This post was originally written in 2013. But the blogpost and screenshots have been updated in 2015, to keep up with the changed layout of Couchsurfing.
In one of my previous blog posts about travelling like a freak while still being employed, I had mentioned how couchsurfing had helped me a lot in my travel streak. I have been using this platform for 3 years now, hosted about 70-80 people in my last home in Singapore, and been hosted by 30-40 people ever since I became a full-time traveller, and have too many wonderful stories from couchsurfing. Many people have been dissenting about the move of CS to a commercial platform, but I am one of those who believe there is nothign wrong with it. After all, they still have to maintain those servers with all those data and pay for all those support staff!
Being a regular at the couchsurfing forums in many cities around the world, one of the things that bugs me the most, is when people post couchrequests on the city forums itself, instead of sending direct requests to potential hosts. The city forums are meant for discussions, and not for couch requests. It’s even worse when they post couchrequests on the Facebook group pages, which the community members have created for local discussions!!
But, when I sat down and stopped to think about it, there are 3 main reasons why the users tend to post couch requests on the forums itself, instead of sending it directly to potential hosts:
1) They are newbies, and are not aware of how CS works. (Verdict: No offence done. Let them know, and give them some time to learn how the site works)
2) They are NOT noobs, but just plain-ass lazy to type a direct couchrequest to a host. So, they decide to post on a common forum instead to save them some time. (Verdict: Definite ass-cracks! Needs to be flagged!)
3) The third kind (for whom I wrote this post), are those who have tried and sent direct couch requests, but they are not getting any responses. They have written to so many folks, but nobody writes back. So, they become desperate and write on the main forum for a couch.
I recognized this third group when I saw myself becoming one of them during my visit to Taipei in 2013. I was forced to write an open request on the Taipei city forum, since I wasn’t getting any responses from my direct couch requests. There are a multitude of reasons as to why I wasn’t getting a response. Maybe language barrier, maybe lack of common interests, maybe even the fact that I was an Indian guy (I am not eliciting racial or gender sympathy, I am just saying that some people have deep-rooted bias).
And then, it struck me. I wasn’t exactly searching for a host! I was writing to all the potential hosts that CS was recommending for me, based on the couchsurfing definition of ‘relevance’. But I actually wasn’t searching for a host who would be the right-fit to accept my request, based on my own definition of ‘relevance’!
Did I lose you there?
Ok, let me break it down with examples and screenshots. So, when I search for potential hosts in a particular city – lets take Belgrade as an example (pic 1.1) – CS would show you a listing like this (Pic 1.2).
Now, notice how somebody with only 12 references comes up as my top search. And equally interesting is that his first language is Serbian, and I don’t speak a word of it. I am sure he is a great guy, but how did that happen? What is the algorithm in use here?
The answer is.. I have no freaking idea what the algorithm is! But then, I am not trying to figure out the algorithm. I am trying to get around it to make the system work for me.
So, most of my early CS life, what I was doing was, writing to the top 5 people that this couchsurfing algorithm recommended to me. And my hit-rate? Almost nil. It took a little bit of tinkering around the site for me to figure out how to overcome this issue. And when I did, it definitely fixed a lot of my problems on finding a host. And below are my methods for overcoming this issue, and always finding a host. Well, almost always!
Important note#1: Before I share my new-found wisdom (if there ever was such a thing) with you, you must know that there is no help for an empty profile. If your profile has no meat, or if you simply do not have enough experiences (references, friends, old-school vouches) yet, there may be no guarantee that the below will work.
Important note #2: If your profile has enough references, sometimes an open request is enough for some kind soul to invite you. After 3 years on this platform, and raking up sufficient number of references on my profile, I always post an open couch request first for a couple of weeks, before I start writing directly to potential hosts. Most of the time, I get invited nowadays.
Important note#3: Couch surfing as a platform is always evolving. If you read this post after a few months, and don’t find the features mentioned below, don’t look at me. Am watching rabbit porn, so may be too lazy to edit this post for updates in a timely manner.
