How to be a good guest
Hospitality exchange works because people somehow know how to be a good guest.
You don't need to stay with someone to be part of the hospitality exchange community! You can always email people just to offer a coffee or beer, or ask if they can show you around their hometown. It is very important to remember that the idea of hospitality exchange is new to many people. It is up to you to build up trust. Different people warm up to others at different rates. Please be respectful of this.
Some things to do, and more importantly, not to do:
- Do not ignore your hosts and other guests.
- Do not whisper, and don't always speak a language your hosts don't understand.
- Don't be derogatory, impatient or dismissive about your host's children.
- Do not insult your host's cooking.
- Do not ask unnecessary personal questions.
- Try to appreciate the time, money and effort spent on your behalf. Don't forget that while you are traveling, your host isn't organizing his schedule only for you.
- Say "thank you".
- Listen. Being a good listener is one of the most important keys of making people trust you, but always being silent does nothing for their knowledge of you as a person. People need to learn a bit about you before they open up the doors to their safety zone, but talking their ear off does nothing for their desire to hang out with you all night long.
- Be ready to be flexible. You may have to hang out for a few hours at a cafe until your host gets off work. Your host may not be able to give you a spare key, so you might have to arrange your schedule around his or hers. Being flexible and communication are the keys to resolving these issues.
- Money and Gifts - The entire idea of hospitality exchange is that you can stay, for free, as a guest in a person's home. That being said, however, gifts from home are always welcome and may even be culturally required! If you have nothing, a bottle of wine, pictures from home, or some flowers are usually appropriate in most parts of the world. If your host offers you something extra, like a ride from the airport, offer to pay the cost of any extras. Pictures of your hometown/home country and/or family are often of great interest, not to mention a good way to break the ice and get to know the other party.
- Local Information - Your host is a valuable source of information. You can find out how to get around (cheaply!), where the nightlife is, how to meet other local people, how to deal with the authorities, and what you should see in the area. Ask! (But at the same time, be aware that your host is not a free tour guide or travel agent, and may be busy with work and other commitments, so don't bombard him/her with constant questions.)
During your stay
- Appearances & Cleanliness
A whole division of the backpacker world seems to think looking dirty and being stinky is cool, but it does not make strangers want to share their living spaces with you. So showering when you can is always a good choice, and asking to use someone's shower in the morning shows you commitment to staying with the status quo. Take a shower even if you took a shower the night before. One of the most important elements of being a good couch surfer is always appearing that you have somewhere to go, or you just left your job for a little while to take a break. If people only see you as a drifter with no direction, they will be a little worried about the chance of you trying to camp out on their couch longer than they would like you to. This is especially true of housemates you do not know. By appearing clean and motivated you can dissuade any problem related to that theoretical stinky hippie on the couch.
- Your Stuff - All accessories must be kept in a bag in a designated area. Do not put your stuff in the bathroom or take up much space. Remember, you want to be as unnoticeable as possible. The more care you take in respecting your hosts space, the more your host will appreciate your company and be willing to host another surfer after you're gone. Especially if your host's place is small (one-room 20 square meters flats are common in main European cities e.g. Paris or London) remember to keep as tidy and take as little room as possible - try to fit all your belongings in around one square meter and your host will love you! The least your host notices your stuff around the better.
- If you know how to cook: If your host offers to cook for you, offer to cook for him/her as well (the host might enjoy that a lot).
Making dinner is always another big hit, but hard to pull off if you are only stopping through for a night. To make food really good, you need to know where everything in the kitchen is, and knowledge of your spices, condiments, and the like. Trying to pull this off within 24 hours of your stay is difficult, and you usually end up having to hit up the store numerous times, or ask endless questions of the location of things. People are also interested in learning about who is in their space, and they want to show their hospitality. It is almost rude to take away their chance to share with you right off the bat. Offering to help cut the veggies, or set the table is the best way to go, so you can have a conversation to break the ice if you aren't already friends, or catch up on the past if they are. Don't push it if they have everything under control, (as some folks really dislike having people in their kitchen groove) but definitely offer. It is also hard to gauge what type of food others like without hanging out with them for a bit. Some people like simplicity and conformity in their eating habits, while others are ready to try something new in the drop of a hat. Keep it simple if possible, to avoid creating more mess, and then you can pass along whatever recipe you use if they enjoy it. If you are staying for a couple of nights, maybe the 2nd or 3rd night is best to cook food. The people know at least a bit about you, are comfortable with you in their space (since some people are very particular and picky in their own kitchens), and it is a good payoff for letting you stay for a while, or to visit again.
