How to be a good hostThe CouchSurfing Wiki, an informal workspace which anyone can edit.
How to be a good host.
For many travellers, the first priorities are finding somewhere safe, welcoming, and clean. (Or at least reasonably clean!) As part of the Couchsurfing community, your guests will probably also hope to learn something about your country or hometown; not just seeing the “tourist sights”, but also learning about your life and culture.
Before your guests arrive
Check with the other people in your residence. Well before your guests arrive, clear their visit with the other people sharing your place: housemates, spouse, family. Make sure there are no date conflicts; show them the guest profile; Before you finalize any plans, be sure their visit won’t present any problems - you don’t want your guests to be in the awkward position of arriving to find an unwelcoming household. Depending on your situation, you may also need to inform your concierge or landlord.
Exchange alternative means of contact: Share your, MSN messenger, personal e-mail addresses, Skype, additional phone numbers, as backups to the CouchSurfing message system -- which could very likely become a single point of failure (a well known risk of computers), and tangle guests' plans waiting for your reconfirmation, (and even lead to negative references about your perceived lack of response). Note that you need to do this in your very first reply to a couchsurfing request! Seasoned hosts and surfers leave permanent mention of an alternate contact method right there on their profiles, lest they forget to append it to messages, or -- just in case anyway. Also we've seen members who for some reason or another or through their own choice had their profile disappear. Upon which their friends realized they now could find absolutely no other way to contact them! So it is always a good idea to have the "My Website" etc. items on ones profile filled in, so your pals will already be familiar with alternative channels just in case this single point of failure fails! P.S., OK, you did all the above, now also don't forget to fix and test your doorbell -- your guests might not have brought a tent!
Arranging to meet: If they know when they’re arriving (e.g plane/train/bus on a fixed schedule), email your guests clear instructions for how they can meet up with you: day, date, time, place (with both street address and intersections). Remember that visitors may not know prominent landmarks and main streets. If you regularly use one mode of transportation and your guests are using another, remember to allow for different travel times or routes. Be there to meet them, when and where you’ve said you’d be. As a backup, in case of delays or emergencies, get their mobile phone number if available, and give them yours.
Have an alternative strategy if you can’t be home to meet them when they arrive in your city. Propose a specific meeting time/place (e.g. your workplace). Keep in mind that they may be carrying a heavy backpack or luggage. It would be unfair and perhaps painful to ask them to walk a very long distance to meet with you.
Be flexible: Some people, especially in the Couchsurfing community, don't have a fixed travel plan. They don't know what time or even date they will arrive. If you’re flexible and willing to host them, tell them to at least call you again one or two days before they will be arriving. Bear in mind that it is impossible for hitch-hikers to guarantee their arrival time. A good strategy may be to give them your mobile phone number and get them to call or SMS/text message you when they arrive in your city.
Clarify the duration of their stay: if they’re staying "until Monday", what exactly do they mean: Monday morning? Or are they including a Monday overnight stay?
Discuss schedules: Will guests have to be out of the house while you’re at work or school? Is the "couch" in a "high traffic" area for the household? If so, do people tend to stay up late, or wake up early? Are there only certain days when you’ll be around to meet them?
Accurately describe the accommodation you can offer, the people sharing your house, any restrictions or preferences; for example regarding: smoking, drugs, alcohol, gender of guest, numbers of guests at a time, presence of pets. Also note any other special points: Will your guests have to bring sleeping bags or towels? Will they be able to use your kitchen to prepare meals, or will they have to eat out?
Describe your neighborhood, particularly its distance from the city center, and traveling time by public transit. A great way to offer peace of mind to your incoming surfer would be to have photos of local landmarks in a gallery in your CS profile.