1) Searching the right host
This is the most important part of the search process, because unless you write to the right person, your response rate is going to be nil, or close to that. Lets stick to the Belgrade example for now. Once you have the list of hosts, as shown in pic 1.2, there are a few things you should notice. A) The number of hosts in the city. (For e.g:, Belgrade has 8147 hosts.) B) The radius of search (The default is set to 10 KM)
2) Say no to the ‘Maybe’s’
Under the search filters on the right, there is a filter group called ‘availability’. Here, you will notice that couchsurfing includes the ‘maybe accepting guests’ by default. In my opinion – and from my personal experience –, the maybes are people who are just too polite to say a clear no, and writing to them may involve a very little chance of a positive reply. So, uncheck the ‘maybe accepting guests’ group, so that you can target the right group to write to.
3) Bygones are bygones.
The hosts from whom you have the best chance for a reply, are usually the ones who logged in recently. I once wrote a beautiful poetic couchrequest to a poet in Cairo, before I noticed that the person has not logged in for 6 weeks. So, learn from my mistakes, and filter the ‘last login date’, to ‘in the last week’. (Pic 1.3)
4) You need to talk!
When couchsurfing in a foreign country, it is important that your host speak your language, at least in a broken manner. So, if you were to send a couch request in English, to someone in Belgrade who spoke only Serbian, the chances are almost nil for you to get a positive reply. So, remember to enter the language of preference. (Pic 1.4)
5) Gender and trust issues
a) If you are a female, you might specifically want to search for a female host. (I heard you! The opposite does happen more than you think, but lets not get into a moral debate). In my case, I mostly write to the ‘male’ gender, simply because I don’t want to appear too creepy to some chick.
b) If you have a trust issue, and you want to find some verified or reliable profiles instead of the many people who have usernames starting with ‘sex’ or ‘hot’, check the necessary boxes under ‘host info’. (Note: Don’t judge too fast. I was hosted by a guy in Madrid with the username ‘slutmachine’. Turned out to be the most gentlemanly person that I have ever met, and I even ended up vouching for him). In my case, I don’t really look for a verified profile, but I would prefer my host to have some references so that I know what kind of a person I am staying with. (Pic 1.5)
6) Sort by Hosting Experience
I further apply a few other filters, mainly ‘smoking allowed’ (Yeah, I got vices. You dont?). And then, I change the ‘sort category’, from ‘Best match’ to ‘Hosting experience’. (Pic 1.6) Why? Because it is best to write to people who have more hosting experience, then to those that the couchsurfing algorithm thinks is the best match for you. I mean, thats why we started this whole blog post, remember?
And once I have applied all these filters, and hit ‘search’, my search results went down from 8147 people to just 33! But, the key thing is that I have a much better chance of finding a potential host among these 33 people, than the whole population of Belgrade!
But wait, there is still one more…..
7) The Ultimate CS search tip!
Now, the thing about hosting is that the host must see something in you that can add value to his daily life, before he accepts your request. It might be your skills, your stories, your interests, whatever. But there has to be something that will connect you to a potential host, which makes him feel the urge to get to know you better. And this is where the couchsurfing host-search tool is lacking, because there is no way for me to search specifically for a host in Phnom Penh who loves beers, or a host in Grenada who can dance salsa.
Or wait. Maybe there is a way?!
Lets stick to the Belgrade example, and lets suppose I am really into photography. (I am! Thats not a supposition!). So, it would make sense for me to write to people who have an interest in….. photography! Here is where the keyword search comes in mighty handy. In the ‘keyword’ box, I enter my interest, in this case, photography. (Pic 1.7) And the search results will show only those people who have mentioned ‘photography’ in their profile. Now, what is your interest? Just substitute ‘photography’ with that particular word, and do a search.
Voila! I am done. Now, if you look at the last screenshot, you will notice that I now have only 5 search results after I applied all my filters, versus the original 8147! This might look like a massive downgrade in options, but what it actually is, is refining your options to find those with whom you have a better probability of success. Do you want to write 8147 bogus requests, or just 5 that have a good chance of success?
In conclusion, let me say this. You’ll be a sucker if you believed that the above points will help you find a couch every single time. A couch is not an entitlement. It is purely a prerogative of the host to decide if he should accept your request or not. Apart from your profile, and the way your word your request, there are various factors outside couchsurfing, which can also contribute to his or her decision in offering you a couch.
But yes, doing the above steps will definitely increase your chances for success!
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