The List: The 13 Commandments of Leave No Trace Couch Surfing

In 17 months of homelessness, I’ve slept on 28 different guest bedroom beds and couches. I’ve learned that the best

In 17 months of homelessness, I’ve slept on 28 different guest bedroom beds and couches. I’ve learned that the best gift you can give a tumbleweeding dirtbag is access to a shower, and that the existence of the tumbleweeding dirtbag is dependent on rad, giving friends who ask “Do you need a place to stay?” without knowing what they’re getting.

Sure, sleeping under the stars is great, but periodically it’s nice to have a night indoors. And sure, hotels are great for that, but if you think of how many friends you have all over the place, a road trip is better spent on their couches than it is earning Hilton reward points – because you can catch up far better sitting at their kitchen table until midnight on a Tuesday than you can over the phone or e-mail. And after your stay, the goal is to remain friends. Possibly long enough to get invited back. Here’s how.

1. Be a ninja.
When people say “Make yourself at home,” they don’t mean “watch the chase scene in The Town and use our Surround Sound at 2 a.m.” Use headphones, don’t drop things, walk softly (especially at night and in the morning), and don’t slam doors when coming and going.

2. Shower, and poop, at off-hours.
Nothing’s more frustrating than a houseguest who takes 25-minute showers during the hour all the working folks in the house have to get ready for work. Or having to brush your teeth amid the essence of the dirtbag’s latest constitutional.

3. Establish rapport.
With resident significant others, children, pets, as best as possible. The goal here is to be invited back because everyone loves you so much (or maybe that’s the goal of life?), not to be “Dad’s Creepy Long-Haired Friend.”

4. Bring your own shampoo.
And everything else. It’s your friend’s house, not the Hampton Inn. Think if you had a friend staying over and you noticed the cap was left off your toothpaste. Makes you wonder what your bar of soap has been up to, doesn’t it? Whose hair is that?

5. Don’t spread your stuff everywhere.
You are making yourself at home, not moving in. Do not leave six pairs of shoes by the door or take over the shower shelf with your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, shaving cream, exfoliant face scrub, bar of soap, loofah, and shower cap.

6. Don’t become The Guy On The Couch.
Go somewhere during the day. Stay out a little later. This allows your gracious hosts to have the house to themselves when they need to decompress a little after work. It’s better to have your hosts wonder where you are than to have them wonder why you’re always there.

7. Be fun and/or entertaining.
Aren’t you traveling? You should at least have some fun photos and/or stories, if not an ever-evolving slide show called “Places I’ve Visited Prior To Your Couch.” You’re not fun or entertaining? Take everyone to a movie (admissions for three people should be cheaper than a hotel room), or …

8. Bring beer.
Minimum six-pack for two nights’ stay. Of good beer. (See here.)

9. Cook for your gracious hosts.
Sometimes it’s nice to have a guest cook, especially if all the hosts have to do is sit in the kitchen and drink wine and tell you where they keep this pot or pan or the olive oil. Do it at least once during your stay, or more if you’re a good cook. Once is enough to be endearing, especially if the food’s not so great – if you’re not a good cook, making your hosts eat your cooking more than once a week is asking them to do you another favor. “Remember when Joel stayed with us and he made that awful goulash three times?” Alternately, if you’re a terrible cook, don’t cook, and instead …

10. Wash the dishes.
All the time. Also empty the dishwasher. But don’t guess where things go in the cupboards if you’re not sure. Leave mystery items out on the counter. Ignore all protests (“Oh stop it, you don’t have to wash the dishes”), or counter them: “You don’t have to let me crash in your guest bedroom for a week, either. Please sit down.”

11. Don’t have bedbugs.

12. Take the sheets off the bed.
In lieu of tipping the maid staff (because there isn’t one), after your last night there, wash them, or at least throw them in the washing machine before you head out the door. Mandatory if you had any company in the guest bedroom during your stay.

13. Send a thank-you card.
Doesn’t have to be much, even a postcard from your next stop down the road, or a text message/e-mail a few days later. The world doesn’t owe you anything, so when it gives, be grateful.

Photo by Steve Casimiro

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
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Showing 11 comments
  • Steve W Weiss

    All great tips. I had my brother and his girlfriend at my place once, and that was the last time. She was horrible and broke the cardinal sin of #5. My room was no longer my room anymore when she was there. Horrible.

  • Chris K

    Yay, thank you cards. This tradition has slipped out of favor, but *everyone* loves getting a hand-written note. They’ll remember this more than the awful goulash you made.

  • Rick O.

    I would secretly jot down the address of each host during my bike tour and send them a post card from some desolate post office along my route. It was an awesome ritual.

  • Rebecca

    Great tips. We just had a house guest for a week and he followed many of the rules outlined. However I would suggest one more rule. #14. Let the home owners know how long you will be staying. Will you be around for one night or nine? This way they can ration out the ‘fun’ things to do in the area over the week and not crowd them into 3 days of balls to the wall adventure. Thus avoiding the guest witnessing the boring routine we find ourselves in most of the time.

  • Holly Resignolo

    Awesome! Every parent should share this with their grown child.

  • Daniel Dunn

    Nice writing again. Way to sneak loofah in there!

  • Nick

    That’s great! I think I need this on the refrigerator.

  • ChRiS

    another N.15 offer to do some shopping, as I have hosted more than 50 people this last year, I really appreciate if a guest offers to shop and save me the time/cost of replacing the food we ate …or brings wine./ food with them from their country to share..

  • Andre Shoumatoff

    There is one missing. Try your hardest to not have a dog. Dog friendly places are few and far between and folks who have dogs are often really wrong about their impressions of their own dog versus how folks perceive your dog, even if its the best dog in the world. Your dog can quickly overrun almost everything else above and dogs are a game changer!

  • Nora

    I returned my friends bottles (he had about half a year’s worth) and bought him a case of beer with the money before I hit the road.

  • Nora

    I returned my friends’ empty bottles (he had about half a year’s worth) and bought him a case of beer with the money before I hit the road. Mad points.

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