Make your guests feel at home:
Make time for your guests. For many hosts and guests, the best part of CouchSurfing is the chance to meet people and learn about their lives and cultures; if you’ll be busy with work and other commitments, let your guests know that ahead of time. Perhaps, if appropriate, you could invite your guests to join you in some of your daily activities. Maybe they can come and sit in your academic class. Maybe you can get another ticket to that concert you're going to. Even if they aren’t interested in the offer, they’ll appreciate the gesture. Try to allow for at least some time together. Value and celebrate the opportunity to meet fellow travelers.
Be considerate. Consider what your guests might need, or even ask them directly and respond accordingly.
For the travel-weary or jet-lagged: a cup of tea, warm shower, quiet spot for a nap.
For the budget-traveler: tips on local markets and access to your kitchen.
For many travelers: a brief orientation to your hometown (see #Preparing an information package for your guests).
Be welcoming. Small gestures can go a long way: a cleared shelf for their belongings; a small garden-picked bouquet near their couch; learning a few words in their language. You’re delighted to have them visit you, so find ways to show it!
CouchSurfing guests are expected to be responsible for their own food, but an offer of a home-cooked meal will rarely go amiss. If you go out to eat, and are feeling generous, offer to pay for their meal... traveling is hard on the wallet! If - for budgetary, scheduling, or culinary reasons - you don’t share a meal, at least offer them tea, coffee, etc.
Communicate. Even if there’s a language barrier, do what you can to include your guests in the general conversation. Speak in their language if you can. If they don’t speak your language fluently, speak more slowly (don’t drag the syllables out so the words get distorted; pause more frequently so they can mentally translate the words you’ve said). People will usually be able to understand much more than they can say. In any case, smiles and a welcoming attitude speak volumes.
Learn from your guests. Have a healthy, respectful curiosity about their lives and homes. If you speak different languages, learn a few words in theirs. Listen to stories about their travels. Find out about their favorite books or films. Ask them to tell you about writers, musicians, and artists from their culture or hometown. Practice active listening.
Be a resource for them. You have "insider's knowledge" of your hometown; let them know you'd be happy to share it with them: favorite non-tourist spots, good cheap restaurants, how much to pay for a local item (or taxi fare).
Avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings
Be culturally aware. A small sample of practices that may vary from culture to culture: table customs and manners; gift-giving customs and taboos (some flowers may be associated with mourning, for example); greeting etiquette (handshakes, kisses, hugs, no physical contact at all?); attitudes towards punctuality; acceptable topics of conversation; personal space; degree of physical contact; degree of eye contact during conversation; acceptable levels of loudness when talking; the role of women in society; attitudes towards hospitality (e.g. your guests may be from a culture where guests are given the best room in the house, etc.); frankness and directness in personal conversation; who pays for the bill after a shared meal; attitudes towards alcohol use; attitudes towards pets; food taboos and restrictions; modesty in clothing or behaviour; expressing disagreement in discussions.
You can do some homework ahead of time: research your guests’ home countries and cultures. Try these subject headings in your public library’s catalog: “Etiquette - [name of country]”, “Business etiquette - [name of country]”, “Intercultural communication”. Go online, and see what cultural differences strike expatriates and visitors.
Be clear. In forestalling major misunderstandings, the best place to begin is with a thorough, accurate profile, and through your preliminary e-mails with your guests. See above "Before your guests arrive" section.
Besides an exact address, have an e.g., Google™ Maps link ready to give to guests. You must admit e.g., http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:24.18170,120.86604 pinpoints one's spot rather exactly. See all the http://mapki.com/wiki/Google_Map_Parameters .
During the visit, you can continue to avoid misunderstandings by staying clear and polite: if phone calls are expensive and you’d like to be reimbursed, let your guests know that beforehand. If you aren’t comfortable letting them use your computer, give them directions to a local internet cafe or library. If they’re welcome to share certain edibles/potables only, make that clear: “For breakfast, you’re welcome to try these cereals; but I’m saving the eggs for later”; Or suggest what they can use: “There’s bread and cheese on this shelf if you’d like to make a sandwich”.
