Couchsurfing is an amazing way to see the world, especially if you’re on a budget. It can provide you with cheap accommodations in just about every place you go.
More than that though, it can and does provide both the guest and the host with a positive travel experience. To date, we’ve hosted well over 450 people here in Atlanta.
We think we’re pretty good hosts and our guests seem to think so, too!
Want to have a great experience while hosting people from all over the world in your home?
Here’s how to be a great Couchsurfing host!
Complete Couchsurfing profile
If you read our other Couchsurfing posts, you’ll notice that we always start off with this one. When it comes right down to it, this is where every CS experience starts – the profile.
To be a great Couchsurfing host, your guests will need to know everything about you that is relevant to their stay.
- Have cats? Say so!
- Is the room your guest will stay in shared or private? Tell them.
- Do you speak more than one language? Put it in there.
- Are there any weird house rules? You need to let them know.
- Are you vegetarian/vegan? That’s important. You don’t want guests to surprise you with a steak dinner on their second night!
Your CS profile will help your guest decide if you’re a match or not. You don’t want people staying with you if you have cats and they’re allergic.
If guests don’t know they have to be out of the house at 7am and back before 10pm, you risk putting guests in uncomfortable positions.
So be very clear about things like these in your profile.
Make your guest’s trip easier, not harder by having a complete profile. Read our post: How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Profile
Respond to couch requests
You got a couch request. Awesome! The first lesson in how to be a great Couchsurfing host: respond to requests in a timely manner – preferably as soon as you get it, but certainly no more than a day or two later.
If it’s a no, decline the request and write a polite note explaining that you cannot host.
If it’s a yes, here’s what you do:
- Click the Yes button
- Respond by thanking the guest and ask her to confirm
- Ask about their itinerary. What time are they arriving and how?
- Let them know your schedule (will you be able to spend time with them?)
- When your guest confirms this information, send directions and make whatever arrangements you need to
Typically, I only send directions to my house 2-4 days in advance. By that time, I know the guest is coming.
If the request is too far out, I see no need to give out that information until the date gets closer.
But that’s just me.
Can you host?
There is nothing worse than planning a trip only to have your host cancel at the last-minute. If you accept a Couch request, you need to be absolutely sure you can host the person.
There are very few circumstances, in my opinion, where it is appropriate to cancel on a guest (death in the family, serious illness, house burned down).
If you’re not 100% positive you can host, either decline the request or say “maybe.” You’re not doing anyone any favors otherwise.
In addition, i believe it would be completely appropriate for a guest to leave a negative reference on a profile if a host cancels at the last-minute for a non-urgent reason.
But it does happen. If you do have to cancel, try your best to help your guest find another place to stay.
Clean up a bit
Is your home as described in your profile. Tidy up a bit. I jokingly say that my Couchsurfing mission is “To host as many people as it takes to clean my house on a regular basis.”
But it’s not really a joke.
Our house is clean, but it’s definitely a lot cleaner when I know someone’s coming! That means a quick check of the bathroom, vacuuming, tidying up the kitchen, making sure to wash the sheets on my guests’ bed, and ensuring that the room is clean.
That’s it. Nothing hotel quality – just what I would do for any guest.
And this is very important: be home! There’s nothing that irritates a guest more than you not being there when you said you would be. It could even be scary, especially if the guest is from far away who knows nothing about your city or culture.
Conversely, guests should arrive when they say they will. But it’s also important to understand that trains, planes, and buses are often late. It goes with the territory, so be forgiving when this happens.
It’s not their fault.
When a Couchsurfer arrives
Before we do anything else, we give guests the username and password for our Wi-Fi. We don’t wait for them to ask because, well, we know they want it anyway and may hesitate to ask.
Then, we take them on a mini tour of our condo. We show our guests where to get glasses, dishes and cookware. We let them know that our home is theirs while they are here and that we’re very flexible with their plans.
Then, we offer them something to drink and a place to put anything they may have brought with them, like food.
We also show them where the coffee and tea are, if they’re interested.
Most of our guests arrive anywhere from late afternoon to early evening, so we generally use the rest of the evening to chat and see what interests them.
We talk about:
- how our free time matches up with theirs
- if they have anything pre-planned
- what they want to do
- if they want to hang out with us
- what our home schedule is
- anything else they need to know
We pick up a few Atlanta tourist maps for free whenever we’re downtown and have them ready for guests when they arrive.
Finally, we point out a few places, within walking distance, where they can go to get necessities, like SIM cards and snacks.
During a Couchsurfer’s stay
At our home, the Couchsurfer’s room is a private space that is generally off-limits to us during their stay. We feel it is important for guests to have their own area to call their own while they are here.
I’ve always felt that this is something guests appreciate about staying with us. For many people though, this isn’t possible.
