I truly believe it’s important to travel with a purpose rather than wander aimlessly from place to place. And I have put this belief into practice. Whether it was motorbiking across Vietnam, trekking the Himalayas, hitchhiking in Thailand, cycling across Tasmania, or CouchSurfing North America, I’ve always tried to add meaning to my travels and create challenges that push me beyond my comfort zone.
As I adventured, it always crossed my mind what it’d be like to travel through people rather than bobbing from one destination to the next.
CouchSurfing had been on my mind for several months before I tried it. I was set to attend a wedding on the West Coast of USA, so decided that I would fly to the East Coast of Canada and CouchSurf my way to the wedding.
Little did I know that this trip would turn into a 20,000km hitchhike and CouchSurfing adventure across the ENTIRE continent of North America. I started in Montreal, Canada and headed West to Vancouver. Once I hit the West Coast, I headed down to Los Angeles and then cut back East, finishing my trip in New York City.
In just 6 months, I CouchSurfed with over 50 hosts of different ages, backgrounds, sexualities, hobbies, religions and life views. It’s been the most enriching travel experience to date. The following three-part article shares my insights and lessons learned so that YOU can do the same.
For all those CouchSurfing rookies out there, what’s all the fuss about?
CouchSurfing is an online community of about 7 million people spanning 97,000 cities across 217 countries. The basic premise of CouchSurfing is to connect locals (Hosts) with travellers (Surfers). After creating a profile, a surfer can send requests to stay on a host’s couch for a specified amount of days. Surfers gets to experience life like a local for a few days, while hosts get to experience different cultures from the comfort of his or her own home – it’s really that simple!
Part 3: 5 Tips to Become a Great CouchSurfer
- Personalise Your Request
A lot of CouchSurfers fall into the trap of sending generic requests and don’t bother reading their host’s profile. ALWAYS PERSONALISE YOUR REQUEST. I write my requests as I read my host’s profile. I always take time to make sure I talk about our commonalities, differences, interests and the things we could learn from each other.
Whilst I’m on the topic of requests…. don’t be close-minded and selective. Send requests to people of all ages, backgrounds, religions and cultures. Don’t limit requests to people you think you might like or get on with. If you do that, you run the risk of surrounding yourself with very similar people to YOU, making it less likely that you’ll be introduced you to new ways of thinking.
- Take a Little Something From Your Home Country
A lot of the Hosts I’ve have stayed with are extremely curious but haven’t had chance to do much travelling. Many use CouchSurfing to travel through people from the comfort of their own home. One thing I like to do is bring my host a little something that represents my home country, England. Of course though, as a long-term traveller it can be a logistical challenge to loads your backpack with gifts – it’s just not practical. As a result you have to get creative and find things as you go that represent your home country.
It can be absolutely anything too… here’s a few ideas: souvenirs (classic fridge magnet), food, alcohol, postcards, clothing, photographs, music and art. If you’re English, there’s no excuse, Yorkshire Puddings and good ol’ English Tea is sold universally in supermarkets.
- Offer Up Your Skills
What are your talents and hobbies? What can you teach or show your hosts? Can you play a musical instrument or teach them how to make a website? A few things I’ve done: helped a CouchSurfer start a business, taught football, web design, as well as inspiring many of my CouchSurfers to travel or change something that weren’t serving them.
- Surprise your Hosts
Common courtesy is unspoken. Being clean, polite, chatting to your host, and being a respectful guest is fundamental. However, I truly believe it’s important to go much further beyond that with Random Acts of Kindness. Do something special for your hosts that surpass their expectations. Cook something, leave a note under their pillow, or perhaps even do their washing. Remember though, these Random Acts of Kindness should be carried without your host asking you.
A Few Ideas of Things I’ve done:
- Inspire your Host – introduce them to interesting documentaries, articles, websites, show them your travel photos, tell them your stories, inspire them through action.
- Cooking – I LOVE cooking, especially British Cuisine, so this is a big one for me.
- Do Household Tasks – help fix things, mow their grass, run errands, house watch, walk the dog, babysit, and of course, there’s always some cleaning to be done.
- Personalised Gifts –photographs, t-shirts, hand made cards, thank-you notes, clothing.
- Don’t Stop Interacting Once You’ve Left
At the very least you should leave a thoughtful review for your hosts and send them a postcard. In my opinion though, it extends much further than this. Not only do I get to know many of my hosts using Facebook before I meet them, but I have continued to nurture relationships long after each CouchSurf experience. Many of my CouchSurfers have become great friends, business connections and travel buddies.
The premise of this post focused on tips for the surfer-host interaction. CouchSurfing extends much further than a single interaction; it’s a community that connects cultures. Help grow the community and pay it forward by exchanging good energy by attending CS events, as well as helping travellers in need with advice and recommendations on CouchSurfing forums.
The number one thing I love most about CouchSurfing is that it’s a community that is built on TRUST. CouchSurfing has massively heightened my faith in humanity and reinforced how great people are. After so many positive CouchSurf experiences, I now wholeheartedly believe we live in a fantastic world full of an abundance of opportunities and wonderful people. Some may say this is a naïve way to look at things, but one thing I do know for sure, is that your thoughts become your words, and your words become your actions.
Thank you CouchSurfing for opening up my world to new realms and possibilities.