- When you eat together, do offer to wash dishes.
Nothing is better for a couch surfer than doing the dishes, a role 90% of the population disdains. Either before you go to sleep, or when you wake up at another person's house first thing in the morning, do the dishes. It takes less than 20 minutes, unless the house is a disaster area. This is especially true when you are staying at a shared house and you only know one of the renters, or if you have been hooked up with this couch by a 3rd party. If the kitchen is a disaster area, then you will be well loved and regarded well by all. It is the easiest mode of making yourself indispensable and asked to return. Everyone likes to have a clean kitchen, even if they are too lazy to deal with it. The other added bonus of choosing this type of cleaning, is the fact that you can usually figure out where to put things away, whereas cleaning the living room might be taken as an affront (my place isn't nice enough for you??), and you are bound to put something in the wrong places, and occasionally loose someone's important paperwork (yes it is from personal experience). Stick to the kitchen, and possible the bathroom if it is too much to deal with.
- If you stay few days and you have a chance to figure out where it is possible to buy food and drink, do buy food and drink and offer them to your host. Remember: Your host does not have to feed you!
- Do take time to spend with your host if he has time for you.
- Do not party without your host except he tells you to go partying (depending on the host if he has time for you or not)
- If your host gives you spare house keys, doesn't mean it's a free ticket to stay out as long as you want. Especially when you plan to go partying without him (in case he agreed on that generally warn him, at least by a call. If you can't reach him, please come home. Some hosts might worry if they have no idea why you're not there at night.
- Scheduling; Late Nights and Early Mornings - Your host probably has something to do during the day, such as studying or working. Before you arrange to stay with anyone, ask him or her about what kind of schedule they keep and what is expected in the home. Try not to think of your host's place as just a spot to dump your stuff, but rather try to connect with him or her, while at the same time respecting that they have their normal lives to attend to.
- If you sleep in a room with a door you can close, do not sleep all morning unless you already agreed this with your host, and anyway try to agree every single day about plans for the following day (when you will wake up, when you will go out of house, when you will come back, if you are going to meet together at what time and where, ...)
- Different hosts have different standards (eg for staying out late)- some are more relaxed than the things written here, some less. So in case just ask them what's their personal rules. *Honor your host's requests! Don't overstay without planning with your host. If they ask you to keep the noise low, keep quiet! If you are unhappy with your situation, you can always find another couch or find a youth hostel.
- Don't use your host's computer unless he/she gives you explicit permission.
- Clean up your mess
- If you bought food please take it with you before leaving, if it's not good anymore, throw it out or if it's still good and you don't want to bring it with you, tell your host that you have left food in his fridge.
- Just clean up a little bit more mess than you think you made, since you will probably forget to clean up some other things.
It is expected that you are travelling to see the area you are visiting. It is not nice to say you are only in the area because you had no other choice. Do venture outside and be prepared for temperature extremes of the region you are in. Have an idea of what you can do in the area and don't expect to be in your hosts home for most of the day or every day. Couch surfing is free, but you should have finances to pay for travel related expenses i.e. budget for food and local transportation. Hosts should not be expected to provide everything. If your host provides you with many meals, entertainment, or transportation, have the finances to compensate them for their efforts. If your host will not accept payment then you should at minimum be providing a thank you gift. It is only fair. If you are out of funds and desire more than a place to stay, then state that in advance before arrival. Hosts should not be in the situation of having to provide extras because you are in their home and hungry without funds. In other words, don't take advantage of the generosity of your hosts.
- Hospitality exchange works because people can trust others. That's why it's important to leave comments (=references on CouchSurfing). If you have a bad experience, this is even more important, though might be more difficult. Just remember that other people depend on you leaving comments.
- Send an old fashioned postcard from somewhere else of your trip or from back home that makes your host feel good. If you're not into sending mail anymore: a little email message will be appreciated as well.
Local Traditions are very important to your host! Violating customs can cause offense. Read ahead of time and find what is appropriate. For instance, you remove your shoes outside the door in Japan, and you eat with your right hand only in some of the Middle East. Hindus don't eat beef or drink alcohol. Sometimes, romantic couples may need to sleep separately. Ask your host what is expected, or assume the most conservative scenario. Be informed!