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On my previous trip I tried hitchhiking for the first time and became addicted so this year I'm spending six to twelve months traveling in East Asia and Eastern Europe. I also tried CouchSurfing for the first time on my last trip and had a great experience in Budapest. But then I ran into a problem...

When you're hitchhiking you never know if it will take a couple of hours or a couple of days to get to the next place. Or sometimes you're trying to get to one place and a driver offers a ride to another good place when nobody was going to your planned place.

Since the CouchSurfing website doesn't list peoples' phone numbers for obvious safety reasons and most people don't check their CouchSurfing account every hour or even every month it can be hard to hook up when plans are really vague. Anyway, I don't have a phone. It just wouldn't fit into my budget. I do have a netbook so sometimes I manage to find a free wi-fi hotspot and sometimes a local friend might give me a broadband dongle but most often I only have connection at accommodation and sometimes in cities.

Have I missed some obvious way to use the facilities offered by CouchSurfing?

Is there another service that works better for vague wandering travellers to surf couches?

Is there some equivalent a bit more like a chat room or such where I can tell an online travel community roughly where I'm going and get couch offers rather than writing to each person individually which is the only way I'm aware to use CouchSurfing?

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The short answer is yes. I've hosted probably 20+ people who got to my location via hitchhiking, and most of them had hitchhiked all the way across Europe and couchsurfed most of the way.

The only method is messaging people individually, yes, but I don't see why that's a problem. Simply state that you're hitchhiking and will be there on sometime between x and x days, and give your phone number (ask them to text you if they can host).

Most people I host who are hitchhiking also have a tent for those situations where they don't manage to find a place on a given night. Then in your message you could also ask if people are willing to show you a place to camp or let you shower or w/e if they can't host.

  • Phone number? (-; – hippietrail Aug 31 '11 at 10:19
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    I do have a tent and sleeping bag now, unlike last year. I only tried once in Xanthi, Greece and it went so bad I didn't try it again. I wrote to every single person with a couch there when I got there and the answers came back from two days to three months after I left - one third of the people had joined the army! – hippietrail Aug 31 '11 at 10:26
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    I think it's probably close to impossible without a phone. When you're hitchhiking you never know when you're going to arrive. You could try making requests and saying "I'll turn up sometime between x and x date" but I don't really see a lot of people going for that. I at least wouldn't accept someone if they were just going to turn up completely randomly. I might not even be home when they arrived and I'd have no way to know if they were here or not. – victoriah Sep 24 '11 at 1:42
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The first thing to mention is that it's common to exchange phone numbers when making or accepting a couch request. I basically require that myself, since if you're going to trust someone with your place of course you should trust them with your phone number!

It sounds like the only solution for your dilemma is planning stays further in advance. You are just not connected enough of the time to plan stays on short notice. There is the additional problem of delays from the hitchhiking, and that's also going to make it more difficult, but you'll just have to make that situation clear to your potential hosts and have backup plans.

I've seen couch requests made a few hours before arrival and I've seen it a month in advance. You probably want to get efficient in notifying people about your progress (meaning your location) whenever you do get internet access because, again, it sounds like that's your only communication method.

To answer this question:

Have I missed some obvious way to use the facilities offered by couch surfing? Is there another service that works better for vague wandering travelers to surf couches? Is there some equivalent a bit more like a chat room or such where I can tell an online travel community roughly where I'm going and get couch offers rather than writing to each person individually which is the only way I'm aware to use couch surfing?

I would say use groups. I there might be some chat things available, but I don't know of it, and that's not a good sign. Lots of people, however, use groups. It's not everyone, but it is often some of the best connected local hosts. There are also "SOS" groups, for people who wind up in a city and don't have a place to stay. The turn around won't be as fast as what you have in mind, but I know some of those SOS groups encourage people to have email reminders turned on so that they can reply quickly.

That might help a little bit, but what you're asking about is a rather tall order. I hope you stay on top of your backup plans and have a tent with you.

Updates

Since I left this reply, Couchsurfing has changed some things about its system. Now, instead of requesting people directly for their couches, you can make a general request for an area, and then people will respond who want to host.

Relevant to the question: the feature could help better match you with your specific traveling needs. But again, to be a critic, there might not be as many people who check that. You need to understand people's use patterns to get the best result, and many people like couchsurfing because they don't have to use it often to get a lot of value out of it. So the new changes are relevant, but not a game changer IMO.

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I hate to be discouraging, but I personally find using Couchsurfing.org while hitchhiking generally not worth the effort:

  • First of all, since you can't guarantee an arrival date, you need to find a flexible host. This can be tough.
  • At least when I hitchhike, I don't know exactly which route I'm going to end up taking. It depends a lot on where my rides take me.
  • A lot of rural places don't have hosts.
  • Hosts are often 10+ minutes away from major routes, and getting a short ride on a small town road is much harder than on a major route. Now, a lot of the time either a driver or a host will be nice enough to help with the last stretch. It's just not guaranteed. I once had to hike several miles uphill on a gravel road with all my gear near Matamata-- not fun.**
  • Yes, CS has the "general CS request" feature. I've never found a host this way, and I've heard the same from a lot of guys. I've heard it works well for women. It doesn't hurt to try!
  • Lastly, all of this is kinda moot because half the time my ride offers to let me crash on their couch anyway. So I've ended up doing a LOT of couchsurfing, just rarely any capital "C" Couchsurfing with the online social networks. The other half of the time I just discretely slept in my Hennessey hammock.

The exception to this is if you are hitchhiking to a major population center. Then, I definitely find a host ahead of time and use public transit to get to their house. Camping in a city is not fun.

** I mostly hitchhike in rural areas and use mass transit otherwise. If you're hitchhiking in between urban centers, you should look into hitchbiking with a folding bike.

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