Guests should expect to be responsible for their own food/meals, but there may be occasions when you share a restaurant meal. You are not obliged as a Couchsurfing host to pay for your guests. But be aware that - as mentioned above - different cultures may have different expectations and etiquette regarding who pays for a shared dinner. For example, in some cultures, the person who issues the invitation is expected to pay. If you’re asking your guests to join you, but expect them to pay their share - tactfully clarify it at the time of the invitation. If you’ve already arranged to go to a specific restaurant (say, with friends), give your guests an estimate of the meal costs. Your guests may be traveling very frugally and prefer to cook their own food; or - if you haven’t chosen a restaurant yet - they may prefer a more modestly priced one. (Of course, if you can afford it and wish to treat your guests, they'll probably be delighted!)
Hosts decide whether or not to lend a spare house key to their guests. Some do. Others prefer that guests be in the house only when someone else is at home. Yet others lend a house key, but request that guests be back by a certain hour (to avoid waking the household upon return). As a host, it's your call - decide what you are comfortable with; and let your guests know.
Pointers on safety
Couchsurfing should be a safe experience for guests and hosts; please read the section Decide how open your home will be at Safety for hosts.
Help to build a global community
Syracuse Cultural Workers’ poster How to Build a Global Community
Think about it. Embrace its spirit. - Let it inform and enrich your Couchsurfing experiences!
Preparing an information package for your guests
If you include any - or even all, if appropriate - of the following, your guests will appreciate it. If you’re really organized, file it in a binder, as many hotels/motels do. Business cards, brochures, or website printouts can be a quick way to get an info package together. Whatever storage or filing method you choose, keep it handy so you can easily find pieces, remove outdated items, or add more stuff.
If your guests are there only at times when you're at home, some of these sections won't be relevant.
You can include:
A local tourist/guidebook for them to borrow and consult while staying with you.
Maps of your hometown for them to borrow: transit maps, tourist maps, cycling maps, your immediate neighborhood.
A list of emergency phone numbers: fire, police, ambulance. Your own address and phone number. Other safety tips as necessary: are there areas (in town or near your home) that visitors should exercise caution when visiting - or even avoid altogether?
A list of nearby shops and services: laundromats /launderettes, groceries, or markets, pharmacies, gas/petrol stations. Places of worship, for different faiths and denominations. Nearest walk-in clinics, both medical and dental. Nearest photographic outlet for processing either film or digital images. Try a Google Maps printout of your neighborhood.
Neighborhood eateries, coffee houses, tea shops, pubs: Whether in a typed list, collection of business cards. or sample (takeout) menus. Again, try a Google Maps printout. Recommendations and comments are always appreciated too.
Transit information. How much is bus fare? How do you get to and from downtown? Remember that landmarks (main intersections, etc.) that seem obvious to you, are not necessarily so to visitors.
Tourist information. Brochures from museums and art galleries. Fliers from the local tourist center. Local history books, nature guides to native trees, plants, animals, photography books of the region.
Event information. Is there a free street festival coming up? A special concert that your musically-inclined guest may want to know about? An annual parade that will tie up traffic for the whole day?
Internet use: If they don’t have use of your computer or Internet service, where is the closest Internet cafe ? Or library with free Internet? Or free WiFi zone?
Telephone use: Let your guests know whether they can use your phone, and any related restrictions. Is there a charge for each local call? Is it per-minute or per-call? Will they be able to make long-distance/trunk calls from your phone? If not, where is the nearest pay phone that will make international calls? What do the dial tones, busy, and ringtones sound like? (These aren't the same everywhere; it may be obvious to you, but not to your guests, especially if they're traveling across continents.)
Idiosyncrasies of your house: if your smoke alarm is particularly sensitive, can they switch it off if they burn the toast? Can guests use particular appliances (microwave, washer/dryer, dishwasher, kettle), and if so, are there particular instructions? What goes in the recycling bin(s)? What gets composted?
