Couchsurf Like A Boss

Staying in a complete stranger’s house for free.  What could go wrong?

Nothing so far for me, and I’ve had seven Couchsurfing adventures.

With this modest amount of experience, I have put together some suggestions on how you can navigate Couchsurfing.com like a boss.

So what is Couchsurfing?

  • Couchsurfing is hosting strangers in your own home for free.
  • Couchsurfing is also staying with strangers in their homes for free.

There are over 12 million Couchsurfers in 200,000 cities across the world according to their website.

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Number of Couchsurfers per country.  Notice North America and Western Europe.

This website can seem intimidating for a first time “surfer”, so the following steps will  help alleviate any anxiety you may have using the website.  We will start with hosting because hosting gives you a great feeling helping others and also helps you build up positive references for your future travels.

Hosting

Step 1. 

Sign up on Couchsurfing.com.  Set up a profile about yourself.  Share interesting unique details about yourself.  Basically, give surfers a reason to be interested in meeting you.  Upload at least 5 nice photos of yourself doing something cool.  Make sure you are honest and include details such as having roommates, specific sleeping accommodations, and house rules.

Step 2. 

Set your status to “Accepting Guests” if you are free and have a legitimate space to host someone at.

Step 3. 

A stranger has requested to stay at your place…..Panic!!!!!!!!!!  You don’t know them!  Why did you even sign up for this site in the first place?!  Breathe.  Settle down and read the message this stranger has sent you about potentially staying in your home.

Step 4. 

Look at the surfer’s profile!  For me personally, I make sure surfers I host have at least 3 positive references and over 10 references is preferred.  I read the comments that others have left about them.  If  even a hint of anything negative has been said about a surfer in their references I do not host them.    If the dates they are requesting don’t work for me I do not host them.  If you have a roommate or spouse, first check with them before accepting anyone.

Step 5.  

Click Accept or Decline as soon as you know your answer.  Try not to reply with “Maybe” as this in my opinion gives false hope, and you’re really just trying to say no in a nice way.  Message the surfer back.  Ask for your surfer’s phone number and give them any details they might need to find your place.

Step 6.

Prepare for your surfer to arrive.  They may not easily find where you live.  When they arrive show your surfer where the bathroom is and where they will be sleeping.  It is not your responsibility to provide meals or anything other than a place to stay, so anything you do beyond this is bonus for your surfers.  I personally only host when I know I have free time to talk with my surfers or perhaps do some kind of fun activity with them.  They will often want to know what they should do in the area, so if you are free you can go on “vacation” with them.

Step 7.

After hosting someone, leave honest feedback about your surfer.  If they were messy or disrespectful in any way leave negative feedback about them.  If you have positive things to say about them don’t hold back and shower them with sincere praise.

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Surfing

Alright!  You are about to ride some Couchsurfing waves bro!  Get stoked!

You have built up a reputation as an accommodating host with at least 3 positive recommendations.  It’s your turn to search for hosts now.

Step 1.

Determine where you want to stay and on what night(s).  The further ahead of time you request the more likely they are to reply.  I try to send requests to hosts at least a minimum of a day beforehand, but sometimes even the day of before 2 pm I have had hosts accept me.

Step 2.

Look through hosts profiles that are “Accepting” or “Maybe Accepting” guests.  Make sure they have no traces of negative comments said about them.  If they have 3 “Confirmed positive” comments from people staying with them send them a request if they look interesting and safe to you.

Step 3.

I personally send out requests to 4 different hosts in the location I would like to stay at.  About 50% of the time 1 of the 4 hosts will accept my request.  Request the day(s) you would like to stay and include something interesting about yourself.  Tell hosts where you’re headed and point out something you find interesting about them as a host from their profile.  I try to keep it relatively short and authentic.

Example:

Hey RANDOM STRANGER! I am a National Park Ranger traveling from Alaska back to my home state South Dakota. You seem pretty cool from your profile. Let me know if you are able to host me.

Step 4.

Get your host’s phone number and address as soon as possible.  Let them know what time you are likely to arrive.

Step 5.

Upon arriving. make conversation with your host and get to know them asking them questions about their life.  Don’t expect them to feed you or do anything other than provide you with some basic place to sleep.  Be thankful that they are providing you with a free place to stay.  Make sure anything you use including a bed or bathroom looks better than the way you found it.

Step 6.

Do something fun with your host if you both have the time.  Examples of this that I’ve done are having a bonfire and watching movies as well as tailgating after the host’s co-ed hockey game.  Look for any way you can possibly repay your host by doing their dishes or whatever they may need.  One example of this I did was driving my host to work the next morning.

Step 7.

Leave an honest comment about your host.  Let them know how truly awesome they are for offering their home to a stranger to stay at.  Any small thing they did for you make sure you let them know specifically how appreciative you are to them.

