You just bought that plane ticket to your dream destination. You know exactly what you want to do and see when you get there. Now, where to stay? Hotels are out of the question – far too pricey. Even AirBnB is a little out of your budget. Hostels are a good idea, but you want more than that. You want to experience the city from a local’s point of view. On the advice of a friend, you check out Couchsufing.com (CS). You set up a profile, add your pic, and then you do it – you send out a dozen Couchsurfing couch requests. The wait begins. Suddenly, a response. Then another, and another!
And the subject line for all of them – the ones who bothered to answer you anyway – begin with the word “Declined”
Our experience with Couchsurfing
We have been Couchsurfing since about 2008. Not only do we find places to stay around the world, we host, too. A lot. To date, over four hundred and fifty couchsurfers from all over the world have stayed with us.
Not to brag, but that makes Halef and me two of the most active and well-referenced Couchsurfing hosts in the world.
We are both City Ambassadors here in Atlanta. Needless to say, we know a lot about Couchsurfing. And with that comes a lot of experiences writing requests. I’ve written dozens of Couchsurfing couch requests. And the thing is, I rarely get turned down. Why? Because I’ve figured out the [not-so-big] secret to writing a great request so that hosts want to host me. I‘d like to share it with you.
Before I do though, please understand one thing: whether or not hosts accept your Couchsurfing couch requests starts with you putting in a little work on the back-end. If you’re not willing to do a few simple things, then maybe the bus station is your best option.
You must have a complete profile
Writing a good request is meaningless if your profile is awful. I can’t tell you how many requests I’ve rejected because of empty profiles. Think about it: You receive a Couchsurfing couch request from someone looking for a place to stay for two nights. And it was such a great email! You visit the person’s profile and – ugh – practically empty. No pictures or maybe just one of him staring into the camera. Worse yet, no face pic. No references. Just basic information – probably because it was required. This potential guest put almost zero effort into their profile.
Would you host that person? Probably not. So, if you wouldn’t host them, then why would you expect someone to host you if you haven’t taken the time to introduce yourself on your own profile? Here’s what you have to do:
Add lots of photos. Not just of you, but of you being social – preferably with other CS members in your community. Don’t let a host’s first impression of you be a profile full of head shots that kinda look like mugshots.
Complete your entire profile. Be detailed. Potential hosts want to know about you before they host you. If you’re allergic to cats, say so on your profile! If there’s anything quirky about you, say it (I’m a vegetarian. While that’s not quirky, hosts should know that before I get there so they don’t plan on inviting us to their favorite steakhouse for dinner!)
Get involved! Attend CS events in your city or in the cities you visit – talk to people and get references from those you’ve met and spent time with! Add them as your friends on CS.
HOST PEOPLE. There are various reasons you might not be able to host others – roommates, parents, apartment rules, etc. But if you never host people, then potential hosts might just think you’re a freeloader and choose not to host you. That said, don’t give up. Again, lots of people don’t host because they can’t. Don’t worry. Good hosts recognize people who are involved in CS for the right reasons. We’ve hosted many people who are unable to host others.
Read the host’s profile before you write a request – all of it
This one simple act will improve your chances of getting hosted by a huge margin. Why? Because you’re learning about your host and it will show when you write Couchsurfing couch requests. A few years ago, I stayed with an excellent host in Brussels. So, I read his profile and discovered he worked at a grocery store. He was very active in the CS community, had a great collection of photos on his profile, and was someone I definitely wanted to stay with. When I wrote my couch request, I did the following:
- Used his name
- Read his entire profile and figured out generally what kind of person he was
- Learned he worked in the grocery business
- Mentioned that it would be really helpful to know someone in the grocery business because I am a human being who sometimes needs to eat.
I wrote that request in 15 minutes. It was personal and addressed directly to him. The language in my request made it very clear that I read his entire profile. He knew I chose him and didn’t just pick him randomly.
Turns out, he was already hosting two other people in his small apartment in the middle of the city. But guess what? He wanted to host me anyway because of the request I wrote. A couple of years later, he came to Atlanta and stayed with us!
What hosts want from guests
Good hosts want to know why you want to stay with them, specifically. They want personal Couchsurfing couch requests. Most of the best hosts have been doing this for a while and have a lot of experience. They also tend to get the most requests – especially the ones who live in large, popular cities. That means they can be choosey. Whenever I see Couchsurfing couch requests that start with the words, “Hey dude!” (or worse still, “Hey Dave!” – when I am obviously not “Dave”), I know I likely won’t be hosting that person. Basically, if you can’t take 15-20 minutes to figure out why you want to stay with a person and, instead, send the same request to a dozen people, then why would I bother inviting you into my home?
A good host is a bit selfish. He or she opens up their home to you. So they just don’t want the stay to be for your benefit. There has to be something in it for them. If you appear to be someone who is just looking for a free place to crash – because free is your most important requirement – then you’re gonna get rejected and it’s gonna happen a lot. Sharing is a two-sided relationship. Your host wants something valuable from this experience as well.
It OK to cut and paste, BUT…
A lot of people will warn against cutting and pasting your requests – sending multiple Couchsurfing couch requests to several hosts with the same messages. That’s partly true. When I send out requests though, I usually start out with a description of the trip I am taking. I think it’s OK to paste this description into your request. But the very next section should be a paragraph or two telling your host why you want to stay with him or her. In fact, go ahead and write it out: “Why I Want To Stay With You.” Then, give the host an honest reason why you chose them.
Couchsurfing couch requests – effort pays off
Couchsurfing has gotten quite big over the past few years – that’s undoubtedly true, but don’t let that fool you into believing it’s no longer worth it. There’s a lot of quality out there. We know. We’ve found it. You can find it, too. And you will find it if you use the site like it was meant to be used. No one owes you a place to stay. When you write a request, it will be evaluated against other requests host are considering. And if you don’t start it out right, it might not get read at all. Basically, if you don’t set yourself apart, you may be staying at the train station or airport (again?) tonight.
You need to show that you value a potential host’s time. If they’re going to take the time to read your request and then go look at your profile and put that kind of time in out of what might be an already-busy schedule, then make it worth it.
Good luck to you during your search. We really do love Couchsurfing and we hope some of the above helps you improve your Couchsurfing couch requests. It certainly works well for us when we travel.
Just a few more things to improve your chances of getting a host:
- Try searching for newer people instead of the most experienced. Everyone starts out new and newer members are often the most eager to host!
- Don’t always write requests to Ambassadors or the most active people. They’re often the busiest and can often be choosier. We get several requests a week – people in places like New York and Paris get dozens a week (or more). Focus your effort where it will have a better chance of succeeding.
- Leave honest references. Honest references mean honest people. At least that’s how I think!
- Look outside the city! Don’t just look for hosts in Paris. Get a map and find the smaller places on the outskirts and request from hosts there. Trains and Über can be your friends!
Writing a Couchsurfing couch request can seem a bit like putting together a job application. And, to a certain extent, it is. You’re asking people to let you, a complete stranger, into their homes! So you gotta put thought into it. Just as you tailor a résumé/C.V. to a particular company, tailor your request to the host. And just like your past experience is a reflection of you, so are the references you have and leave along with the photos you show on your profile. If you have none of either, you may be less desirable as a guest.
Write your request as if the alternative is spending $100 a night on a hotel. Because it is!
Do you have more great ideas for sending couch requests? Let us know! And happy surfing!
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