequest to [name]" fill out the required information and write a short message explaining who you are, what you're doing, and why you would like to Couchsurf with them. Some people on the site send out generic cut-and-paste messages, and a personalized message will set you apart.
If you find yourself stuck in a city without a couch for some reason, many places have an “emergency couch, last minute couch," or "SOS Couch" group. DO NOT POST COUCH REQUESTS IN GENERAL GROUPS. This is looked upon as very bad manners in the Couchsurfing community. If you still cannot find a couch, it's time to look for a hostel.
When You Arrive:
When you arrived hosts home, be friendly and yourself while making sure you are comfortable with the situation. If you are not comfortable, you should feel free to leave at any time. Pay attention to what your host has asked of you and make sure to not make them regret hosting you. This means that you should clean up whatever mess you make, not create loud disturbances late at night, and respect any other rules. Think of it as staying at the house of your significant other's parents for the first time (but hopefully a little less stressful!) Remember, Couchsurfing is not a free hostel, it is an exchange of ideas, knowledge, language, and friendship. Make some time to hang out with your host.
Whether you were a host or a guest, Couchsurfing etiquette says that you should leave a reference after a Couchsurfing experience. If the experience was very short this may not be the case, but if you feel like you got to know them a little bit, go for it. In a good reference you will mention what you did during the experience, along with your impressions of the other person. It is very important to be honest in these references, as they are the foundation of what makes Couchsurfing safe. On that note…