Why I Haven’t Used Couchsurfing

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 41 Comments

Ishtar Hotel, Palmyra, Syria

On this current trip, I have yet to sleep on anyone’s couch even though I planned on doing so upon signing up to be a member of Couchsurfing.com. I did attempt to get in touch with potential ‘hosts’ on a few occasions but it simply hasn’t worked out. And now that a month has passed since I’ve arrived in this region of the world, I think I’ve realized that my travel style is simply not too compatible with Couchsurfing.

Here’s why:

First, I generally don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow and as a result, I am naturally unable to send out requests for a couch to sleep on. I’m a last minute planner and will often wake up in the morning and make a sudden decision to move on to a new place. And given that this is how I like to travel, I can’t expect other people to be willing to offer me their couch on a moment’s notice. Besides, my last minute planning often doesn’t even give me time to check Couchsurfing.com and even when it does, I don’t really want to spend a lot of time on the internet sending out requests when the chances of receiving a quick response are understandably quite low.

Planning is almost essential in order to make use of Couchsurfing, as the less time you give potential hosts to reply to your request and to prepare for your arrival, the less chance you will have of anyone being able to offer you a place to stay. All of the hosts that I have contacted did reply to me eventually, but of course, by that time, I had already found a place to stay or moved on.

Second, I’ve also come to realize that for those of us who work while traveling, Couchsurfing may not be the right choice either. I try to put in at least 4 hours of work on my laptop per day while on the road and it is always my goal to work as efficiently as possible during those few hours. The more I can concentrate, the quicker I can finish my work and the more time I’ll have to spend exploring the country I am visiting. And I tend to accomplish more work when I have my own space where I can spread out my stuff, block myself from the outside world and get down to business.

With Couchsurfing, I would be someone’s guest and as a result, I would naturally want to respect my host’s schedule and lifestyle. So I’m just not sure how efficient I would be if I had to focus on work while in someone else’s living room as they go about their normal routine. Apart from that, I’d probably come across as quite rude if I chose to work instead of socialize with my host after they so kindly offered me a place to stay. Having my own space (i.e. hotel/hostel room) provides a lot more comfort for me and hence an environment where I am free to focus and work whenever the urge strikes.

Finally, I’m a relatively slow traveler (as evidenced by my two week stay in Aleppo) and quite understandably, Couchsurfing is not designed to have travelers stay in someone else’s home for an extended period of time. Usually, the invitation to sleep on a couch is for a night or two and as a result, I would have to spend my time bouncing from couch to couch every couple of days. In the end, it’s just much easier for me to stay in one budget hotel room for the duration of my stay in a particular town or city so that I have a proper base. As a working nomad, having such a base helps me eliminate the need to constantly spend time looking for a new place to stay, time that I can now spend exploring or working.

With all that said, this post is definitely not intended to be an anti-Couchsurfing message. In fact, I’ve now met about a dozen Couchsurfers and Couchsurfing hosts during my stay in Syria so far. And somehow, without actually sleeping on anyone’s couch, I’ve still been welcomed into their community. Several hosts have taken the time to show me around their home towns or to take me out at night to places (restaurants, cafes, karaoke bars, etc.) I otherwise would never have found on my own. The ones I’ve met have been overly hospitable and at least in this region, seem fully interested in interacting with and learning as much as possible from travelers who happen to be passing by. (A handful also seem to be quite keen on picking up foreign female travelers, but they’re quite respectful and harmless if the traveler is not interested.)

So if Couchsurfing fits your style of travel, then I highly recommend giving it a try and sleeping on some couches. If it doesn’t seem like a good match for you, then I still recommend getting in touch with Couchsurfing hosts every now and then as a way to delve a bit deeper into a particular culture. It still gives you an opportunity to meet some interesting and welcoming people but at the end of the day, you’ll be able to return to the comfort of your own room.


Does this make sense or am I just missing something?

