This summer, I have dozed on pull-out couches, futons and guest beds all around the United States. I do this partially because my mother is a flight attendant, partially because I am a child of divorce and partially because I have the freedom of being a college student on summer break. My strategy for always finding a place to sleep, other than a park bench, is couch hopping.
Also known as couch surfing, couch hopping is merely staying at someone else’s home while traveling.
I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert at couch hopping, but I have a lot of experience. Voyaging from California to Texas and Las Vegas to New York, I have stayed at many a friend’s or family member’s home for most of my breaks from college. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but hopefully my experience has given me enough knowledge to advise others on the best ways to couch surf.
Here are 5 tips for couch hopping like a pro.
1. Plan Ahead.
I have made the mistake in the past of showing up at a friend’s house unexpected, lugging a duffel bag and backpack behind me, because I forgot to finalize the exact day and time that I would arrive. Not only is it embarrassing, but it makes you a bad friend and an even worse guest.
My advice is to ask a very close friend, at the very least, three days ahead of time. For someone you do not know as well as one of your best friends, ask them two to three weeks in advance. However, these timelines are all relative and depend on what you believe would be the amount of time for your host to decide and prepare for your arrival.
And when I say “ask” ahead of time, I really mean “ask” and not “tell.” You must give the person the option to refuse. You should make sure that they want to have you there, have the ability to house you and that your times can fit into their schedule. No one is going to clear their entire schedule just for you, not even your grandparents.
Another important aspect of planning is transportation. If you are moving between different couches for long periods of time, which is what I do, this part might be difficult to plan ahead.
Without a car or the ability rent a vehicle, Uber and Lyft might be a good option. Most people can’t afford to Uber everywhere on a college budget, so other forms of public transportation such as subways, buses and trains can also aid you in your journey.
Asking the people that are kind enough to let you crash at their place for a ride from the airport or the train station could be asking too much of them. Unless they offer, don’t assume transportation is packaged into your stay. If they do, then take advantage of their kindness and offer to help pay for gas.
2. Communicate With Your Host
Always keep your host or hostess in the know. Even when you are traveling to their home on your own, they should know if there are any changes to your travel plans.
For example, if you are traveling by airplane into their area, they should know about your flight status, what airport you are arriving at or if you’re running late. Keeping them informed not only makes it easier for them to accommodate your timeline, but it also makes sure someone knows where you are at all times in case of an emergency.
Communicating any dietary restrictions, pre-existing health conditions, allergies or anything else you deem important to the hosts is also key to making your trip easier. If you will be eating any meals with them in their house, they should know if you have any allergies or if there are any foods that you need to avoid for your health.
However, if you do not know your hosts very well and they did not offer to cook for you, you should probably should just eat out or buy your own food to cook while you are staying with them.
If you are trying to avoid any habits or quit any addictions, let them know ahead of time. For a former smoker or anyone trying to refrain from drinking, staying with someone who indulges in these activities could be detrimental. In these situations, you should probably find another place to stay that will promote the lifestyle that you want to lead.
3. Be Courteous
Show your host or hostess that you are thankful for their help. I cannot stress this enough. Simply saying “thank you” does not get the message across, and it does not remotely begin to make up for their sacrifices.
I would suggest writing thank you notes to each person who hosts you during your adventures. Although it might sound formal and old fashioned, writing thank you notes shows people that you care and put more effort into thanking them than a simple text or email.
Writing it on a postcard from your next stop on your trip might add a nice touch. You could even thank them for helping you through your journey and reaching wherever you are now.
Bring them a gift, if possible. A thank you gift does not have to be pricey or fancy; a bouquet of flowers, a box of candies or a souvenir from your latest stop on your trek can go a long way.
I understand if you can’t carry a gift on your person during your travels, so treating them to a homemade meal, a night out at a restaurant or even just a hot, steaming cup of their favorite coffee can show them how much you appreciate their help.
4. Never Overstay Your Welcome
Even if you’re staying with your significant other or your childhood best friend, there is still such a thing as too long of a stay. Crashing in someone else’s home temporarily is extremely different from living permanently with them.
Rather than having your own personal space and all of your own belongings, you use up some of their space and their belongings. You also do not pay rent or provide for the household, so you should always be ready to start traveling again. No one is obligated to give you a place to stay, nor are you entitled to it.
Even if you are staying with friends, you can still get on their nerves if you are together 24/7. Silly fights and debates that you never thought you would have with a close friend can occur when you are a guest in their house.
If you can’t prevent a fight from starting, remember that they are generously giving you a place to stay, and if you really piss them off, you will be sleeping in your car or on a bench that evening.
I cannot tell you the perfect amount of time to stay anywhere, but you should be able to determine how long is too long depending on your previous experiences with each host as well as how the trip is going.
If you were planning on staying somewhere for a week, but around day three you can tell your host is worn out from housing you, you should probably find a new pillow for your head to lay down on before you lose their friendship or respect.
5. Be Safe
Although these apps allow you to stay with strangers and are considered safe, it does not mean you should not protect yourself.
Staying with strangers, even when you meet them through these apps, is always dangerous. This danger can even carry over when you are staying with people with whom you are already familiar. Your friend might have a family member or a roommate that is a stranger to you, or your family friend could be nothing like you remembered from 10 years ago.
Be careful around everyone you meet or stay with because you make yourself vulnerable to others when you are couch hopping. You should not let this ruin the fun of traveling, but remember to be safe and keep a logical, observant head upon your nomadic shoulders.