That’s it.

I hope you feel more comfortable using the Couchsurfing website now.  Another very helpful Couchsurfing resource is Nomadic Matt’s website.

Remember one big reason to host others is not just to meet awesome people and feel good about yourself for helping others.  When you host people you are setting yourself up to be hosted in the future.  When you give, you get.

I still keep in contact with surfers I have met in my journeys and I am so thankful that this website exists.  Thankyou Couchsurfing 🙂

 

Continue reading “Couchsurf Like A Boss”

Vacation Every Day!

Visiting relatives have come to see you and they want to do something fun.

You scramble for ideas and finally come up with a place you haven’t been to, the local museum.  After seeing the museum your relatives can’t believe that you haven’t been to the place.  “It’s only a 5 minute drive for you!” they exclaim.

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Vacation is a mindset.

There are plenty of people that would love to come experience the culture and sights in your local town.  These vacationers are able to see the simple beauty you take for granted each day.  They are experiencing something new.  They have a vacation mindset.

Problem:  To you, vacationing means spending the 3 weeks you get off each year sitting around and relaxing.  You spend your vacation watching TV, internet surfing, and messing around on your phone.  Vacation means “escaping” your real life and not being stressed.  You definitely don’t think you’re on vacation if you sleep in your own bed every night.

You work hard to live within your comfort zone.  The place you live is just the place you live.  In reality, the place you live is unique and different from all other places on the planet, and yet you don’t seem to think so because you see it every day…..But do you really see it?

On vacation when you see businesses, road signs, and people you really soak it all in.    Since you’re “on vacation”, you might never see what you’re seeing again.

So why can’t you see the place you call home with the same fresh perspective?

Answer:  You have become desensitized.

You drive through your hometown thinking you know it all.  You are aren’t expecting or open to seeing new things.  That’s only for when you travel or vacation.  You always have tomorrow to go see and do things where you live.  You’re in no hurry.

As a National Park Ranger, I get to see people vacation where they are actually open to their surroundings.  They forget about their problems and don’t just walk or drive by things.  Instead, they appreciate seeing something they have never seen before.

Fact:  If you change how you see things, you will constantly see things you have never seen before as you begin to enjoy every moment as “vacation time”.

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What would your friends put in the following blank when they come to visit you?

“I can’t believe you haven’t done _________ when it’s right here where you live!’

What does TripAdvisor list as the top 5 “Things To Do” in your hometown?

Walk into a hotel in your hometown and grab all the tourist brochures that seem interesting to you.  It’s a Monday, but remember you’re on vacation.

Here are some ideas of places and people to visit:

  • Museums
  • Nature Parks
  • Historical city monuments
  • Interesting or locally famous citizens
  • Friends and family you haven’t seen this year
  • Free city or public building tours

Make a list of the top things you would recommend to your friends in your hometown.  Don’t be cynical making this list.  If you already did something once and enjoyed it, do it again.  Go do the things on that list and invite a friend along.

You’re On Vacation Where You Live!

The 5 Most Epic Songs In Existence

Life can be epic.

Especially when you listen to the right music.  It doesn’t matter if you are using the restroom or chasing monkeys around in your backyard, these songs will make whatever you are doing in the moment epic.  Guaranteed.

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Breath And Life – Audiomachine

This song starts out sounding like a bedtime song, but slowly builds into you reaching enlightenment.  This song could be described as beautifully powerful or “ascending”.  Another good song by this Audiomachine is The Messenger.

Nest – Transformers

The horns and helicopter sounds to this tune really make it stick out.  This song is a bit different sounding than the others on the list.  If you want to play a song to ensure you drive up in style this is a good choice.

Valiant – Shades of the Abyss

The first half of this song prepares listeners for a monster finish. If I had to have an entrance song play when I came out into a stadium I would choose this song.

Here Comes The King – X-Ray Dog

This song gives you the feeling you are about to march into battle and slay a dragon so if you’re into that kind of thing take a listen.

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Image free to use and share commercially.

Heart of Courage – Two Steps From Hell

This list could just be a collection of Two Steps From Hell songs and it would be nearly complete.   Go see them in concert.  If you want to feel like you are fighting a dynasty war in China listen to El Dorado.  Other very epic songs include Dragon Rider, To Glory, Magika, Hypnotica, or even Racketeers which sounds like a Pirates of the Caribbean mash up.  Check out the similarity to the movie song He’s a Pirate.

When you are out traveling and there is a slight lull in the awesomeness in the day get back on track by listening to these arrangements.

Adventure awaits.

The Top 10 Cheapest Places to Sleep When Traveling

It all started in Alaska.

As a summer Park Ranger in Denali National Park and Preserve, home to North America’s tallest mountain, I had bought a vehicle from Craigslist within 5 hours of flying into Anchorage.  I had spent the summer informing tourists about bears and sled dogs. Summer turned to winter seemingly overnight, and it was now time to drive south before it became a winter wonderland.

