poniedziałek, 26 sierpnia 2013

How to be a Very Good Couchsurfer (in 3 simple steps and plenty of pictures).

Constructive criticism involves both, negative and positive comments, so all right, here we go. Before, long long ago, when Couch Surfing was still a non-for-profit organisation it used to hire volunteers, who'd welcome newbies. I still remember the guy who introduced me to CS, his name was Stergios, he was from Greece and I could ask him any question I wanted. Now there are no volunteer anymore, we just have a really fucked up interface and request system, so we have to deal with it. Here is a bunch of tips of how to enjoy CS and not to damage it from inside:

1. Community. In the past year I went for a spontaneous road-trip to Lithuania with a bunch of strangers, I was skinny dipping in a pond in the night of summer solstice, and a reportage about me was published in a Norwegian magazine Aftenposten. All those things (And many more) happened because of Warsaw community and people I found there. Facebook has users, Microsoft has clients and CS has members, because it's a community. It's called Couch Surfing, so people tend to underestimate the community part, but trust me, it's important. Community develops on local dashboards, and the less spammed they are, the more space for community to develop there is. That's why it's so important not to write couch request at a dashboard. In Warsaw it grows beautifully, we have bridge club, Regular CS Volleyball Games, book club, Alternative Meetings, Dead Drinker Society, Weekly Meetings, Monthly Meetings and the whole bunch of other gatherings. The cool thing about it, is that you can just approach anyone, introduce yourself, make it a beginning of a wonderful friendship and no one is going to give you weird stares.

Here is my tip: find out if there is a meeting in your neighborhood (or organize it yourself) and just meet people. Trust me, at least some of them are cool. 

Summer solstice! (Not enough mead to do stupid things yet)

2. Surfing. On the other hand, yeah. CS is a lot about surfing as well. In the past years it went trough a lot of changes. First of all, it went for profit, then the number of members grew from 2 million in 2009 to 5.5 million in 2013 and then the media started writing about yay, how cool it is to crash couches for free, because, oh my God, people, you can save up 10$ on a hostel!  

Which is just a huge misunderstanding. 

Because CS is a place of cultural exchange. It's a gift economy. The fact that you don't pay with money, doesn't mean you come to your host empty-handed. You come to your host to meet a person, to be closer to everyday life in the visited destination. You come to your host, to give something and to take something. You don't come with money, you come with time, respect, patience and curiosity. And it's not just cliche talking, you don't pay with money, you pay with another currency.

That's why, as a good surfer you don't write come-one, come-all request on a dashboard. A good surfer wants to meet this particular host. A good surfer reads the profile carefully and then writes a personal, non copy-paste couch request. But first of all, a good surfer thinks about what he can give before thinking what he can get.

My tip for you is: before using Couch Surfing, think if you feel like you have enough time and patience. Sometimes you just don't and it's okay, in this case just book a hostel. There is of course a whole set of common-sense guidelines: bring a small gift from your country, adjust to your hosts schedule, bring your own food, keep the place clean, save water and electricity and so on. But first of all, for God's sake, don't write in your request 'I'm looking for a couch, because I don't have money for a hostel'. It's just wrong on so many levels. 

3. How it all works? Okay, I may be naive, but I assume, that there are people, who aren't lazy, just technologically handicapped and they need extra instructions on how to use Couch Surfing, because otherwise they will be posting couch requests on a dashboard, which is, let me remind you, a big no-no. If you're one of them, there is no reason to feel bad, it took me few hours to figure out how to install Facebook Like Box on my blog as well, I feel your pain. Here we go:

Here is the homepage of CS. In the top left corner there is a field where you type your destination:

Let's make it Paris. Click and voila, here is CS Paris community. Click "Plan a trip":

Now you see a simple 3-steps form. It's kinda obvious.Remember to fill all the fields

Step number two is writing a request that will be visible to everyone in the city, including your host. It's called "open request", because everyone who looks for a surfer can see it and invite you. Make it nice, if you are travelling in a group, describe your friends and add links to their CS accounts, write a bit about yourself, about your plans. Use "please", "thank you" and a proper punctuation. Click "continue".

Now you see the list of your potential host. Every host has some additional information:
  • Availability. In upper right corner there is a symbol of a coffee cup (he/she can't host but can meet you), a couch (he/she can host you), a couch with a question mark (maybe he/she can host you) or a plane (he's/she's travelling at the moment.
  • Reply rate. If someone declines most of the requests, he's obviously not a very active host. Look for people with a reply rate close to 100%
  • Reply time. If it takes 6 days for this particular host to reply, you may have to wait for the response from him/her. The shorter reply time, the better. 
On the left side there is a menu that lets you customize the list:
  • You can use the browser to look for hosts (specifying the number of people in your group will narrow down the search only to those who are available to host all of you), other surfers or locals, who can't host you.
  • If you click "Search by map", the browser will display a map, by zooming in and out you can change the list of hosts - the ones who will appear on the list are the ones who live in the area displayed on the map. 
  • You can also use the browser to find people with similar interests ('keyword'), at particular age or particular gender. 