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Comments 41

  1. Nagib Kosina

    Guess I belong to minority of the hosts who absolutelly does not care what the guest will do and how socially they will behave.
    Sleep all day,work on laptop,watch TV or swim/run dusk to dawn.No problem.
    When/if they want to interact – it’s fine.There is no mandatory program.
    There is no need to write flamboyant eulogy-style couch request either.
    Some idea about the host can be visible with cut & dry vs multi colored fluffy novel-sized profiles.

    When on the road I choose the host based on his location not by his appearance/presentation….always copy pasting request.
    I have no time or desire to further “personalize” requests explaining “why”.
    As a result I end up spending more time in tent but here and there I do get a couch and meet some cool people along the way.

  2. Muhammad sheikh aleshreh

    dear Earl
    i agree with you concerning planning, but it is also good to meet up with locals because for me, CS is not only a place to sleep through, but most imporantly, it is a place where you can meet locals and experience local life.

    cheers

  3. Ira

    Hi Earl,

    I agree, Couchsurfing doesn’t suit everyone’s interests and/or agenda, but like others have mentioned, it’s also a way to simply meet people for coffee or a drink, see the location through local eyes and get some useful tips.

    Also, it’s great if you want to know what’s happening in town on a certain night – not all, but some groups are very active and there’s something happening daily. And after all, it’s a community of like-minded people, many people treasure travel, some of them quit office jobs are now also are making a living while being on the road. It’s sort of like facebook for travelers – like others who have posted before me, I’ve found some great people through CS, including couchsurfing with a friend I originally met for coffee/drink in Prague in Kiev, Ukraine on one trip and then in Amsterdam and Brussels on another trip – it’s pretty cool if you think about it.

    1. Earl

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Ira! Since I wrote this post I have actually met up with quite a few Couchsurfers and had some great experiences. I like the analogy of it being a Facebook for travelers…you’re exactly right, it is pretty cool, as we can instantly find people who are also interested in travel and other similar activities. I plan to continue using it now that I’m getting a little more used to the idea!

  4. ayngelina

    Funny this week I also wrote about my first experience couchsurfing. I agree it does require some advance planning but if you can do it the experience is so rewarding.

    Slow travel should not deter you from couchsurfing. When I arrived in Bogota I couchsurfed for a few days and then moved onto a hostel. It helped get me acquainted with the city and afterwards I had a friend to see while I was there.

    try it once and you won’t regret it.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ayngelina – I just may have to follow your advice. A couple days of CS followed by a hostel is probably the method I would use once I do get around to it. Glad to know you’ve had such rewarding CS experiences so far!

  5. Kristina S

    This is such a great blog post for any traveler who has considered connecting with locals but has some reservations about it! All of the points you made about some of the potential limitations of home stays are totally valid. I’m glad that you’re pointing out other ways to connect to the local community that is interested in hospitality exchange, like letting them show you around and take you to their favorite local restaurant.

    If you’re into hanging out with cool local peeps through hospitality exchange, I would also recommend trying a new community called Tripping (https://www.tripping.com). It’s pretty new, so the community is still growing, but it’s definitely worth checking out!

    1. Earl

      Hey Kristina – Thanks so much for the comment! Couchsurfing really does offer so much more than a place to sleep and I think that a lot of people just don’t realize it. But once we discover all of the other social interactions that are possible, it opens up an entirely different world.

      And I’ll have a look at Tripping.com…it’s good to see more of these kind of communities popping up!

  6. TourAbsurd

    Wow, I keep getting emails from this thread. Good stuff! Heh, Earl, I am starting to wonder if you’re going to amend the title to include “…(well, for sleeping, anyway).” 😉

    1. Earl

      @TourAbsurd: That’s not a bad idea 🙂 The more I think about it, the more I do realize that the title didn’t exactly express my thoughts on CS correctly!

  7. Dustin Main | Skinny Backpacker

    Sounds like a lot of us are in similar circumstances.

