Rule N°1: be hosted spontaneously, without insisting, attentive to any discomfort.
Rule N°2: get a clear agreement on the duration, participate financially as soon as possible, and leave…
1 - Indirect method
Whether you meet someone on the road or on the street, the simplest is to ask where you can camp safely. If the weather is bad, specify you need a shelter against the cold, the wind or the rain. People will either open their own door or provide useful information if you finally have to camp.
You can also show the photos of the previous hosts and some stories about them, it would reassure and encourage to do the same. Be careful not to insist, not to create moral pressure or the like… which is quite difficult to determine.
2 - Direct method
You choose comfort. You can use this app to be hosted for free almost everywhere in the world, especially in big cities. I recommend it only in emergency, if you need some comfort after bad times, or if locals are not eager to host you spontaneously.
How to use it: write simple requests, be careful to write correctly the names. You can copy paste the message and change the name only excepted in big cities and touristic areas: in this case you should personalize more. Don’t hesitate to look for couchsurfers in countryside areas, these are the best experiences. Pick hosts with but also without references, always ask for their precise address as there are some bugs, or better their GPS coordinates. You can send requests around 5pm and usually receive answers within 2/3 hours.
Limits: couchsurfing is a small world where you find the same profiles, mainly young people with international mindset, educated and living in cities. I don’t know who you are, but most likely you will meet people like you, which is not always exciting. Besides that more and more people use it to find a sexual partner. Risks are low but learn how to spot it on the profile page. A man accepting only girls, a girl accepting only men…
In the car or on the street:
Talk directly to people. Ask a previous host to write a message on a paper and in the local language. Even if the people you meet speak english, they will trust you more. In this message: give your names, your nationalities, explain your trip and its meaning. Precise if you are students. And for sure, add that you want to be hosted by locals to discover their culture. On your map, spot the markets, the squares, the alleys and religious monuments… where to find people. If you succeed to create a group of people discussing around you, there is more chance someone takes the decision to host you.
3 - Otherwise, where to sleep?
Otherwise, where to sleep?
Sleep in a garden or in a field:
Ask the owners if you can identify them, or ask a passerby. It’s often an opportunity to be actually hosted. Be careful: with this method, if someone accepts you should sleep in the field. This may prevent you to ask to someone else and be finally hosted within a home. In any case, someone will know where you are, which is safer. And it prevents you to be chased away in the morning by an angry owner.
Under a shelter:
It’s the same. In private places, business or public buildings, you can ask for a shelter. You certainly have a tent but you can pretext it is not waterproof anymore, or mention the cold weather. It’s interesting for you to take a chance to be finally hosted, but also to avoid the tent to be wet in the morning. If you have to dry it it takes some time and it’s painful. Staying under a roof also allows you to gain some °C. During my trips I’ve been hosted in school dormitories, in hospitals, in administrative offices, in city buildings, in barns, mosquees, temples and churches, on balconies and so many kinds of shelters. Learn how to spot those places on your map and around you: religious places are often welcoming but don’t abuse it.
Sleeping in sight:
Sleeping in a park in the midle of a city is not so dangerous. The more passers-by the better. Just check if families and runners go there: many parks are meeting points for prostitutes and dealers. Your bag should be in the hall of your tent, precious stuff with you.
Escape. Sleep far away from any path, hidden by the trees or the hills. In cities you can also find building under construction. Don’t be paranoid: if the country is welcoming and its rules soft you can do a firecamp. Just be careful, clean the ground and always have water or enough sand nearby. In Europe check if you are not in a national park, if the vegetation is green, and be beyond reproach for security and cleanliness. It will help you if the owner, police or some ranger finds you.
4 - Security and research by night
Security and research by night
The host takes risk:
Whenever you choose your host yourself there is almost no risk. He is usually far more afraid to get robbed as he has a house and you just have a bag. However, try to learn if he is married, if he has children, or if he lives with friends. Also observe if he has good relationships with his neighbours and if people wave him on the street. Try to be seen in his company.
Hosting is sacred:
In most of the countries outside Europe, hosting is sacred. If someone in a village learns your host didn’t show you respect, this one can be in a really bad situation. Do not hesitate to threaten to talk to other people or to the police if the situation is worsening. Leave the house as soon as possible and try to find new hosts. Be ready to some sexual approaches.
Find a host by night:
If you have to look for a place by night: it’s possible. In a village, reach the center. Sometimes there is only one street lamp, go there and approach people. They are less frightened if they see your face. On your map, spot the religious places, parks and squares. In big cities, be careful in the center: there are many passers-by but they might be drunk or afraid that you are. It’s often easier in the residential areas, where people are in their comfort zones. Ask directly to be hosted, you have no time to beat around the bush. If nobody accepts, continue knocking the doors where there is light, ask in restaurants and opened business. In big cities, you can try hospitals and administrative buildings and ask the night watchmen if they can find you a safe place. You will be safer there than on the street. In China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in difficult conditions and in cities with over one million residents, we failed only 2 out of 20 night attempts.
Note: In conservative countries and as a couple, you may have to prove you are married to sleep in the same room (buy two rings and write a fake certificate with a stamp).