Check for events and groups
If you’re not yet ready to take the full plunge, at least try the using the events section on the website. Most major cities host weekly pub nights; they’re the go-to place to get tips from locals, connect with other travellers, and even score a couch. On the events page, you can also find activities you won’t find in a guidebook, like cooking lessons in Rome, kite surfing in Stockholm, or a ride-share to a music festival in Split. Whatever it is, it’s probably better than your hostel’s walking tours and pub crawls.
Search at the last minute, but have a backup plan
Early bird doesn’t always get the worm. Your travel itineraries can change, and so can your hosts’ schedules. While it’s safe to start early, I had more response to public requests on last-minute request groups (home > discuss > search: city + last minute couch). On this group, surfers can’t post until three days before their arrival, so yes, it’s a bit of a gamble, but if I had plans fall through or got no response, I simply checked into a hostel.
Spend time with your host—it’s not a free hotel
One of the biggest pet peeves for hosts are guests who treat it only as a way to score a free bed. Hosts’ generosity is not an invitation to act like a guest at a hotel. Arrive with an open mind and offer your skills, talent, knowledge, and stories. Spend time with your hosts. Ask them about their lives and travels. You’ll get much more out of your time, and it’ll make their offer worthwhile.