Driving back in my 2004 Volkswagen Passat I slept in a lot of unique and interesting places.  My 6,700 mile journey back to South Dakota on the Alcan (Alaska/Canadian Highway) and beyond was truly an adventure.

Here is a list of the cheapest and most rewarding kinds of places I chose to sleep.

 

10. Bed and Breakfasts

The one bed and breakfast I stayed at was the most expensive place I stayed on my journey.  When you’re in the middle of Yukon Territory, Canada in the only city worth putting on a map and you show up after dark your options are limited.   The hostel was already full, so this ended up being my best choice.  Bed and Breakfasts are normally quite nice and a special treat coming at a bit higher rate.  I spent $85 for this one.

9. Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels owns over 6,300 different named hotels all over the world.  They offered a promotion to stay 2 nights and get 1 free stay.  They are mostly budget hotels and I really had trouble with some of their washing machines, but you save money staying at them.  I spent an average of $65 a night in mostly Econolodges.  Of course there are other hotels  I stayed at, but Choice Hotels were usually the best choice.

8. Airbnb

Airbnb is generally a bit cheaper version of staying at a hotel.  If you want to feel like you do back home sleeping in your own bed this may be a decent option.  I averaged spending about $50 at people’s homes.  The website services many smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts as well.  Many times you are staying in someone’s second house or a part of their home.  Staying in a residential neighborhood  can give you a more secure feeling.

7. Hostels

I have a love hate relationship with hostels.  I stayed at 2 and met some very interesting characters.  Social life and meeting people is what this kind of stay is all about.  You lose out on personal space and sometimes personal security.  You are usually in pretty close proximity with other people and if you are a light sleeper or don’t like strangers sleeping close by, this is not the choice for you.  I met some nice New Zealanders in the hot tub, but slept above a sick coughing guy one night.  I averaged spending about $40 a night at hostels.

6. Tent Camping

Getting to where I was going pretty late at night, it usually took me half an hour to set up my little tent and often times I got mildly wet from morning dew.  I chose this option most nights to start with.  This did provide me with one night of spectacular northern lights viewing and a mountain lion encounter that I will never forget.  Camping 10 miles away from any remotely paved road with a large waterfall all to myself was a definite highlight of the adventure.  This cost me anywhere from $0 to $20 at National Parks where badgers can get a little too friendly.

5. Camping with Others

Going to a hot springs in Oregon turned out to be going to more or less a nudist colony. Seeing things I can’t unsee there really got me thinking about people, but I did meet a nice group of 3 from a Canadian Island.  They randomly asked if anyone wanted to stay with them and we split the cost of a campsite just outside the hot springs at $4 apiece.  They were a very nice brother, sister, and motorcycling friend group.  They told me about some cool places to check out and even of an Airbnb yacht they stayed in.  The moral of the story is you can split campsite costs if you have less than 6 people in your party in most places.

 

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Sleeping in the back of the car while my new friends got wet in the tent.

4. Your Car

This became my go to later in the trip when I was getting lazier and there were no cheap options to stay.  This took almost no setup time and ensured I was not going to get wet.  I had a nice sleeping pad I could blow up and give me some comfort.  Make sure to park in places where you feel safe.

3. Friend’s Place

It is nice to be more than just acquaintances with your friends as I ran into 4 different acquaintances I had worked with randomly on my way back , but none of them invited me to stay with them.  It was only people I have known for over a year and remain in contact with that invited me to stay.  I stayed with 2 super nice friends and enjoyed catching up with them.  When you are with a true friend, your presence is all the payment you need as they know you would do the same for them.

2. Relative’s Place

I stayed with 2 different cousins and my sister near the end of my travels.  Relatives that are single are perhaps the best to stay with as they don’t have to ask someone if it’s ok that you stay.  This is perhaps the best kind of place to stay if you get along with your relatives.

1. Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing was by far the most rewarding type of place I slept at.  I had hosted 3 different people in Alaska and had references on the Couchsurfing website saying I was legit.  I used Couchsurfing four times on my way back and wish I would have more.  Each one of my hosts was excellent they made me both supper and breakfast while we talked about life.  If you think the world is a bad place, think again.  There are random hosts all over North America who are willing to host you as a complete stranger in their own home and maybe even cook for you.  Whether it was staying in the coolest house of all time with secret doorways and pot drying above my head as I slept, or tailgating in Canada with co-ed hockey players, couch surfing is the way to go.  This is especially true if you are a social person.  Host someone at your home, and you’ve opened up a whole new world.

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Couchsurfing host who has by himself made the coolest house in the U.S.

There you have it.  Save money and stay in places that will not only save you a lot of money, but create memories and friends you will never forget.