Disclaimer: You may not sue me if you follow any of my advice and you end up in a basement tied up and used in beastiality porn. Also, This post is massive and I promise to never post something this long ever again!
What is couchsurfing: To travel through (a place) or make (one’s way) by staying overnight in other people’s homes (Dictionary.com)
To stay in a strangers home while travelling, in order to save on Hotel costs and learn about the city from locals rather than brochures whose purpose is to drain your bank account. (Me)
So do I look up the phonebook from that city and just start calling people?
My first time couchsurfing: So I got drunk one December night at my friend Richard’s place. While telling him and his girlfriend about my recent trip to NYC (another blog worthy topic) we decided to look up flights since they didn’t believe how cheap my flights were. In my drunken state I took out my card and bought a flight for me and Richard, completely ignoring his girlfriend Ana and my boyfriend at the time. An entire semester goes by and I get an email from JetBlue reminding me of my upcoming trip. So here I was a week away from my May NYC trip with less than $300 in my bank account and absolutely no place to stay. Luckily Ana and my boyfriend decided to go as well. And now we were four broke individuals hoping that Ana’s sister would host us. Like Murphy’s law says anything that can go wrong will wrong and so me an Richard landed in NYC (Ruel and Ana were in separate flights later in the day) and wondered Timesquare for hours going from Starbucks to Starbucks for their free Wi-Fi and calling hostels in the area. Every hostel was either ridiculously expensive or seemed extremely shady. I then came across Hotel Carter. They had single occupancy rooms for $60/night and without hesitation we rented a room for the night hoping to figure out where to stay for the rest of the trip. Have you ever stayed at a one-star hotel? I can now say that I have. The corridors smelled of a 1960’s strip club, the room was so small that the furniture took up all the space, the bathroom door didn’t close so we had to smell each others farts, there was a weird faucet in the closet and we had to sneak in the other 2 at night since the room was for two persons. We all cuddled up on one bed and wondered if sleeping on the subway would be better.The next day Ana told us about couchsurfing.org; a website where you can make a profile similar to myspace and send ‘couch requests’ to users who live in the area you are travelling to. Being from Miami, I was completely appalled by her suggestion. Years of living here have taught me to trust no one. After having a long discussion about it, I hesitantly opened up an account and following her advice, made my profile as descriptive as possible.
After doing much research on the site and talking to Ana’s sister who was an avid couchsurfer, I realized that couchsurfing.org went much further than just providing shelter for broke college students that want to travel. It connects locals and creates a community based on the value of reciprocity and adventure. We decided that the best way to find a host was to go to mixer that was happening that night. Within Minutes at the mixer, we found a host for the last 3 nights of our trip. There’s hope for humanity, I thought! That night we slept on the subway after trying to pull an all-nighter by aimlessly roaming from bar to bar. We awoke to the morning commuters staring at us, laughed it off, and then went on our merry way to Harlem where our host lived.
When we arrived we realized that we would be staying with more than just our host. He had a very large apartment with a spare bedroom where 2 German girls were staying; in the living 2 French girls had made a mattress on the floor their home and 2 guys from Switzerland were using one of the 3 sofa-beds. We would occupy the 2 remaining sofa-beds in the living room. Imagine the look on my face. I once lived in a shelter and shared a room with 11 other people and this reminded me way too much of that. This was still better than staying with the nudist that accepted our couch request so I decided that I would make the best of it and began talking to our house mates.
We became friends almost instantly as we wondered about the apartment looking at the his own beautiful photography. Photographers are fun people just trust me on this. The more I learned about their couchsurfing stories, the more I was convinced that I would do this again. It was probably my 8th trip to NYC, but everything felt so new. The parties we went to with our host and the people we met were all the kind of people I want at my “Well-Established” themed 30th birthday.
Since then, I’ve couchsurfed in many other cities and have stayed with wonderful people like Chris Jeon (Google him for one of the most amusing stories you’ll ever hear). I’ve yet to have a bad experience and would recommend to anyone over the age of 18. Even if you’ve got the dolla bills to pay for a hotel, I guarantee couchsurfing will be a phenomenal experience!
Couchsurfing Etiquette 101
- Get Certified: A one-time fee of $20 will ensure that you are who you say you are and that you live where you say you live. This is important because once you have accepted a couchrequest or yours has been accepted then website will show where and who are couchsurfing with. If something happens to you there will be a trail. I also google them to make sure they are not mass Murderers who made parole or part of a Colombian Cartel.
- Your Profile: You are more likely to find a host if your profile says a lot about you. Be honest! You will be meeting your hosts in person and they will quickly realize if you were lying about certain things.
- Picking a host: Unless I have no choice, I only stay with users who are certified for reasons that you already know. Also , don’t just send requests to everyone in the desired city. Read their profile, find out what kind of accommodations they have, find out if they have any pet peeves and anything that may put you at odds with the host. Pick a host in the age group that is suitable for the kind of activities that you want to do (i.e don’t pick a retired 60 year old if you plan on partying till the wee hours of the morning.) Finally, personalize your request. I’ve received so many requests that I now require my request to come with a specific subject line. If they use the wrong subject line I assume that they didn’t read my profile and I don’t even bother answering. Remember that someone opening their home to a stranger is a big deal and mediocre couch requests should always be ignored. Also if you are a girl, beware of profiles of guys who only host girls. They are common in Miami, and it is a definite red flag in my opinion.
- References: One of the best features of the site is that you can leave references for your host or friends that automatically show up on their profile. I usually ignore request from people with no references unless they are certified, sent me a well written request, and recently opened up their profile.
- Hosting: Although you don’t have to host to be a part of this community, it is certainly rewarding and exciting. Again, take your time to see the profiles that request hosting and only accept those that personalized their request. Be very honest about the accommodations you have available and keep some extra blankets!
- A gift to seal the deal: You don’t have to do this. In fact being a good guest will probably suffice but whenever I am hosted, I like to bring a little gift. Nothing crazy like an antique China Cabinet but just a simple token of gratitude. It solidifies the relationship and the next time you are in that city it will be much easier to find a host! I like to bring a bottle of wine or a bottle opener that says Miami.
PS: Go out and grab life by the balls!
PSS: If you’ve never ordered a large strawberry limonade from McDonalds, poured half into a friends cup and then filled both your cups with Sky Vodka, you are missing out! Its the best way to stay warm in NYC.