Fitness/recreation: Is there a nearby swimming pool/ fitness center that offers day rates (or is even free)? Brochure with the gym schedule? What’s a safe jogging route in your neighborhood? Is there a bike-rental facility?
"Early checkout": If they have to leave unexpectedly (ongoing flight is earlier than anticipated; the offer of a ride suddenly comes through), what should they do? Is there a neighbor who can take the key? A locked mailbox into which they can slip it? Can they drop it off at your workplace? (Note: Hosts are not obliged to lend their guests a spare key. Some hosts ask that guests leave the house when they themselves are at work/school. It's the host's call, and can vary with his/her own comfort levels and the situation.)
Your own contact numbers: cellphone, work phone, personal messaging/digital device. Your full name, if they need to call you through a switchboard at work.
Specialized interests: do you have particular area of interest you'd like to share? Include it for like-minded guests: second-hand bookstores, Belgian chocolate shops, quirky museums. Or just somewhere that makes your hometown special, but which won't appear in the tourist guides: a lovely park, favorite bike route, local art installation.
How to be a good guestThe CouchSurfing Wiki, an informal workspace which anyone can edit.
CouchSurfing works because people somehow know how to be a good guest.
You don't need to stay with someone to use CouchSurfing! You can always email people just to offer a coffee or beer, or ask if they can show you around their hometown. It is very important to remember that the whole idea of Couch Surfing is new to many people. It is up to you to build up trust. Different people warm up to others at different rates. Please be respectful of this.
If you haven't yet read finding and requesting a couch, please do so before you start your Couchsearch.
Couchsurfing is not the same as a hotel. You should be looking for a host to stay with, and not just a couch to use. Couchsurfing is also about the experience of meeting and spending time with people, so try to choose compatible hosts. Don't forget that while you are traveling, your hosts have their own work, school, and daily schedules to keep.
"Spread the love around": Less days with more hosts is better than more days with less hosts. You get to meet more hosts, see more places, and don't become a burden or bore returning night after night to the same host. Try 'one night max per host' on your next trip and see if it makes your travel more lively. (However this might have a greater carbon footprint.)
Appreciate the hospitality, time, and effort spent on your behalf.
Communicate clearly. Be clear about the dates you are arriving and leaving. Use formats like "9 August", instead of "9/8" or "8/9". If possible, share your MSN messenger, personal e-mail addresses, Skype, additional phone numbers, as backups to the CouchSurfing message system. If you can, confirm your arrival the day before. Don't overstay; leave when you said you would.
Plan to be self-sufficient for meals: either bring food with you (e.g. sandwich fixings, cereal for breakfast), or be prepared to eat out. Your hosts may invite you to share their meals, but are under no obligation to do so. (Hosts themselves may be on limited budgets, or have different dietary preferences.) If you're invited to join them for a meal, offer to help in some way: with the preparation, washing-up, or by buying some of the groceries for the meal.
Be flexible. You may have to hang out for a few hours at a cafe until your host gets off work. Your host may not be able to give you a spare key, so you might have to be out of the house while they're at work or school. Arrange your schedule around theirs. Being flexible and having good communication with your host is critical for a positive experience.
Gifts. The entire idea of CouchSurfing is that you can stay, for free, as a guest in a person's home. That being said, however, gifts from home are generally welcome and may even be culturally required. But try to do better than cheap, dollar-store souvenir trinkets. And be sensitive to individual and cultural differences: for example, some hosts don't drink (so don't bring them a bottle of wine); or certain flowers in some cultures are associated with mourning. Read your hosts' profiles to get a sense of what they may like; chocolates, fruit, pastries, or baked goods from a local bakery, are often good standbys. If you have the skill and time (and your hosts agree), you could even offer to cook a meal for them (see section below). MP3's shared, books left behind or lent, can cost you nothing to leave behind, but leave a nice lasting impression.
