The basics of couch surfing: The Host has a place for a guest to stay – a spare room, a couch in the living-room, anywhere. The Guest is traveling and needs somewhere to stay. Both of you register on the CouchSurfing site, and participate in making this a better world, one couch at a time.
I’ve not yet CouchSurfed as The Guest, so these guidelines apply only to my experience as The Host.
1. Be clear and specific on your profile about yourself and your home. Only say you’re willing to Host when you actually are – during the weeks or months or years when you’re not, change your profile accordingly.
2. But take for granted that your average CouchSurfer has simply searched for all Hosts open to visitors in the area in which they want to visit, and sent much the same request to all of us: some of them may have read your profile in detail, but unless they actually refer to it in their email, assume they didn’t.
3. So when responding to a CouchSurfing request, if you’re minded to say Yes or Maybe, include the essential information from your profile in your reply – such as if you have pets, or if you live outside the city centre, or that they’ve asked to stay for days 1-5 and you can really only Host them for days 3-5, or that you prefer to meet them outside your home, first.
4. If someone sends you a CS request, it’s polite to reply, and if your answer’s Maybe, say exactly what your Maybe depends on. It’s better to say clearly No than Maybe if you’re really thinking No.
5. It’s okay to say No. You don’t have to give a reason. Or your reason can be as simple as: I’m tired and I’m not in the mood for meeting someone new.
But, say you said Yes.
6. Arrange to meet The Guest outside your home. Some public place which it’s easy to direct them to. (I’ve settled on a cafe that’s handy for a bus terminus about ten minutes walk away.) That way if it turns out that interesting Syrian lesbian actually did a McMasters on you, you can tell him to blog off. Or something like that. Also, remember: your Yes can always become a No. If you get bad vibes then, or later, just say No, you don’t think this is going to work.
7. You probably told The Guest everything they were welcome to use in your email. Don’t assume they remembered it. Tell them again. All you are definitely offering is a place to sleep, and CouchSurfing guidelines for The Guest are to take nothing more than that unless it’s offered – and to ask permission before using any basic facilities if not offered. You don’t need to offer them anything you’re not comfortable with. What I’m happy to have them use is: my spare room (and the TV in the spare room); bathroom: my wifi; my washing-machine and dryer: and in the kitchen, my tea and coffee (and milk and sugar, if wanted).
8. Lend a good street map, with index, and a couple of good local guidebooks. Offer advice on buses and local transport.
9. Offer what you feel comfortable offering. Don’t press if it’s refused. If The Guest is there when I’m cooking a meal, I feel comfortable offering to cook for two. But if The Guest says no thank you, I’m fine with that.
10. Mostly, CouchSurfing guests expect (and should expect) to provide their own food. Sometimes they ask The Host out to dinner, and this is nice, but if they’re traveling on a shoestring, they may not. There’s no obligation. And their food allergies and preferences are not your concern.
11. It’s perfectly OK to just leave The Guest to crash in the spare room, and head off to be anti-social with a book or the internet: this is a total stranger whom you are doing a big favour. Maybe you’ll make friends on CouchSurfing – but a perfect CS guest may not be friendship material. Don’t *expect* to make friends with CS guests.
12. Be polite and specific about what you’d like them to do. If you don’t want to leave them in the house on their own, say so. If you plan to leave the house early, tell them what time and say when you’ll be back. If it’s not OK for them to use the bathroom within specific times, tell them.
When I told friends I was going to start CouchSurfing, most if not all of them reacted with something along the lines of “But what if they’re evil?” What if they steal from me? Hurt my cats? Hurt me? Mess the place up? Break stuff?
It’s nice to know my friends worry about me. It really is. But this, if anything, is what CouchSurfing is about: most people aren’t evil.