Check Yo’ Fears Stateside: A Guide to Couch-Surfing

The prospect of sleeping on a stranger’s floor in a foreign country raises a number of questions: How many sweaty, unclothed travelers past have grazed this blanket? Should I run and find a hostel before it’s too late? Is it cool to borrow toothpaste?

How-to Guru knows firsthand that couch-surfing is a daunting activity. That’s why, armed with a summer’s worth of cramped necks and awkward breakfasts, the Guru is here to help.

Those first moments on the doorstep before an affirming “wilkommen” or “bienvenidos” present a huge opportunity for self-doubt. On my first surf, though, before there was any time to reconsider, the door opened and a tall, beaming hipster came out to hug me. Within five minutes, I was offered a joint, a beer and homemade pizza — I was hooked.

It’s hard to resist a strong German ale, but it’s still important to be discriminating. The first rule of cautious travel is this: Do your research. Read through your potential host’s profile on www.couchsurfing.org before contacting him; a section featuring references from people who have either hosted or surfed with the member will help you decide whose sofa is right for you. Though an online testimonial may not be a 100-percent guarantee that you’ll wake up with all your limbs and sleepwear intact, hardcore couch-surfers take their sport pretty seriously, and won’t vouch for someone for no reason.

Just to be safe, hit up several hosts at once — and never set out without a backup plan. The last thing you want is to find yourself alone in a foreign city with nowhere to crash. So even if all your couch-surfing prospects fall through — which is highly unlikely — it never hurts to have a hostel in mind.

Once you’ve finally taken the plunge and nestled your jetlagged ass into a stranger’s digs, the real fun begins. Couch-surfing is way more than a way to score free shelter — it’s a way of life. Your hosts will generally be a young, open-minded crowd. Play your cards right, and they’ll be eager to show you a night on the town.

Both hosts and fellow surfers are always eager to talk about their experiences. Some of Guru’s best couch-surfing memories have been just hanging out around the kitchen table, comparing cultures and exploring new ways of life over a beer.

Always follow house rules. Don’t overstay your welcome, and don’t be that annoying little sister begging your hosts to take you out every night — remember, these are people who, not unlike your freewheeling self, go to school and have jobs. And upon your departure, don’t forget to give back in some way. This can mean cooking a meal, doing the dishes, fixing their bike or (if you really want to be invited back) buying them a bottle of wine. Hosts that can vouch for you make it much easier to earn invitations from all over the world.

Don’t knock sleeping on borrowed ground ’til you’ve tried it. Your pillow might predate the Berlin Wall, but it’ll be a more memorable night than you’d get at the Marriott.

Special how-to requests? Contact the Guru at [email protected].

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