    – Don’t know where we’ll be arriving tomorrow
    – Need time to work
    – Need some space
    – Tend to stay at certain places for a long time

    And for those reasons, surfing a couch isn’t really a good bet. I’ve couchsurfed a bunch of times, and use groups all the time to see what’s going on. I’ve met some amazing people through cs, but it’s tricky to get stuff done. So because of that, I use it once in awhile for couches, and a lot for groups and meetups.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dustin – There does seem to be some standard reasons that keep many of us away from surfing couches. I think in the end it is a great tool to integrate here and there into our travels but perhaps not the best to rely upon for the majority of our accommodation, at least for blogging/working travelers.

  8. Dina

    Hi Earl, I often wonder about that for ourselves too, how come we haven’t tried a couchsurfing. You wrote down our main reason up there. With us (especially Ryan) must work extensively in internet, we want to spend the rest of the time exploring instead of socializing, and that will be rude to the host. Also some of the reliable connection we got on the road is from the accommodation place. I don’t think it’s appropriate to consume so much of the couchsurfing internet bandwidth like that. We as well like to do last minute planning, not planning ahead.
    Maybe my shyness is a factor too.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – There are definitely many factors that make it difficult to use Couchsurfing. And not using up a host’s bandwith is another good reason for the working traveler!

      Perhaps you should start off by contacting people just to meet up with for a coffee or a tour of their city, just like I did in Istanbul. It may offer an interesting experience that you wouldn’t be able to have without being with a local. But in the end, everyone has their own way of traveling so you should just do whatever you feel most comfortable with 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – That does seem like the way to go for many of us. Even a quick meetup with a local does add another dimension to our experiences!

  9. Natalie - Turkish Travel

    Hi Earl, I can understand where you are coming from. I had a look at the CS website and read various blog posts about why travelers should couchsurf. In the end I decided it was not for me, mainly because of the reasons you mentioned above. However now that you and readers suggest still using it for local knowledge, I might go back and sign up.

    1. Earl

      Hey Natalie – You should sign up again! It’s worth it even to just contact someone to meet up with for a quick meal or drink. It’s a great introduction to a new place and there are endless numbers of people that aren’t interested in being hosts but are more than happy to still meet travelers and spend some time together!

  10. Caz Makepeace

    I totally understand and relate Earl. We have never couchsurfed- we actually only found out about it a few months ago 🙂 We have stayed with friends on their couches a lot though and I always make this a short term thing due to all the reasons you have mentioned above. We travel in the same way as you and I value my freedom too much to have it restricted by couchsurfing. I know this may sound really selfish but I had being an imposition on others, knowing that I may be in the way of their schedule, and what I want to do may be impacted because of theirs. We love to stay and hang out with friends, so we schedule time for this. But to make it a couchsurfing experience I think might not suit us.
    I would love to try it to see though. Not sure how that would work with a 3 year old now (and at the moment a challenging one at that!)

    1. Earl

      Hey Caz – Couchsurfing with a 3 year old would be interesting! I’m sure it would work but clearly offers a few additional challenges. It seems that we do share a similar travel mentality and I also think that trying to balance long-term travel, blogging and working at the same time takes an immense amount of effort. As a result, it is exhausting and at the end of the day, there is something to be said for having your own space to just crash and unwind. We obviously love meeting and interacting with other people, but the value of such interactions is significantly higher when it is comfortable for everyone. In Aleppo, Syria, I would spend time with a group of hosts and we’d be out late into the night. I just didn’t sleep on their sofas! But the cultural exchange was still there and it worked out perfectly for everyone.

  11. Ekspotīcija

    I guess you partly have answered your question yourself – Couchsurfing is not only about accommodation, it’s about experience, about meeting people and it’s not so important whether you stay at their home or just meet up with couchsurfers for a coffee or drink.

    That said, we have been part of Couchsurfing community for over 5 years now and it has been great! This year we Couchsurfed a lot while travelling in South America and got to know people and places we otherwise wouldn’t. We even got to see Argentinian wedding because of CS and hosts even gave us suit and shoes so we don’t go to church in our travel rags!

