Couchsurfing.com is not a free hotel. It’s not just free lodging, a place to throw your stuff in the afternoon, or a way to get free food. It is strangers trusting other strangers all around the world with a place to sleep in their own home. More so, travelers giving other travelers a place to sleep at night so they can meet someone new and learn about the culture.
The way it works is you, as a surfer, have a profile with pictures, references, and friends. You search a city, pick a host, request to stay with them for a certain amount of time sending a message explaining why you asked them and what you are doing, and they either accept or deny it. If they accept it, you message on the website to talk about times and addresses and exchange information. This seems straightforward but there are multiple aspects that affect you finding a host and them accepting.
This tells the host who you are, what you look like, if others have trusted you into their homes, if others think you are a good person, etc. First, you need to have clear pictures of your face. No one wants to host a stranger they don’t know the face of, plus it is useful when finding you as the surfer if you are meeting somewhere. More than one is better.
Next is the information in your profile — your About Me, Why I’m On Couchsurfing etc. Every person you request to host you is going to read it. Fill it out fully and in as much detail as you can. You want to present yourself as a traveler, an adventurer, whatever it is leading you to couchsurf.
Out of your control, but also in your profile, is your references. Other hosts put a reference, like a Yelp review, on your profile as a guest — whether they enjoyed your stay, if you kept clean, if you were fun to be around, or if you were a slob, were inconsiderate, and no one should host you. Rarely people will put a negative review unless you did something incredibly inconsiderate and major enough to warn others about. References cannot be deleted off your profile or modified. You also write a reference for your host on the same guidelines.
It’s useful to understand that people will also pay attention to the amount of friends you have on your profile, similar to facebook friends. If you have friends with a lot of references, it makes a strong impact if you don’t have a lot of references yourself.
From my own experience couchsurfing I can tell you that your message can be either incredibly important to a host, or they skim through it and look at your profile more. So to always be safe, you want to send a good message. Say where you are travelling from and what brought you to the place you’re going. If you are on a big trip tell them. Hosts look for interesting people because its all free and they want to spend time with someone they might like.
This is why you also want to read their profile thoroughly and see what you may have in common. Maybe you both like cooking, maybe you both love guitar, it could be anything. Making a point of this in your message also shows that you read their profile, which many people appreciate. You’re going to have to be convincing, interesting and show that you are not a stranger.
You will get rejected a lot depending on what time you are traveling and where. Don’t be aggravated or discouraged though, these are people putting themselves out there to help, they want to but may honestly not be able to when you ask.
This is just a basic idea of what Couchsurfing is for anyone who may have just heard the name and have no clue how it work. Check out for much more specific tricks and tips from my own experience on getting hosts that day, taking advantage of parties and more.