After you click someone's picture, you'll see his/her profile. Read it carefully. Is this person cool? Does he/she have a reliable profile? Does he/she have (a) negative reference(s)? Above the profile picture there is a button "Send a couch request to...". Click it. What you see now is the last form. In the bottom window write why did you choose this particular person, and why he or she should host you. Make sure it's a personal request and it's clear that you read his or her profile. Ask when can you come and don't forget leaving your mobile number. Add your arrival and departure date and how you're going to reach his/her place. Done? Click "Send couch request"

You can write as many requests as you want, but my experience says that 10 nice, elaborate ones is more than enough to find a great host. If you get invitations from two people simultaneously, it's okay to say that you already found a host. Some people like to make sure that you read their profile. My last host in Graz asked surfers to include the name of her cat, hidden somewhere in the text of her profile, to a request. Remember to bring your own food and a sleeping bag, unless your host makes it clear that he has linen for you. Before you arrive, ask if he or she wants to spend some time with you, sometimes the only thing that a host can offer is a couch. After you say goodbye, remember to leave a reference. If your stay was great, just say it out loud, if your host was rude or behaved in an inappropriate way, you can always leave a negative reference.

If a couch request is written properly, it's REALLY the quickest way to find a host and, making your surfing safer, funnier and more enriching. 

13 komentarzy:

  1. Sometimes a cool request is not enough :(
    I learned it in Italy. Seriously, in Italy no boobs = no couch :/

    Actually, after the Italian experience I was sending requests to the female hosts in every city. They were more eager to host us (I was travelling with my brother) than the guys.

    Also, I think that is impossible to read the whole profile of every single potential host.
    What I usually do is to take a general overview to the profile to see if we are "compatible" and to find the hidden password if it applies (like the cat's name).
    I will only read my host's whole profile once my request has been accepted.

  2. Then you're Sort of a Good Couchsurfer! : D No, seriously, a profile? That's not that much text to read! I know that for guys it's more difficult to find a host than for a girl and it sucks :/ Probably some guys just think that sleeping with some other male in one room automatically makes them gay. I don't have a good idea on how to improve it. I just know, that as a girl I carefully read references and if I see, that 90% of them come from girls, I see that a guy may be a creepo and I don't send him a request.

  3. No, no... I'm a very good CSer, I'll probe it if you host me in Warszawa ;)
    The thing is that maybe you had to send only 10 requests... but I had to send 20... and reading 20 profiles every 2 or 3 days during 4 months in a row is not mentally healthy at all :P

  4. I'll be happy to host you... but not in Warszawa : D I have important news to announce (to be continued : D)

  5. I don't know... a lot of Poles move to London (or somewhere else in the UK).
    They find it quite cool but for me it was so fackin' boring compared to PL :/

  6. I'll put this here...

  7. I wrote an article about my vision on how to be a good CSer.
    We share the same point of view on many things, but at the same time, I kind of agree with Alberto, finding a couch for a guy is much more complicated than for a girl, even when you have more than 100 positive reviews.
    If you pay attention to the people who are looking for a couch with an opencouchrequest, you will see who received more than 3 invitations : lonely girls only.
    It is sad, but I understand, guys prefer hosting girls because "who knows" and girls prefer hosting girls because they consider it safer.
    As a guy, I usually have to send 20 requests to be sure to find a host in a last minute request in a touristy place in low season (NYC in April, 2 days in advance) and more than 40 in high season (Washington DC in August, 2 days in advance)
    When I traveled from the West to the East coast of the US, I sent about 70 fully personalized couch-requests for 7 days. I spent almost an entire day to do that...

  8. I agree with Guillaume and Alberto. I had been trying to couchsurf for a few month, but eventhough I was writing personal request, I was getting no answer, probably because I was a guy and I had no references.

    In the end, I used my fidbacks profile (the profile where you can gather all your references from other website) and I finally had a positive answer! I went to Oslo, Norway and loved my cs experience but it's a shame that it's so hard to start :(

  9. Hey guys, I totally agree with you. That's why I wrote "my experience says". It turns out that CS is a very fragile system. Some bad tendencies (like freeloaders or creepy sex predators) are getting stronger and system as a whole suffers.

    I have also heard that if a girl hosts guys and has many references from them, some people (particularly guys) assume that she's easy and therefore they can get laid...

  10. Same here, Guillaume.
    I take a look to the Open Couch Requests in Mexico City often just to see what's going on. Lately I have been receiving just a few couch requests per month, most of them are like "Hey, dude! I'm coming to your city next month, have a couch?", no further information included. I'm not picky with the couch requests, I don't mind if they read my whole profile or not, for me it's OK if they write my name... but most of them can't even do that.

    going back to the main subject, only solo traveler girls get "3 or more" invitations. Sometimes the profile belongs to a girl, but it looks like the magic words "I'm traveling with my boyfriend" are enough to receive the incredible amount of zero invitations ;)

    And René, the easiest way to start on CS is by attending the events of your local community or hosting travelers... that's how I got my first references (it took me 2 years) before starting to travel.

  11. That's interesting, Marta...
    Can you post her profile, Marta? ;)

    No, seriously, last week there was a guy from Chiapas (south-east Mexico) looking for a couch in Mexico City. He was like "I'm looking for a couch but haven't found nothing yet. I think is quite unfair because I have hosted many people".
    I was considering to send him an invitation, but then I realized he had been hosting only girls...

    Cool surfers become harder to find. Now we have a lot of blond-girl-hunters, blond-guy-hunters, I-only-host-foreigners, I-don't-host-neither-travel-but-wanna-party-guys and several other subspecies :/