For those of you who don't know what couchsurfing is, it is a group of like-minded people who want a cultural exchange and open their homes to total strangers, hosting them for a few days and often helping them to see your city and learning about other cultures.
As a host, I have had some wonderful experiences and some less wonderful. As a guest, I have been fortunate to have had all wonderful experiences and make friends all over the world.
I ended up striking up a friendship with a woman from France and we have stayed in touch over several years now, spending time, not only in NY but in SF when I was there as well. We email and Facebook and I spent a wonderful day with her son, discovering old arcade games.
In Italy I have seen things at the Vatican that few tourists will set eyes upon because of my friendship with a priest in the upper management. I even met the pope two popes back, I was not terribly impressed as I consider him a scam artist on the same level as the fortune-telling gypsies, but the story impresses Catholics and is for that reason, fun.
Being in NY, I get about 100 requests for every night on the calendar and am willing to host maybe 6 days a month. This means that most people are rejected, but those who interest me, who reach out to me in a human way, they I can often make room for.
However the majority of requests are generic from young men and read thusly:
"I am coming to NY and want to see everything without money for a hostel and want to stay with you for a week or so because you sound like a cool guy and we can have fun, also two friends are coming but we can sleep on floor, I see you are a chef, maybe you can feed us so we don't waste money eating out.'
You can intuit what my response is to requests of this type.
If you want to be a successful surfer, then first of all embrace the cultural exchange aspect, not the free-place-to-stay portion. Then follow these guidelines.
1. Search for people with whom you either have something in common or want to know.
2. Read profiles CAREFULLY and respond specifically to any request the host might make.
3. Look to see how many guests your host can take before asking for you and your girlfriend, or friends.
4. Make sure your girlfriend, boyfriend or friends ALL have complete profiles. No one wants total strangers in their house with no background information. NO group photos without clearly identifying yourself. We don't want to guess which person might be our guest.
5. No, we don't want to have to go to your Instagram or Twitter and ferret out details, put them on couchsurfing, no matter how redundant.
6. NEVER ask one host for more than 3 nights. If you are staying longer, let them invite you, but have a backup plan.
7. Clean what you dirty. I had two kids (great kids actually) who used my microwave to make cheese pizzas and left it filthy and encrusted with dried cheese.
8. Share something, great travel stories, a meal from your country.
9. Keep in mind that for a popular city your host may already have looked at 99 surfers for the exact same time period. You may do all of this and still be rejected.
10. Have fun! Those of us who do this like learning, meeting, and finding other cultures. Once you have a host, relax and enjoy it.
P.S. If you see me making coffee in my underwear, I am not trying to seduce you. I just forgot you are here. Coffee first, trousers second.