Saturday, March 5, 2011

Travel Tip: How to Host Couchsurfers

Hosting couchsurfers is a great opportunity for people who haven't yet traveled much, or who have traveled a lot and miss travel and travelers. Instead of going out to meet the world, have the world come to you.

Generally speaking if you make a couchsurfing profile and list yourself as having a couch available, you're going to get a couple messages a week asking if someone can stay with you. Hosting is a lot of fun, and usually results in a free drink, meal, gift etc of some sort (or at least a grateful backpacker doing your dishes). Not to mention invitations to stay with new friends all over the world.

If you're not comfortable opening your home up to strangers, that doesn't mean you can't help. One of your status options is "Meet for Coffee." Surfers often take people up on this. It's good for them to meet locals who can tell them about all the best things to see, do, eat, drink, etc in town. Plus you get to meet people from all over the world.

If you are ready to invite travelers to stay on your couch, switch the status to "yes" or "definitely." As the host, you have complete control over who comes to your place. Read profiles, talk to people a bit, and then choose who you'd like to host.

There are a few things you can do to make your experience a safe and fun one:

--On your profile, there is a section you fill out called "couch information." If you want to make sure people are actually reading your profile before sending requests, in the middle write the following sentence: "If you've read this section, please include the word "______" in your request." Obviously you pick the word. I do this to sort through people who actually want to stay with me vs people who just want a free place to crash and have spammed 100 people in town.

--When you get a request, look at the person's profile and check it for references and vouches. If any are neutral or negative, read them carefully before dismissing the surfer outright. If there are no references or vouches, it's your call, but I don't recommend hosting that surfer.

--Familiarize yourself with your local couchsurfing events and make some friends in the CS community. They can help you out in most situations.

--Never feel it is your obligation to host anyone, no matter how desperate they claim their situation to be. If they're out in the cold at midnight in a rough city and claim you're their only hope, that is entirely their fault, and it's not your responsibility to save them. They screwed up their planning. If you want to help such people, find a cheap hostel online and direct them to it.

--If for whatever reason you don't feel like hosting anyone for a time, do yourself a favor and change your couch status to "Maybe," "meet for coffee," or "No couch available."

--If you find you really enjoy hosting, change your couch status to "definitely" (you will come up in more searches) and consider joining a last-minute-couch-request group. Most cities have their own, just search for your city under the community tab, and look at the groups. These are for people whose hosts have backed out on them at the last minute, had planes canceled, or who are just lazy. You'll find a lot of very grateful friends this way.

Next, a few tips to make your guest's stay a good one:

--Know the cheapest public transit routes to your home from airports, bus stops, and train stations. Most couchsurfers are on shoestring budgets and are used to sitting on public transit for a long time.

--Get a couple maps of your town for surfers to borrow. These are going to be very useful to them.

--If you don't have one, open a Skype or Google Voice account. This will let you text international cell phones cheaply and easily, which is handy if you're trying to rendezvous with a guest who brought their cell from home.

--Don't feel that you have to provide constant entertainment or information. Couchsurfers as a rule are very self-sufficient and grateful for you simply letting them come to your home. Usually, if they need something, they'll ask for it.

That should be enough to get started. Happy hosting!