When we started using Couchsurfing in 2010, it was new and exciting and very few people knew about it. We used it all over the world, hosting almost 200 travelers and surfing in more than 10 different countries. We’ve had people take us out on their boat, buy us expensive dinners, show us secret hikes, teach us new games, drive us long distances to explore new areas… the list is never ending. The generosity shown to us through the Couchsurfing community was unbelievable and it restored my hope in humanity at a time when I really needed it. However, recently I’ve noticed the quality of my experiences decreasing, and I’m feeling like the good times are over. Here are my top 5 reasons Couchsurfing has lost it’s magic for me.
1 – People Using Couchsurfing Like Tinder:
Couchsurfing is NOT a way to find people to hook up with. Sure, it happens a lot, but if you come into it with that mindset you are missing the point. I’ve heard too many stories of male hosts that only host girls, or take their surfers out for a night on the town and then try to convince them to get in bed with them at the end of the night. This only makes things awkward and ruins the experience for everyone.
The new “Hangout” feature on the Couchsurfing app perpetuates this problem. Every time Carrie lists herself as “available” to hang out, she almost exclusively gets responses from local men. Coincidence? I think not. I repeat, Couchsurfing is NOT a dating site. People that use Couchsurfing like Tinder are the reason why the majority of Couchsurfers left are men or couples traveling together, and solo female travelers are quickly turned off. We did an experiment where Carrie listed herself as available to have coffee. Within minutes her inbox looked like this:
2 – Too Many Unused Accounts:
Way too many people are signing up for Couchsurfing and then never using their accounts. Now when you look for hosts in a new city, you have to scroll though sometimes hundreds of profiles with 0 references and a 0% response rate before stumbling upon someone who actually hosts people. These are the same people who are messaging every pretty face that pops up in the Hangout section, leeching off the system but never giving back.
3 – People Using It For Just a Free Bed:
I get requests almost every day to stay on my couch that are usually something along the lines of “Hey man, I’m poor – do you have a couch for me?”. Couchsurfing is supposed to be a sharing of cultures, experiences, and a way to make amazing friends in new places. If you don’t want to spend time with your hosts/surfers then just go to a hotel or hostel.
4 – People Labeling Themselves “Couchsurfers” But They Have Never Traveled
I have stopped going to Couchsurfing meetups. They used to be cool groups of local hosts mixed up with different weekly travelers. Now there are so many people who use it just to find drinking buddies or make friends. Many of these people fit into point “2” and don’t do anything for the community except go to meetups. People like this don’t contribute anything to the community, but instead just use it to make friends with the few real traveling surfers who are left. It’s like being in the Hell’s Angels but not owning a motorcycle. Go surf someones couch, or at least host a few, so you qualify for this group before you participate in the perks.
5 – The People In Charge Are Douchebags
The people who run the Couchsurfing organization are way too focused on growth and never think about whether they should grow. It’s become too mainstream, and mainstream people don’t make good Couchsurfers. Get over yourselves, Couchsurfing CEOs, and get back to your roots: free beds and cultural exchange for cool people through word-of-mouth referrals.
Things You Can Do To Be A Better Couchsurfer:
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Couchsurfing. Some of my favorite people I’ve ever met were friendships made through Couchsurfing and the experiences I’ve had were some of the best of my life. I just think that by spreading the word about the problems we can all create a better community that refocuses Couchsurfing on it’s original mission: encouraging travel and bringing people together in cultural exchange. I think we can still fix the community, we just have to be the positive change we want to see in the world.
– Host before you surf: Give back to the community from the start and get yourself some references. Having good references is the best way to ensure you get hosted when you travel.
– Stay active: When people message you, always message them back. Update your profile often and let people know what kind of person you are.
– Stop introducing Couchsurfing to your loser friends: Couchsurfing used to be a place that only the cool people knew about. Some people were not meant to be Couchsurfers and should just stay in hotels.
– Hang out with your surfers/hosts: Get to know the people you are sharing a house with. Go out and have some drinks, play games, tell cool stories of your travels.
– Send proper requests: Don’t just say “Hey I’m poor and need a couch to crash on”. Find similarities and only request people you think you will bond with.
– Read my profile before you message me: Find common interested and understand what you are getting into before you message me. My profile might say “Hey, I’m a nudist and don’t wear clothes in my home”. (This does really happen.). These are things that it’s nice to know before wasting peoples time requesting their couch.
– Say “yes” to new experiences: Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. You might learn something about yourself and find something amazing that you’ve been missing out on your whole life.
– Leave good references: When you have a nice time with people, write some nice words about them. This will help them get more hosts in the future. Spread the love!
– Bring beer or cook food for your host: It’s a nice touch to show up with a gift of sorts and it’s a great way to bond with new friends by cooking a meal together.
There have been several Couchsurfing competitors to come along, sites like WarmShowers.org and HospitalityClub.org, but they never gained the following or appeal of the original Couchsurfing. Even Airbnb (which came around after Couchsurfing) monetized the original idea. Maybe the good days are over, or maybe it’s just time for a new site to take the lead. I just can’t wait to find the magic of Couchsurfing again, however we can make that happen.
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