The man in the crosswalk sign waves at me, almost as if he’s welcoming me to D.C. as I scurry across U street looking for a silver sedan. It’s a cold, dark evening when I arrive in Columbia Heights. To the people on the street — I am one of them. Little do they know that I am an outsider. My mother’s red suitcase weighs down one arm while my beat-up, borrowed backpack bows towards the sidewalk as I jostle down the sidewalk. I see the car.
The driver motions for me to get in.
I get in.
I don’t know this person.
No I am not a prostitute, nor am I a hitch-hiking unemployed twenty-something. I am simply a traveler who took a risk and decided to couchsurf. The driver of that car, Sarah, would be the first of many couchsurfing hosts I stayed with during my seven day exploration of D.C. and New York.
Why did I choose to bounce between couches?
I like free housing. Nope that is absolutely the wrong reason to surf. The opportunity to live with and learn from a native of a destination that you are traveling to, provides incredible experiences you can not possibly get from shacking it up in a hotel. Follow these guidelines for couchsurfing, and I guarantee you a safe travel, fun and a get out of free pass from prison (maybe not the last one)
1. Create a gobbsmacking good profile
Filling out your profile properly isn’t optional. It’s a must. Imagine yourself behind the computer screen of a potential host. Would you want to have someone stay with you who didn’t even take the time to fill out a profile? How is that person supposed to know you, and whether it’s worth seeing your morning eye crust for two days or more? I was shocked to come across incomplete, sparse or even worse empty profiles. Some were even offensive, or a worse insult — boring. No. You want to woo your future host and gain their trust. Not scare or piss them off.
2. Prove you aren’t a serial killer–Get verified
That way you don’t look like a crazy person. My $10 donation is the best investment of 2012. It literally took less than 24 hours for my verification to take effect, and my scholarship to process. My postcard with my awesome couchsurfing stickers came within a week as well. Verify please.
3. Research, research, your potential host
Although the Couchsurfing email says Couchsurfing.org isn’t a dating site, you should approach finding hosts as if your were trying to find a new boo. It’s your vacay boo. You have your real boo at home, but get a temp boo. You want to find people that you would click with if he or she was to come across your path. Plus, host profiles contain insightful tidbits for you to gage not only who they are, but also how you should submit a request. Pay attention to this sentence because it’s the most important in the entire post.
READ THE PERSON’S PROFILE!
3. Don’t be a spammer–WOW potential hosts with personalized couch requests
A personalized couch request is essential. I sent 40-50 personalized couch requests, and continued to receive feedback once I got back home. One potential host even said that the request I sent was best letter anyone had sent her, including family. Imagine that.
I was shocked to hear one of my hosts tell me that a couching prospect was insulted by her desire for personalized requests. Who did she think she was to be so special that she need to get a personalized message? Stupid man. I acted like each potential host was my best friend who I was I hadn’t touched base with in long time, and wanted to see what’s been happening since I was away .
How else was I going to gain the trust of a complete stranger who was going to open her home, and let this crazy African kid call her couch home?
Don’t forget to use the other great features for making your request available to your destination. Click the itinerary button to do this. Here is an example of a couch request I sent to a host who I had the pleasure of staying in NYC with:
3. Online stalk your potential hosts
I’m just kidding — but not really. Connect with your host online. Google their name and see what comes up. This is good to do even before you send the couch request. It’s a great way to decipher who is sane and who isn’t. Plus, connecting on Facebook or Twitter gives you an insight into who you will be sleeping with. You can always change your mind later. Don’t forget to exchange numbers and addresses so you can keep in touch.
4. Itineraries aren’t just for the Obama, plan before you leave.
Yay!! Hopefully someone has agreed to host your behind. Now the fun part. Have a blabfest. Get to know your host. Get the inside scoop on the places to go, however have a plan of places to go before you get there. Don’t expect your host to play tour guide and mommy. Exercise your right as a hippie nomad — get out there and figure it out. Get up early and leave. Don’t let a precious 4 hours before 12 p.m. get away from you.
5. Be an awesome guest
Be mindful of your host’s home. Treat people’s pets better than you treat your mother. Leave everything as you found it… simple as folding the sheets you use, washing dishes and making sure the bathroom is hospital clean. Go out with your host and hangout with them, and maybe even his or her roommates. Trust me — you will have stories to tell. One of my host’s roommates took me out for a great time on the eve of his birthday. I had the honor of singing at Solly’s Tavern, an awesome costume karoake bar you should visit next time you are in D.C.
6. Say thank you.
image by: Ecin Krispie
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