How to write a couch request

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Hospitality exchange is more than a "free" bed. It's an exchange, it's about the experience of meeting and spending time with similar minded people. "What can you bring and what can the host offer in the time you share". You should be looking for a host to stay with and not just a couch to use. Hosts in popular cities get so many requests, they have to be selective about whom they choose. But even the single host at a place far away from the touristic hot spot may be picky. All these potential hosts are using the networks for their own reasons, mostly because they want to meet new people and bring the world to their place, but they may also have limited time and space. So: How to make your request standing out and increase your chance to get accepted? Read on!

Some hosts ask that you write requests with a lot of personalized comments about them and their profile. Some even include a codeword that you have to find to prove that you read their profile. Others would prefer that you copy and paste a request to all selected hosts so you can spend more time traveling than writing requests without even knowing which couches are available when you need one. It is important to read the hosts' profiles carefully to determine how personalized they want requests to be. Also, before posting a request to local groups or forums , make sure to check the guidelines and that there is not another sub-forum specifically for that purpose. Some popular cities name such a sub-forum as "Last minute Requests".

Official tips for writing a request on hospitality exchange networks

Most networks have their own FAQ, make sure to read them they may contain some useful tips and special requirements. Examples can be found at:

How to write a couchsurfing request in other Languages

(Note: This is a wiki, so all pages can be edited at any time, so don't expect word-by-word translations!)

Saying hello

  • Read their profiles!: This will help you better predict the quality of your experience. Also read to see if they have special rules/requirements, e.g. bringing a sleeping bag, no smoking, dates when they are unavailable, limits on numbers of people they can host, needs a donation towards food, or for electricity, or internet, or help in home and family, or is it a shared house or a flat.
  • See if you are compatible. Look for a host with similar interests. If you only like museums and your host only likes drinking, there could be a personality clash :).
  • Some hosts want to know why you want to surf their couch and not just any couch. When you try to answer this question in your request, you should realize that you are interested in the host more than just their couch. Each host is different. So until there's a field to specify request personalization requirements, just read the profiles carefully.
  • Try to contact newer & less busy hosts to increase your chances. Busy hosts in popular cities can get up to 10 or more requests every day
  • Realize that some hosts get fewer couch requests simply because they live outside of their main city limits "proper", but they still happen to live very close to the main attractions. Be sure to use the "Within ___ kilometers/miles" of a city when you do a couch search. Often, these hosts are more willing to take surfers simply because they get less requests. You can also just search the region instead of the city, when traveling in more sparse areas.
  • If you're traveling with friends, make sure they all have profiles. Your profiles should be linked to each other (as friends or with comments/references) and the single links provided in your request, because this makes it easier for hosts to look at all your profiles. (Group/couple profiles are a bad idea, as all references will be for the group/couple after a split up each of you will loose the history record. So better have all individual profiles, and reference each other.)

Say my name ...

  • Start with a good impression and say the person's name. Don't start with, "hey man/hi there/hello you/hi" unless you already know them. Sometimes people have a username on CS that is not their real name, but their real name can often be found in their CS references - why not use that and show that you've read that section of their profile, at least. People of Asian background might be uncomfortable with addressing someone by their name the first time they write to you, since, in many cultures, addressing a person by first name is considered rude and too forward. You can work around this by specifically referring to something from their profile to communicate that you read it. A "Hello Mr. or Ms. Surname" will most likely not offend anyone.
  • Introduce yourself. Don't tell your whole life story, but try a little harder than just saying, "Hi! I want to surf your couch." Don't copy/paste your request emails to try to get a couch. Hosts have already caught on to this, and your chances of being successful are much greater if you make it clear to the host that you've actually read their profile and want to stay with them, not just stay on their couch.

Timing is everything

  • Be as precise as possible about arrival and departure dates/times. If you are hitch-hiking, let your host know and tell them not to wait for you at home because it's impossible to know when you will exactly be there.
  • Be aware that people may write dates in different formats. The dates "8/9 to 8/11" could mean 2 days or 2 months, depending on the culture. Instead, use expanded, clear date formats such as: "9-August to 11-August" to avoid confusion. This will make it easy for the host to decide quickly if they can have you surf or not.
  • Don't rush. If you need a couch by tomorrow, you are making it hard for yourself. Try to send requests 1-4 weeks before.
  • Realize that many hosts will have a hard time accepting couch requests more than a few weeks in advance, due to unpredictable schedules. Many hosts have a "sweet spot" of about 1-2 weeks beforehand. Asking to be hosted months in advance can make a host feel more like a hotel reservation system than a personal residence.
  • Don't feel bad about asking more than one host at the same time -- this is not a dating game anyway and also you are not even sure all hosts will respond or even get your request . Mention the range of days you will be in their town and perhaps that you hope to only stay one day per host. Then narrow it down from any positive responses you receive after all.
  • In the Arrival and Departure fields of the request form, enter the approximate or exact dates of your whole visit to a place, even though you only intend to stay with a single host for part of that time. Then in the body of your request, ask the host to let you know which dates within that range are available.

Are you for real?

  • Make sure you have a complete and detailed profile. Upload more than one picture of yourself - possibly doing fun activities that you enjoy, or places you've already visited. Describe yourself in details, not generalities. This takes some time, but it is worthwhile, especially for those who have few (or no) references.
  • Write about what you want to do in the place you are wanting to visit.
  • Don't make any demands, but don't be obsequious or give fake compliments either. You will get the most from a visit by adapting to and experiencing what's different about the place. Share what you can and accept what is offered.
  • Some networks have specific features that allow member verification that you might want to consider.
    • The verification on Couchsurfing is a bit tricky as it merely means that someone's credit card was used and that there's an address where someone was able to receive a postcard. Being a level 3 fully verified member might help increase your chance of the host accepting you, but it might also decrease your chances with other hosts who are sceptical of the verification process.
    • A better attempt is the member based verification at BeWelcome, which is only done in person. Members can verify each other's ID cards or passports.

Traveling with friends

  • If you are surfing together with other people: mention them, introduce them, link to pictures, and try to make them sign up at the network with their own profile. Some people will not host you if your travel partner is not a member as well.

Conclusion

Your success at receiving invitations from hosts depends on a lot of things... Are you smiling or scowling in your photos? Are you pictured doing something fun or sitting in the dark in front of your computer? How did you fill out your profile description? Do you have connections, verification and references within the use network or can link to others?

No prior references/comments? Try to go to in touch with other local members before you start your trip. The bigger networks have local meetings, where you can learn more about Hospitality exchange and harvest some references/comments from real life persons. (Besides: It's fun meeting local members of your network and very often their travelling guests are taking part as well.) Another option is to offer members travelling to your place company, tours or meetings. This is especially usefull if you're completely new or your current living situation prevents you from hosting.

It's OK if you contact several hosts to "increase your chances", but please don't spam everyone in a particular city. Every network has several spamfilters in place and when you send a certain number of messages within a small amount of time you may be automatically identified as a possible spammer and NONE of your messages might go out until they are reviewed by a volunteer to make sure you are not spamming people. How many requests is the right number depends on a lot of things, but 10 requests to an average place with a decent profile and a few days advanced notice is usually more than enough to get one invitation.

Also, it's just polite to write back to everyone who replied to you, to thank them and say you already have a couch if you have already found one. Even if they say "no", reply with a "Thanks anyways" - they will remember your politeness... and who knows, maybe one of their friends may be able to host you.

Remember, read the host profiles carefully and follow any instructions they include when writing your request.