Couchsurfing: Refining Your Self Sales Pitch (How to Write a Good Couchsurfing Request)

I’ve been on couchsurfing since 2011; whether traveling or hosting most of my experiences have been fantastic, some ok, two or three downright odd. Most of the travelers who make it out to Urumqi or Central Asia have already gotten it figured out; some of them clearly haven’t figured out the nature of the platform – as evident from first glance at their requests.  These past few weeks we’ve gotten a ton – the majority of them cringe-worthy.

Your couchsurfing request is your sales pitch: you have to sell a complete stranger on the idea of hosting you. What is it you have to offer them? How is it particularly suited to them and their situation? What is unique or exceptional about your offer? Why should they trust you and your offer? Remember that, just as no one is compelled to buy something from every salesman that shows up at their doorstep, so no host is obliged to host you just because you have a couchsurfing account and sent them a request. They have every right to refuse, and a couchsurfer needs to respect that decision.

From the CS Community Guidelines

So what is a good request?  For me, as a host, it’s a personalized letter that clearly addresses who the person is, what they’re doing and why they want to stay with you along with evidence that they have clearly read and agree with the content of your profile. What does this mean?

Good Examples:

I am coming to Bishkek en route to China, on my way to visiting all six continents by bicycle. I would love to meet with someone who can give me some insight into Kyrgyz and Chinese life and culture – especially China as I am a little anxious about how I will fare for two months there as a non-Chinese speaker. Your background could really help me get a handle on how to approach that next daunting stage of my trip. In return, I can assure you that I am very easy going, casually tidy (I like that!), and love to chat, cook, watch films – very similar interests to you guys from the sounds of it. If you think it would be possible for me to stay with you a few days while I get set for China I’d love to hear from you. I can confirm that I am a cat lover (not allergic or afraid of them!!). Thanks and best wishes, Dan

The guy obviously read my profile, agrees with our living style, and has a specific reason for why he wants to stay with us.

Hi!We are a couple from Switzerland and we are on a big journey, hitchhiking from Switzerland to South-East-Asia. At the moment we spend some time in and around Bishkek, waiting for our Chinese visa.
There are many reasons why we especially would like to stay with you and E-. First of all we are very interested about your thoughts and your experiences in China. We are planning to travel through Sichuan and Yunnan-region in August and are very open to get some advices from you. It would be also interesting for us to talk with you about your life as an expat and how it is to work abroad. we are traveling with “open end” so it means the time will come when we have to think about earning money…
reading your profile it looks like we share a lot of interests and it would just be a pleasure for us to meet you guys!We are looking for a CS-place for about 1 week but during this time we would also like to make a trip to Song kul lake. It means we would not stay in Bishkek the whole week (but maybe leave some stuff here). We are not allergic to or afraid of cats (last winter we were volunteering on a animal farm in southern Turkey with more than 80 cats! ;))If you like you can contact us via whats app/viber:xxxxx

——-

Me and my boyfriend Petr are coming to explore Kyrgyzstan, coming to the Central Asian region for the first time and very curious what is awaiting us there. We want to go trekking in the mountains and glimpse a bit of what life is like in Kyrgyzstan, that’s all.”I am not allergic to or afraid of cats” It’s there! Although it’s not completely true, Petr might sneeze. Do you mind sneezing couch-surfers? 🙂
We chose to request a stay with you because you guys seem fun, you are expats (so in the same position as us, seeing Kyrgyzstan from the outside perspective, which I find useful at the beginning of our exploration), and you like languages, which is always a good thing, no? 🙂 Besides, here in the Czech Republic, we share home with an American expat and it’s fun which kinda gives me the idea that sharing homes with American expats is simply a cool thing to do! Or just: why not? We arrive at the beginning of a weekend, so maybe we could even do something outdoorsy together? Let us know, looking forward to hearing back from you, Eva and Petr

Bad examples: (Who are you? Why do you want to stay with me?)

Hello, we are two tourist from Czech Republic who got all their stuff stolen yesterday in Cholpon Ata. Now we are in Bishkek waiting for our new travel documents and our flight back to Czech Republic. We have very little money and need to stay there for a few nights. Can we stay at your place for a night or two? Thanks. Misa

Um…how do I know you won’t steal stuff from my home? It’s too bad that your stuff was stolen (if that’s really the case), but CSing isn’t just a free hostel and, seeing as you have no references and obviously didn’t read a word of my profile, how can I trust you to stay in my house?

