02 Nov 2017

Getting Started and What Couchsurfing Hosts Want

Identifying exactly what Couchsurfing hosts want so you can get as many hosts as possible.

This is Part 3 of the 8-part Beginner’s Guide to Couchsurfing:
1. Introduction to the Guide
2. What Couchsurfing Is & How it Works
3. Getting Started and What Couchsurfing Hosts Want
4. How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Profile
5. Examples: What Not To Do in Couchsurfing Requests
6. How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Request
7. How to Make Sure Your Couchsurfing Experience is 100% Safe
8. Isn’t Couchsurfing Dangerous For Women?

What do hosts want?

A host decides whether to host you based on 4 key elements:

  1. A quality request
  2. A detailed profile
  3. A large number of positive references
  4. Their own availability

There are other factors (gender, age, compatibility), but for the most part, if you can optimize the factors above, you can get hosted regardless of the other minor factors.

Note that all Couchsurfing hosts aren’t the same; a lot of ‘old-school’ surfers are fine with a one-line request while others don’t care about the degree to which you’ve filled out your profile. That being said, no host is going to reject you for having an incredible profile and request, so you might as well put in the time to write one.

Part A: Request Personalization

When writing a request, it’s incredibly important to personalize it as much as possible.

A lesson in life, not just Couchsurfing: success goes to the one who goes one step further than the rest.

Of course, most things in life aren’t necessarily zero-sum games (as the rule above implies), but in the case of Couchsurfing, often, it is. My host in Venice had to turn down 19 other requests to accept mine; given how popular Venice is, he usually receives 20-25 requests per day. This is what necessitates a stellar request: being the 1 and not the other 19. I’ll get into how exactly to write a stellar request in the post coming up, How to Write a Great Request.

Part B: Number of Positive References

For obvious safety and practical reasons, most hosts will host you only if you have enough positive references. Naturally there are exceptions — and these people will be those who will help you get started, but as a general rule, the more positive references you have, the more likely you are to get hosted.

Because you are new, your lack of references will invariably be more of a liability than an asset, so it’s crucial to make sure your profile and quality of request are high, to compensate for the lack of references.

But no worries – as you surf, you’ll rack these up in no time. Once you have 10+ references you can usually get away with sending a more basic request, because your number of positive references compensate for the more basic request.

How Do I Get Started Couchsurfing?

Step 1: Have 3-5 friends write you a ‘personal reference’.

There are 3 types of references:

  • From surfers (if you host travelers)
  • From hosts (the people you stay with)
  • From personal friends

References from personal friends are slightly weighted less than ‘Couchsurfing’ references but it looks better to have 3-5 personal references before starting to surf than trying to surf with 0.

Make sure your friends are able to write a really strong review of you and aren’t afraid to go all out. This is an essential step. It’s nearly impossible to be hosted with 0 reviews, particularly if you’re male or headed to a popular city.

These were my first references from friends when I first started:

Step 2: Upload at least 5 photos, including a photo of your face (preferably smiling!).

Photos are incredibly important, so make sure you get them right. There are a number of studies I could cite that explicate the reasoning and science behind what I’m about to point out. If you’re interested in them, comment below and I’ll provide the links. But otherwise trust that you should:

  • SMILE.
  • Display yourself as someone people would glean value being around.
  • Make sure you have at least 1 photo showing your face clearly.
  • Try not to upload questionable photos . . .

Step 3: Pay it Forward Before Cashing In.

If you have a month or a few weeks before your travel takes off, host people before you travel.

This will ensure you have some Couchsurfing-associated references and will make it far easier for you to get hosted. You get a chance to see what Couchsurfing is all about from the easier position of being a host. There’s surely a chance that you won’t get requests, but it’s worth a try.

Only accept people with a certain number of references (which you can decide for yourself. I usually only host people with 3-8 previous references, depending on their gender, age, and profile).

Step 4: Surf the Small Waves Before Hitting the Big Ones.

Surf in a less tourist-y city before hitting the big names. The logic behind this is simple: hosts in big cities are inundated with requests. By pure probability, you are less likely to get selected. Hosts in more low key cities usually don’t get many requests, and as a result, you’re far more likely to get hosted. Doing this 1-2 times, combined with requests from 2-3 of your friends would effectively put you in a perfect host-getting situation.

Step 5: Go Solo on the First Trip.

A number of hosts prefer hosting individuals over couples (including me :P). For your first few trips try and travel solo to increase your chances of getting hosted.

Step 6: Fill out your profile completely and have an all star request.

The next sections talk about how to do so. Continue to the next page of the guide, How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Profile.

Other Posts in This Series: