Georgina Lawton | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 2 July 2015

How To Couchsurf With Ease And No Sleaze

How To Couchsurf With Ease And No Sleaze

The Debrief: Because Couch Surfing is not a global dating app and anyone who thinks there's a similarity is a wrong'un

Summertime is here and the living is easy for the lucky few among us who can actually afford a holiday that doesn’t involve constantly checking your online banking from a beach and weeping into the sand in despair shouting ‘NO MORE MOJITOS’ as you search your bum-bag for foreign gold coins worth more than 0.005p. (At what age will this cease to be normal?)

For everyone else, there’s still Couchsurfing. The travel social network of over 9 million was big before Airbnb and partners cash-strapped travellers with willing hosts. 

I made a Couchsurfing profile last year, and to say I felt a little late to the party would be an understatement. CS enjoyed its boom around 2006-2008 when I was still sitting my GCSEs and dreaming of a life as a nomad. Fast-forward to now and a quick search for the travelling social network might have you worried if you haven’t used it before because the top search results include ‘Couchsurfing is dead’ and ‘Why Couchsurfing is the best hook-up app ever’ both of which are untrue and obviously written pre-Tinder.

Let me be clear: CS is very much alive and kicking but it’s undergone a serious shake-up in recent years in order to draw in new users and make it safer for female travellers. When I used it in the USA recently, I realised that it’s still a great way to reduce travel costs, see a city through the eyes of a local, and make friends around the globe. I’ve just returned to the USA this month and met up with my hosts for lunch so we are officially ‘fwends’.

Just follow my Couchsurfing etiquette guide to guarantee a summer of love (the platonic kind) and er, couches (the comfy kind).

Killer Profile = Better Hosts

Couchsurfing connects intrepid (read: POOR) wanderers and hosts around the globe, but guess which one is in short supply? Yep, not surprisingly there are more people hoping to kip on a stranger’s floor/couch/mattress for free, than there are to host them. That means if you want to score the kind of host who will make you coffee in the mornings and let you borrow their shampoo (my hosts were dreamy), you’ll be in competition with the 342,345 people that also want to travel the world on the cheap.

One brilliant advantage to this unequal ratio is: you’re female. An unfortunate disadvantage is: you’re female (see below). CS is built on trust and generosity so your best hope of landing a good host can be improved if you host someone first. When I booked my trip to the USA I did so without any forthright planning which I think is the best kind of trip to be had, but it meant I didn’t have much time to consider having someone to stay at mine first.

Instead, I focused on making a killer profile with the kind of wholesome details I’d usually reserve for my interest section on OKCupid or the last line of my CV (‘I love travel, cooking, learning Spanish and meeting new people’). l also uploaded some nice, not-drunk photos of me in other travelling environments which made me look cultured and sober.

Oh, and I got ‘verified’ which meant that in exchange for about five quid, I got a nice big, green tick next to my name so other Couchsurfers knew that I was who I said I was. (I would recommend only searching for ‘verified’ hosts, too).


There is a particular type of online sleaze-bag, whose intentions are so disgustingly audacious it’s a wonder your screen doesn’t leak slime upon opening a message. These men are unfortunately online on Couchsurfing and I think that they think some women will be so desperate, broke and tired that they’ll mistake the offers of ‘massages’ and ‘friendship ;) ’ for ‘massages and friendship :]’

However, you should always read the emotion in the emojis and exercise caution when taking up a single male on his offer of hospitality. Now I’m definitely not saying you can’t have a platonic friendship with a guy on CS, but always steer clear of men like this:

Couch surfing tips

And anyone who is too keen to have you stay in his ‘shared bed’:

couch surfing tips


Do Not Send Out Bulk/Group Messages

The messages I received from the freaks are disturbing, but I might have made myself slightly more susceptible to sleaze by using the group message function on the site, which sends out notifications to all hosts in my preferred area. Basically, I managed to reach the creepiest corners of Couchsurfing with a mass email that was probably opened to glorious fanfare and a gleeful rubbing of hands: ‘AHA! A GROUP MESSAGE – SHE WANTS THE D’.

Besides attracting more weirdos, sending out the same message to loads of potential hosts is lazy and impersonal and probably won’t get you responses from the kind of hosts you do want. It’s also the antithesis to the central ethos of Couchsurfing which is fostered through the spirit of cultural exchange – it’s not just a free-for-all (see below).

So take an interest in other people’s profiles and see what you could both get out of a stay. Not to mention it will be a less awkward stay if you actually have some stuff in common.

Be Sensible And Don’t Take The Piss

Once you’ve landed an offer of accommodation on CS (remember that nothing is set in stone and it’s down to you to finalise and confirm everything) you should continue getting to know each other before you arrive. A Skype is a good idea, as is a Facebook add. Make sure you obtain their address well before you’re in the area and pass it onto a contact in the same country, or your friends and family back home, just so someone knows where you are.

When you arrive, do not expect to be treated like Rihanna; the hosts may be working full time and might just be offering a place to kip. Be respectful of their stuff and don’t help yourself to food without checking first. I would also say bring a welcome gift or consider taking your host out for lunch to say thanks if you’re there for more than one night. They’ve put you up for free after all and no-one likes a complete tight-ass.

I brought some typically ‘British’ goodies (I took out the Werther’s Original after I realised they were made in Germany) for my NYC hosts who had never been to the UK and they loved it, even if the guy spread the Marmite on the crumpet and got really confused about why I said English food was good, but anyway, everyone likes presents.  

Couch surfing weirdos

Like this? You might also be interested in:

How To Have A Cheap Scandi Holiday In Stockholm When You Have No Money

The Things You Definitely Need To Buy Before You Go Travelling

All The Best AirBnBs Under £30 In Paris

Follow Georgina on Twitter @georginalawton

Tags: Travel