    And about staying for longer period – it really depends on your host and how well you get connected. We have surfed for a week and host wouldn’t mind us staying longer, we’ve heard stories even about month and longer stays.

    But of course you’re right about showing respect to your host and spending time with him – otherwise, why would you want to surf his couch, right? But if you’re staying for more than a few days and your host is working during weekdays – that can also be your time to work.

    1. Earl

      @Ekspotīcija – I agree with everything you said and it has been a learning experiencing upon discovering that CS is much more than just a couch to crash on. And that’s why I have so far fully enjoyed the interactions that I have had, without staying at anyone’s place. Once I have some proper free time, I’ll try to involve myself even more.

      Your experience in Argentina sounds wonderful! Those are the kind of situations that really make our travels worth it.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  12. Phil

    Earl,
    I totally understand your perspective. Considering your circumstances, I could say how CS could be inconvenient at times. However, even if you don’t use CS for surfing you can use it for CS groups and to meet people to go around town, out for a drink etc. (sounds like you are doing this a bit already). I totally agree with Dave that CS can provide an extended social network in a snap.

    Also, I understand what you are saying about working and slow travel. I’m also a huge believer in slow travel and I haven’t spent less than a month in any country I’ve been in on this trip. In Abidjan, I stayed with the same hosts for three weeks. It was a girl and her boyfriend and I had my own room and bathroom in their apartment. We hung out often, but I could also be alone for an entire day if I wanted. There was an internet cafe next door and if I wanted to do work it was no problem. They are now great friends and I got to see Abidjan in a way I wouldn’t have if I had been staying at hotels. Granted, hosts like this might take a bit more searching, but it is possible and worth a try I think.

    One last thing, considering you don’t know when you’ll be where or how long you’ll be staying etc.. have you considered getting a cell phone or do you have one? They are usually cheap and you can switch out the sim cards in each country. I’ve found with CS I will get a bunch of numbers from hosts and regular people and then keep in touch with them as much as possible. Sometimes I’ve stayed with people who were not on CS, but they were friends with a previous host. Cell phone has been a key for me when it comes to meeting people, maintaing relationships, and often finding accommodation with people who know what kind of situation I’m looking for.

    Ok that’s about as much of a sales pitch as I will include here. I understand your perspective and sometimes I find myself in hotels for extended periods as well. In fact, I can’t talk too much because I have been staying at a hostel in Mali and I’ve yet to surf any couches here so far (partly because my hostel is cheap and well-run and partly because there are not as many hosts in Mali – this can be another problem) Sorry for the rambling comment!!! B well, Phil

    1. Earl

      Hey Phil – That was an excellent comment and just reading about your experience in Abidjan gave me an entirely new perspective on the whole CS thing. You offered a great deal of information that I think many of us will find useful!

      And I do have a cell phone and generally put in a local SIM card wherever I go. This has proven to be very useful so far here in Syria and I’ll continue to do so whenever I arrive in a new country.

      Thanks again Phil!

  13. Jasmine

    I know exactly what you’re talking about… I’ve had a profile on CouchSurfing for THREE YEARS and have yet to use it. I think maybe it’s just not for everyone. I also need my own space to work, and staying in someone else’s place, I’d feel obliged to be social (obviously).

    1. Earl

      Hey Jasmine! It definitely is not for everyone and it’s much harder for the working traveler. I’d love to do it myself, but just like you, don’t want to be an anti-social couchsurfer as that clearly defeats the purpose 🙂

  14. Erin

    We have only couchsurfed a few times and although we had amazing experiences we don’t do it that often for all the reasons you mentioned. I agree that even if you don’t want to stay with someone it’s a great idea to have a look in the relevant city’s couchsurfing forum for meet ups or just contact someone to meet for coffee. It’s a great way to get to know a place and people.

    We have just arrived in Arequipa, Peru and already people from the couchsurfing group have advised us on where to look for an apartment and where we can find a hard drive for our Macbook.

    1. Earl

      Hey Erin – That’s excellent about your experiences in Arequipa! I hope you found a good apartment as a result 🙂 Maybe another one with a jacuzzi???