Money. You should have funds to pay for travel-related expenses: budget for food, local transportation and other costs (museum entries, etc.). Hosts should not be expected to provide anything except a place to stay for the night. If your host provides you with meals, entertainment, or transportation, offer to compensate them: offer to buy groceries, pay for your share of the tickets, or re-imburse them for fuel costs. If your host will not accept payment, then a "thank you" in some other form - whether a gift, a cooked meal, a chore done (e.g. shovelling snow from the sidewalk) or shared skill (e.g. fixing their bicycle) - would be nice. Don't take advantage of the generosity of your hosts; don't be a freeloader.
Local Information - Your host is a valuable source of information. You can find out how to get around (cheaply!), where the nightlife is, how to meet other local people, how to deal with the authorities, and what you should see in the area. Ask! However, be aware that your host is not a free tour guide or travel agent, and may be busy with work and other commitments, so don't bombard them with constant questions.
That said, try to have some idea of what you want to do in the area if possible by checking out a guidebook or the city's tourism site before you arrive. While hosts usually have many ideas, you shouldn't expect them to provide you with an itinerary.
If a host is unable to offer you a couch at the time that you need it, please acknowledge their response with a "thanks anyway..." or something along those lines. You never know... maybe they will host you in the future.
If a host offers you a couch, and you choose not to accept it, you have to let them know. At least send a polite note saying "thanks, but I've found another place to stay...". You might like to add, "..maybe we can meet for coffee or a drink?" - but do so only if you genuinely have the time and desire to meet.
Along the way
Don't pick the fruit. It may seem to grow wild to you but it may very well be the hard work of your host's neighboring farmers. One or two such incidents is all it might take to get guests banned from the whole area.
During your stay
Appearances & Cleanliness: A whole division of the backpacker world seems to think looking dirty and being stinky is cool, but it does not make strangers want to share their living spaces with you. So shower: but also check with your host as to when it would be a good time to do so. Some hosts may live in areas with water-use restrictions; or have limited hot water; or have only one shared bathroom and several people who all need it at the same time in the morning.
Toilets: Some sewage systems are not designed to take tampons; others may not take toilet paper (for example, you may be expected to clean yourself with water, or to put toilet paper in a special bin for other disposal). If in doubt, ask beforehand. (In some cultures, it may be polite to talk about such subjects only with a member of the same sex. Or not raise the topic at all. But it may be better to risk being rude, than to clog the only household toilet.)
Keep your footprint small: Remember to be as tidy and use the least space possible - perhaps try to fit all your belongings in one square meter! Some couchsurfers suggest not leaving accessories in the bathroom. But, if you do so, keep them (makeup, shampoo, soaps) neatly bagged. This is especially important if your host's place is small (one-room 20 square meters flats are common in main European cities such as Paris or London)
Adapt to your host's rhythm at home: Is the "couch" in a "high traffic" area for the household? If so, do people tend to stay up late, or wake up early? Be sensitive to your host's style, preferences, and schedule, and everyone will enjoy the experience. If you go to a party host, then sure, party on! (Only at their invitation, of course.) If you go to a family, take it easy.
Schedules: Your hosts probably have fixed work or school schedules. Before or at the beginning of your stay, ask what schedule they keep. Allow time in your schedule to spend time with them. Even if you have a separate room, don't sleep all morning unless it is compatible with the household schedule. If you are badly jet-lagged, let your hosts know, and check if it's okay if you sleep in.
Bringing guests back: It is never acceptable to bring back guests to the host's house without getting explicit permission first. You should not ask to bring back a guest that you have just met as the host may feel uneasy about having to refuse. Expecting to bring back a guest "to spend the night with you" is nearly always considered extremely inappropriate.
Door keys: Hosts decide whether or not to lend a spare house key to their guests. Some do. Others prefer that guests be in the house only when someone else is at home. Yet others lend a house key, but request that guests be back by a certain hour (to avoid waking the household upon return). Respect your host's wishes. If he/she is gracious enough to lend you a spare door key, it is not a free ticket to stay out as long as you want, especially if you plan to go out at night without them. Check to see what would be a reasonable and convenient time for you to return. Call them if you are unexpectedly delayed.