I’m Julien, french student. I’m trying to live my trip for Kazakhstan to Kyrgystan. I would be in Bishkek on their days a nd if you are available for make around in your city or host me, it will be great ! I will explain you my trip ! I’m curious to discover your experiences, really ! Tell me know if you are available. I Don’t know if I get Internet after tomorrow, so you can let me a text on my Kazakh phone

Not even a request:

How are you? I would like to travel sometime in the beginning of next year to Kyrgyzstan’s from UK. Please if you could host me for a few days. Thanks, Best Regards,

A few other points to include: your expectations (do you need to rest? Do you need someone who can help you with directions and the language? Do you want to hang out with your host? Do you really need a clean shower?), any dietary restrictions/preferences or your ability to adapt to others (if you’re a vegetarian who is uncomfortable around people eating meat, don’t expect your host to conform to your preferences, unless you state this very clearly and come to an agreement beforehand), and how you plan to spend your days. Some host prefer surfers who are active and out all day; some are fine if you wake up at 2 and spend the entire afternoon sitting on their sofa.

Don’t have time to read 1400 profiles? I know it can be hard to find a suitable host in huge cities, especially if you are not a native English speaker. So to conduct a more expedient search (and still find suitable hosts!)  1) Make sure you set the parameters in your couchsurf search (i.e., How many people are in our group? Are you comfortable staying in a living room, or would you really prefer to stay in a spare bedroom? Do you smoke? Are you allergic to smoke?), 2) Read over the “X’s home” section to make sure you can comply/are comfortable with their home expectations and living space, and 3) Look through their pictures asking yourself, “would I feel comfortable in this photo? Would I enjoy being in this photo?” If not, then you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable in their home.

And then…Once you have narrowed it down to several hosts, read the entire profile. Seriously. I once almost sent a request to a Thailand expat-hippie until I re-read his profile and realized that he was a nudist with ‘expected nudity’ in his home.  His home, his choice – but not an oversight I’d like to make.  Other people (like me) include lines like “Include X in your message so I can know that you read my profile”. I used to ask people to include a sentence about llamas (as it’s random enough that no one would include it by chance); now I ask them to confirm that they aren’t allergic to cats. If you don’t have that in your message, either you’re absent-minded, or you didn’t take then ten minutes to read my profile.

And on being a good surfer once you arrive: 1) Make sure you can comfortably live in their house aligned with the values and expectations they set out (again, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay with that nudist); 2) Assess the situation when you walk in the door, observe their behavior and maybe modify your impulses to suit the living style in their home. Are they walking around in their underwear? If yes, then you can probably go ahead. If no, then they’re probably going to be a bit …eihhh?… when they walk in the door at 2pm and you’re sitting at their office desk in your briefs. Do they partake of your food at will? Then sharing is probably ok. Do they not grab from your food on the table or in the fridge? Then maybe you should leave theirs alone until offered. (Traveling through couchsurfing is, after all, centered on learning about different lifestyles and worldviews first hand. You (assumedly) aren’t traveling to live the same way you would at home. Some hosts have very specific expectations  (this is a good example); some are very laid back.  If you’re a bit confused on what participating in the community entails, read through the Community Guidelines.

Remember that the guaranteed offer – and the one expectation that must be met on the host’s side – is that they provide you with safe and secure accommodation and storage for your stuff. Some hosts will feed you or pick up the tab if you go out for dinner, some will expect you to bring all your own food. Some will offer to pick you up at the airport, some will expect you to manage the transportation system on your own. Some will love to see you cooking in their kitchen, some have areas of the house that are off-limits. Unless they state something explicitly, nothing should be assumed. Expect to pay your own tabs, ask if it’s okay if you join (an ode to an old Chinese couchsurfer who declined my refusal to host due to a busy schedule, invited himself to a rehearsal and dinner with friends, and sat in silence when the bill arrived, not venturing into his pockets until probed), and don’t call your host in the middle of the workday asking if they’ll pick you up at the airport an hour away. Your host isn’t there to serve you; again, this is a mutual relationship.  If you’re looking for a place that offers full room and board, then you’re better going for a work-stay exchange through WOOFing or a community like WorkAway.

Likewise, you as a surfer aren’t free labor. According to couchsurfing guidelines, accomodation can never be paid for in cash. If your host expects you to do any labor, this needs to be clearly stated and agreed upon beforehand. While it’s great when guests offer to wash the dishes after dinner, the host shouldn’t just leave them a sinkful and expect them to be clean upon return. They might ask you to clean up after your space or (if you stay a while) pitch in with weekly house cleaning, but they can’t expect you to do all the laundry or scrub the floors while they’re at work. You have no obligation to drive them around in your car, or treat them to dinner, or run their errands or watch their kids or cook for them. You can do all these things – just as your host can provide far more than a sleeping space – but they’re all optional.

New to Couchsurfing? On the bottom of the page, find and read the “Our Values” and “Resource Center” sections.  Couchsurfing also has a short series of “Couchsurfing: How it works” videos here on youtube.

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