on January 6, 2014
Couchsurfing is, most basically, an extension of your community. When you find a couch to surf, keep in mind that your host is welcoming you into their community, despite only knowing you through your profile and message exchange. Act accordingly.
Mind your manners. It sounds obvious, but it's important. Be respectful of everything that your host is sharing with you. Clean up after yourself. Make sure the kitchen is clean after you've cooked and the couch is put back together after you've slept. These simple actions will make a big difference in how tiring it is for your host to host you and you’ll both have a better experience because of it.
But being a good surfer doesn't mean having a minimal impact on your host's life. On the contrary, the best surfers have strong and lasting impacts on their hosts. The greatest draw of hosting couchsurfers is to learn and grow through meeting interesting people from around the world. Keep this in mind.
A good first step towards being a good surfer is to share something from home. For example, travel with a stack of stickers from your favorite hometown band or coffee shop, and offer them to your hosts. It's a great way to show appreciation and have something interesting to talk about upon first meeting. It won't take up much space in your pack and your host will be happy to have something from a foreign place, whatever it is.
Since you’ll likely be living out of a backpack, most of what you share will be your time, and stories. I have found this the most important part of being a good surfer. Make good on the promises you made in your couch request. Spend the time to connect with your host. Get to know them, learn from them, teach them, and make your impact on their life through experiences you share.
There are an infinite number of ways to go about this, but some of the more obvious ones are to cook together, make music, go out and explore the town, or just sit and talk over drinks. They’ll get the excitement of seeing their home through new eyes, while you get to borrow their local knowledge. Remember that being a good surfer means making a good connection, and a good connection usually comes from experiencing things together.
In terms of safety, being a good surfer means voicing concerns and expressing anything you’re uncomfortable with. Don't expect your host to know when you feel uncomfortable. There are a lot of cultural cues that can get lost in translation, depending on where you are. Actively voicing your needs or concerns is harder to miss. You want to be flexible and willing to try new things, but if it means feeling overly unsafe or insecure, stop and say so. Chances are your host will respect that you voiced your concerns and recognize why you feel the way you do.
Again, it's often a good idea to surf with a buddy, and it’s always good to have a loose backup plan in case things aren’t working out. Try to avoid putting yourself in a position of dependence; it’s good to have a nearby hostel in mind if you ever feel the need to leave.
Once you have some experiences surfing, you might find yourself eager to try hosting people in your own home, after you return from traveling.