Door locks: Ask about the host's door-locking policy, and how the door lock works. You don't want to accidentally lock your host (or yourself) out of the apartment! (In some countries and communities, people don't lock the doors from inside, because it is not needed. In some rural areas, some houses might not even have doors.) Be sure to confirm with you host how you can leave early without him/her available to unlock an exit door!
Cooking: If you have the skill and inclination, and the host would like enjoy it, offer to cook for your host. Making dinner is usually appreciated, but hard to pull off if you are only stopping for a night. If you are staying for a few nights, those later in your vist may be better ones for you to cook: by then, you'll have a chance to check if your host has the necessary spices, condiments and other ingredients; and if not, for you to buy them. Your hosts will also know at least a bit about you, and be comfortable with you in their space (since some people are very particular and picky in their own kitchens).
Helping out: When you eat together, offer to wash dishes. Nothing is better for a couch surfer than doing the dishes. This is especially appreciated when you are staying at a shared house and you only know one of the renters, or if you have been hooked up with this couch by a 3rd party. Everyone likes to have a clean kitchen, even if they are too lazy to deal with it. And cleaning the kitchen is usually "safe": people are unlikely to be offended by your help there, and you can usually figure out where things go.
If borrowing something from your host (with permission beforehand, of course), try to return it in better condition than you found it: e.g. re-fill the fuel tank of a motorbike, oil the chain and pump up the tire of a bicycle. At least return what you've used clean and in good condition.
PC and Telephone: Don't use your host's computer or telephone unless he/she gives you explicit permission. Offer to pay for all phone calls. Don't download any programmes onto their computer. Check to see if they prefer the computer logged off, shut-down, or left on when you finish using it.
Electrics: Check your host's preferences about having things like lights, fans, and air-conditioning left on or off.
Leave the house: It is expected that you are traveling to see the area you are visiting. Do venture outside, and be prepared for temperature extremes of the region you are in. Have an idea of what you can do in the area and don't expect to be in your host's home for most of the day or every day.
Staying on longer: You should always ask permission, as far in advance as possible, if you want to stay on longer than initially agreed and not just assume it will be okay. If no agreement is made initially, try to let the host know as soon as possible when you are intending to leave and check that it is okay. Do not outstay your welcome, be conscious of signals that you may be staying too long even if your host doesn't explicitly say so. Never question or try to overturn a request by your host that you need to leave or that they can't host you for any longer.
Clean up after yourself: If you bought food please take it with you when leaving, unless your hosts would like it.
Say "thank you" when you're with your host, but also after you leave.
CouchSurfing works because people can trust others. That's why it's important to leave comments (=references in CS talk :). If you have a bad experience, this is even more important, though might be more difficult. Just remember that other CouchSurfers depend on you leaving comments.
Say "thank you". Either the old fashioned way, with a card, postcard, or letter from a later destination, or from back home. Or, if you're not into sending "snail mail" anymore, at least e-mail a "thank you" note.
Violating customs can cause offense. Read ahead of time and find what is appropriate, and what are considered "local sensitivities". Ask your host what is expected, or assume the most conservative scenario. Be well-informed in advance, so that you do not inadvertently find yourself embarrassed. For instance:
Remove your shoes outside the door in Japan, and you eat with your right hand only in some parts of the Middle East.
Avoid conversation topics that are taboo or poor taste to discuss. These subjects are things like: (homo) sexuality, religion, politics, war, genocide, minorities. These are probably not the best topics to discuss in casual or public environments. Save these conversations for your close friends, and not for people you have just met. This is a good social relation tip in general, actually.
Hindus don't eat beef, as cows are considered sacred. Muslims generally do not eat pig related food products (as do some Jews).
Sometimes, romantic couples may need to sleep separately.