After about 2 weeks in Portland I've been having an absolutely wonderful time! It's been non-stop fun and adventure and it's all because I decided to couchsurf in to Portland. Every couchsurfer has been wonderful to me and I've decided to write a short series on various methods of etiquette for couchsurfing. Although most people on the site do very well, I've heard horror stories before about unreliable hosts and self-centered surfers. I hope I've never come off as that to anybody but I know that my ignorance at the start of it (and continuing!) definitely led to some awkward moments in couchsurfing.
In this post I hope to cover the first step in couchsurfing, which is finding and writing to the potential host of your choice. I think I've written to at least 40 couchsurfers and although I've made some mistakes I think I can offer some advice on how you can avoid them and boost your chances of getting on to that couch.
Make a Good Profile
Fill out as much of your profile as you can. Include as much detail about yourself that you're comfortable revealing to the internet then get a bit more personal than that. These people are allowing you, a total stranger, on to their couch and the more info you have the less scary it is for them to accept you.
Read their profile
Before I even consider sending a couchsurfer a message I take the time to read their entire profile word for word. That means every little boring detail is read before I send out a request. I don't care how dull or pointless some of the things they write are, you're going to be staying on this person's couch and you need to learn about them as much as you can.
Write ahead of time
Most couchsurfers ask that you reply at least a week ahead of time. I personally try to reply at least a month ahead of time if I can but this sometimes causes problems because the chances of date changes or cancellations increases. Use your best judgment on when to reply but unless it's an emergency do NOT request for a couch 24 hours before you need it.
Write a long message
My requests are at least a page long, if not more. This may sound like a lot of time spent writing custom posts for each and every couchsurfer but I often keep a template that includes information about myself and some details on my trip (such as my eta and length of stay) in order to make the whole process faster.
I write at least a full paragraph that is completely unique to the couchsurfer I'm writing to. This lets them know that you read their profile and that you genuinely want to get to know them and that you're not just looking for a cheap motel room.
The second your couchsurfing host replies, reply as fast as you're able. At the very least let them know you got the message and you appreciate their reply. If they turn you down then thank them for their time and suggest that you should get drinks together sometime when you're in the area, they may decide later that you don't sound so bad and will re-offer their couch. If they approve then let them know that you're still interested in crashing on their couch and give them any details on your trip that you think they should know about. Giving them some alternate methods of communication such as your phone number or Facebook page should also be included.
Couchsurfing is all about being open and honest with other people. Don't lie or hide something that would be important for your couchsurfer to know. If you have other couchsurfers and you're hoping someone else replies because they're in a better location then let them know. If you have to cancel because you got hired as a back massager for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders then be sure to brag about it. If you constantly smell like cheetos let them know that doctors are still working on a cure. Just be honest with your entire situation and you'll be surprised how well your host will take it.
Making couchsurfing requests is a pretty difficult and daunting process, especially if it's in vacation season and many people want to surf and few people want to host. The rewards for all that work are worth it though and I guarantee that any surfer who sends personal and honest requests will definitely get a positive reply from an awesome host.
Come back in about a week for some tips on what to do when you're actually surfing!