      As I’m heading to Beirut soon, I do plan on contacting some more people just to meet up with. The people I met in Istanbul were more than hospitable and offered a wonderful welcome to their country, so I’, excited to use that aspect of Couchsurfing once again…

  15. victoria

    Great post – I love the perspective.

    I use Couchsurfing all the time – also host plenty.

    It IS one of those things that really needs to fall into place and relies heavily on circumstance. I think you should still take advantage of the site here and there – I’ve met people that will be friends for life (the best part about it).

    🙂 Happy travels!

    1. Earl

      Hey Victoria – Thank you for the comment! Before I left for this trip I never realized that couchsurfing was so much more than just finding a place to sleep so I do plan on making use of the site as I continue this journey. Already I’ve met some wonderful people in the community, even if it was just for a coffee or quick chat. The site really can be used in so many ways!

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  17. Audrey

    We didn’t try Couchsurfing (officially that is, we’ve often stayed with friend of friends on the road) until earlier this year. A lot of people would always express shock that we hadn’t used couchsurfing, but we also often don’t know where we’re going to be the next day or the next week. This makes planning a little tough, as you’ve noticed.

    However, we did have a couple of couchsurfing experiences earlier this year in Uruguay and Argentina that were really fantastic. Our hosts were so warm and open – we came away as true friends. But, you do need to go into a couchsurfing situation with time to hang out and enjoy your hosts. That’s the purpose and goal of the program. When we’ve got a lot of work to do, we don’t choose couchsurfing because we also need our own space and don’t want to be rude to hosts.

    If you are in a situation where you know where you’re going to be a week in advance AND you have a break in your work schedule, I’d highly recommend trying it.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – That seems like wise advice. I’m hoping that once I get somewhere with better internet (which allows me to work much faster), I’ll be able to find time for a work break. Rarely do I hear of negative Couchsurfing experiences and so I do want to give it a try, but like you said, it should be done properly with the goal of spending time with the host(s). For now, I guess I’ll have to wait…

      Hope you guys are doing well!!

  18. Dave

    Not sure if my comment was saved or is pending moderation. Leaving it again just to be safe!

    I agree that couchsurfing requires some advance planning, which is why I preferred to utilize it when first arriving in a new country, especially by airplane, during my RTW trip. I’d already know my arrival date and could therefore give definitive info to the potential hosts. I found this strategy worked out well, and allowed me to mix things up so I wasn’t always staying in hostels or cheap hotels. The experiences I had with my hosts far outweighed any inconveniences.

    My first host met me at the Tahitian airport with a fresh flower lei, and took me to a friend’s going away party that night next to the beach. Much better than spending the night in a hostel with other backpackers!

    And as I learned in Colombia, couchsurfing is more than just a bed or couch to sleep on, it can be an entire social network with events always being planned in a given city, language exchanges, or people simply interested in meeting a foreigner for coffee.

    1. Henway

      Yep, I met 2 very close friends when I was couchsurfing over at Argentina… it’s an excellent way to make travel mates. But it does require a lot of planning, and if you planning to work, it can be awkward for the host.. Personally I’d slap you and tell you to SCRAM if I found you working on your laptop while I’m sitting here looking for someone to talk to =P

      1. Earl

        Hey Henway – I’d tell myself to SCRAM as well! I perfectly understand the goals of Couchsurfing and certainly wouldn’t want to disrespect my host at all. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to plan ahead and be able to enjoy a real couchsurfing experience…

    2. Earl

      Hey Dave – I like that strategy and had I not been meeting a friend upon arrival in Istanbul, I would have definitely done the same. And I agree that it is much more than finding a place to sleep. In fact, I’ve met some hosts here in Syria that get quite disappointed when couchsurfers arrive at their place and are not at all interested in any sort of cultural exchange/social interaction. Couchsurfing does seem to open all sorts of unique doors that one might not discover on their own…and I have enjoyed participating in some of the events so far.

      Although now I can’t stop thinking about Tahiti!

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