Let's begin by taking a look at what couch surfing means.
A practice where travellers can stay at other people's houses of the host destination during their travels.
Couch surfing is as simple as it sounds. Travelling has recently become a big deal. Where earlier people used to travel solely for work or leisure; now people travel as a source of income, to seek something beyond the ordinary or simply as a way of life. With a drastic change in the scheme of things, another practice that has emerged is where people offer their houses to travellers, at times, in exchange of a small service. Though, couch surfing in India was unheard of, it is slowly picking up in India and by Indian travellers.
Secondly, one may assume that couch surfing is free and the perfect way to travel within budget. This is partially incorrect. Hosts may not demand 'money' but they do expect contribution in terms of time, exchange of ideas and perhaps participation in daily activities. Understanding what couch surfing means perhaps is only one part of the job, to try it is another!
There are tons of things to know about couch surfing and any couch surfing tips help, especially if you are a first timer (I know I could have done with a few tips)!
So for those of you who would like to give this a try, here are a few tips for couch surfing:
1. All experiences are not great
Before you decide to try couch surfing, first ask yourself why you want to do it? If the answer is simply 'to save money', you may want to rethink your plan. Like any new experience, couch surfing has its own pros and cons. Even though couch surfing is very reasonable and cuts down the cost of your trip by a huge amount, it's not for everyone. If you are expecting awesome service, yummy food and everything else you get in a hotel, you will be in for a shock. If this is going to be your first time couch surfing, it's best to keep handy a list of hotels you can possible shift to should the situation demand. Something as small as the bedsheet not being to your liking can trigger a panic attack.
Another thing you can perhaps try is couchsurfing for only a limited part of your trip and spending the rest of the time in a hotel. Not only will this give you a taste of this practice but will also give you an opportunity to understand if couch surfing is something you'll enjoy as a traveller.
2. It's not a hotel
So don't be a guest! Even though you are a guest in the literal sense, it's best not to behave like one. The host is opening up their house to you and in a way their life, and it's best if there are no tantrums! Don't expect hot food waiting for you everytime you are hungry or an impeccably clean room when you are back from your sightseeing. Couchsurfers take care of their own chores and in fact, at times, help the host with their chores. Most couchsurfers also offer small services in gratitude for letting them stay.
3. Contribute before you crib
Yes, it is free BUT if you are taking all your meals at the house, it only makes sense to contribute with the groceries. As mentioned earlier, no one is going to clean after you so it's best that you don't expect it, don't use stuff without permission and don't leave your stuff scattered around. Also, every house has a distinct way of functioning and even though no one expects you to follow it to the T, but what you can do is respect their way of life, their culture and try to not change their routine simply because you function a different way.
Couch surfing gives you an opportunity to gain knowledge about a new place, a new culture from the best source so don't lose this chance. Many a trips have been made wonderful by an inspiring and life-changing couch surfing experience. Your host family understands that you are on vacation and even a little contribution from you means a lot to them.
4. Reviews always help
Most websites offer accurate reviews of the hosts enlisted on the website. Though this is slightly time consuming, it is completely worth it. Reading, researching will help you make an informed decision about your hosts and will also prevent any untoward situations. It's best to have a word with your hosts and request them to let you know of any rules or conditions prior to your visit. Similarly should you have any questions, doubts or special requests - let them know.
Most websites also allow hosts to review their guests so be good on all your couch surfing trips lest no one will want to host you again!
5. Trust your instincts
If during any moment of your stay, you are uncomfortable, unsure, scared - move out. Without rationalizing your feelings, simply move to the nearest hotel. Though most hosts are safe and reliable, things can go haywire any moment. Also, if you feel that there are somethings you shouldn't be doing as a guest, avoid them completely. Example: never invite anyone else to your host's house without first asking them. It's someone's house and it's very unfair to bring in more guests without the owner's permission.
The best way to be the perfect guest is to imagine yourself as a host and behave accordingly!
At the end of the day, remember that couch surfing has it's pros and cons and it's difficult to compare experiences. One bad experience doesn't imply that all your future experience will not work, neither does one great experience mean a series of wonderful experiences.
Every couch surfing experience is an opportunity to exchange ideas, learn more about cultures, places and people. It not only widens your experience as a traveller but also as an individual. All experiences are not great, but they definitely, certainly always teach you something!