Whatever your circumstance, give your guest as much privacy as you can while they’re with you.
What do we do with our Couchsurfers? We get asked that a lot. It depends. If you’ve been in communication with your guests, you’ll have an idea about their plans.
If they have none, we try to take them to see some of the stuff they wouldn’t otherwise see if they were just here as a tourist.
In Atlanta, the top attractions are the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. These are fine places to go, but they’re also expensive and cliché.
However, we know lots of places in our city that tourists just don’t know about. You probably do, too!
If there’s something cool going on in Atlanta, like Pride or a festival in the park, we’ll do that too.
Ask what their interests are. If they like to sit on a patio and have a beer, take them to your favorite place. Perhaps they want a cheap place to eat.
We take guests to Buford Highway – it’s Atlanta’s equivalent to Chinatown (sort of), where many of the good restaurants are with delicious food from around the world.
Best of all, it’s usually quite inexpensive!
Your city or town is so much more than the top tourist attractions. A great Couchsurfing host will point guests in those directions.
Do the unexpected.
Surprise them. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to show them someone different!
Most of all, they’ll really feel like they’ve seen more of your city or town than they expected to when they got there.
In Atlanta, our community often has meetups, either at a local bar/coffee shop, or at someone’s house.
We’ve personally hosted potluck dinners and even yearly Super Bowl party! Because we host so much, we almost always have people staying with us and we take them to events like these.
It gives them something to do, but more importantly, it’s a way to show Couchsurfers that there is so much more to the organization than free accommodations.
It’s a community of like-minded travelers who are active, social, and want to meet them!
CS meetups are always a positive travel experience. You can’t go wrong when you’re with a bunch of great people telling stories about all the cool things they’ve done and seen on their travels!
If there isn’t one during their stay, set one up yourself!
Couchsurfing and food?
Completely up to you! We always offer our Couchsurfing guests coffee and tea in the morning. And when we have it, bread, cereal, and fruit – especially on the first morning, as they may not have any with them.
We always offer to take our guests to a grocery store. We don’t mind sharing, but we also don’t want it to get expensive for us.
Our general rule: Couchsurfing guests are responsible for their own food.
One thing we love doing, especially if a guest is from another country, is cook! We go to the market, get the ingredients, and cook a dinner together.
We split the costs.
Of course, if your guest insists on paying, that’s OK, but don’t assume they will or can. Our “Couchsurfing dinners” are some of the best we’ve ever had.
Do this if you can. It’s fun!
We leave a reference for our guests as soon as it’s convenient – sometimes right after they leave.
The important thing is to do it – every time. It’s one of the best things you can do as a Couchsurfing host because it will help them find a place to stay on the next part of their journey.
Be sure it’s an accurate reflection of the experience. So many times, we see trivial complaints in the form of negative references.
That’s unfortunate, because we believe it’s an abuse of the system.
Our rule about negative references is that we will only write them if it’s safety-related, the guest was completely rude, or if there was a blatant, intentional violation of CS norms or house rules.
We’ve actually never really had to do it.
References not only reflect on the guest, but on you as well. If you give someone a positive reference when they’re terrible people, you’ll be affecting other people who decide to host them.
At the same time, if you leave a negative reference simply because someone did something that a reasonable person would consider trivial, people may not want to stay with you in the future.
“Didn’t make her bed every morning” or “took too long in the shower” might be annoying, but they don’t rise to the seriousness required for a negative references.
A final thought
These are suggestions that work for us. We’ve hosted a lot of people, so we know what we are comfortable with and have good instincts when it comes to who we should host or who we shouldn’t.
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Other ideas about how to be a great Couchsurfing host
- We keep a couple of empty transit cards on hand. Beats having them pay an extra $2.
- If you’re comfortable with it, give guests a key to your house
- If you host a lot, keep a “give something-take something” basket in your Couchsurfing room.
- In America, doing laundry is fairly inexpensive. We offer guests the chance to do laundry, especially if they are on a long journey.
- We keep a map above our Couchsurfing bed. Guests put a pin in their hometowns.
- Give guests a piece of paper with your contact information, Wi-Fi password, and anything else you think they’ll need.
- We have over 100 Lonely Planet books. Instead of hiding these on a shelf in our bedroom, we keep them in the living room where our guests can feel free to read them.
As a host, you’re only obligation is to provide a clean, comfortable, and safe place to stay along with a place for your guests to clean themselves up.
But we find doing some of the things above can really enhance your guest’s experience and make you stand out as a great Couchsurfing host.
Remember, you are often considered to be a representative of your country and city. Help your guests to enjoy their stay.
Be courteous, respectful of other cultures, and friendly and engaging.
That’s how to be a great Couchsurfing host!
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.