I am a seasoned couch surfer, as in, I have a lot of practice. As I type this I’m staying two days with a friend in San Francisco, drinking her coffee, and petting her cat. I spent most of this weekend crashing with various friends around the Bay Area and I’m realizing that every time I ask, it gets easier. I understand that couch surfing is not for everyone, but it’s a practical necessity for touring artists. I could have slept in my van for the weekend but parking in SF is a nightmare and I have so many lovely friends I always want to spend time with up here it didn’t make any sense.
Staying with friends (or friends of friends, or friends of friends of…well you get it) always seems better than asking a complete stranger. But in reality, often the people I’ve stayed with from sites like Couchsurfer.com and AirBNB have been really cool people who specifically like helping out artists. Sometimes if I’m trying to book a show and someone doesn’t have the full budget to hire me I ask if they can help me find someone to stay with. This means I can give them a lower rate and it always has worked out beautifully. In fact, those locations end up feeling the most special because I’m suddenly part of the local music community.
So if you’re just diving into the world of couch surfing, here are three tips for how to be a great guest.
1. Communicate ahead of time
I think the most important part of any good interaction is good communication. This doesn’t mean just making sure you both know when your arrival and departure times are. Good communication should also mean you understand WHY this person has agreed to host you and your host understands why you need a place to crash. With friends this is easy, you already know who they are. With services like Air BNB or Couchsurfer.com it’s important to actually READ your host’s profile. Why are they letting strangers into their home? There is a lot of trust required from both sides when couch surfing and when you’re a guest coming into someone else’s home, understanding their motivation to give you that trust is important.
2. Understand your hosts’ needs
Does your host need to go to work in the morning? Do they have family members with special needs? Are they VERY allergic to the cat hair you accidentally brought with you from your last host? This kind of ties into understanding their motivations but hosts especially seem to want to spend all their time accommodating YOU rather than talk about their needs.
3. Be Thankful
For me, thanking my hosts comes in the form of trying to make sure I NEVER leave a mess they have to deal with. I clean my dishes, make the bed, fold the towels or sheets, and in general make sure the place I’ve stayed is as clean or cleaner than when I arrived. I always leave my hosts some merch or music – CDs and Tshirts make a great memento. I also try to do a small live performance for my hosts sometime during my stay. I think people who hosts strangers in their homes and on their couches want to connect with people, to have a shared experience.
4. Know your limits
This is the most introspective category but it’s very important when you couch surf a lot during your travels. Figure out what your own needs and boundaries are and stick to them. I can couch surf with friends almost any day of the week and still be happy. They’re my friends! But couch surfing with strangers is definitely more emotionally taxing. I try to only do it once or twice a week tops when I’m traveling. This means that I have the emotional energy to be present and engaged with my hosts. Other days of the week I’ll mix up sleeping in the van, staying in RV parks, or staying in the occasional hotel. Yes couch surfing saves money but I think it makes you a worse guest when you haven’t had the time alone you need. On this front, everyone is different but personal boundaries are critical on the road.
So in reality, couch surfing is more an exchange of experiences than begging for a favor. Get your hosts emails and try to keep in touch (I’m terrible at this). Let them know that whatever journey you’re on, that you appreciated them being part of it.
Here are a few resources to find places to couch surf: