About a week ago, fellow blogger Gigi Griffis posted a link on Dog Jaunt’s Facebook page to a post she’d written about traveling with her pup Luna in the Flanders region of Belgium. She mentioned that they had “couchsurfed” in Ghent — that is, they found a place to stay through the peer-to-peer site CouchSurfing. When I looked at the site in 2010, there was no way to search up front for pet-friendly homes (though you could generally see if your host had a pet, and you could ask if yours would be welcome). Things have changed, Gigi told me in a comment, and I asked her if she’d write a guest post for Dog Jaunt about her experiences using the site. She kindly agreed, and here it is.
In case you aren’t familiar with it already, Couchsurfing.com is a website where you can offer your couch to visitors in your city or find a free couch to crash on when you’re doing some traveling of your own. It’s a great resource for not only finding cheap/free places to stay, but also meeting locals and really getting to know the city you’re visiting. And it’s also pet-friendly.
Yep. You heard me right: pet-friendly.
In fact, there are three different ways I’ve used Couchsurfing.com to find pet-friendly places to stay.
The Advanced Search
After you enter the place you want to visit and click on the Search button, just scroll down and look left. At the bottom of the left column, there’s an Advanced Options button with a plus sign beside it. Click on that plus sign and you’ll see an option to search for only hosts that allow pets. Your search will refresh and show you all the pet-friendly options in your destination.
If you don’t get any results, never fear, there’s more than one way to…err, house a dog…
Even people who don’t check the pet-friendly box might be open to hosting a pet. For some people, hosting a shedding dog would be a problem, but if you have a hypo-allergenic breed, that obstacle is eliminated. Other hosts might be hesitant to host a big dog, but have no problem with a small one. You never know until you ask.
So, when you send that couch request, introducing yourself and letting the host know why you want to meet them, just be up front that you are traveling with your dog and make sure to give plenty of information about said dog. Things like:
- Is your dog a hypo-allergenic/non-shedding breed?
- How big is your dog?
- What breed is it?
- Is it therapy trained or a service dog (even in countries that don’t have therapy or service animal designations, people may be more open to hosting you)?
- How does it get along with other animals?
- How does it get along with people/children?
- Does it have any fun, endearing qualities you can share? (For example: I trained Luna to bring me my slippers, so I always end with something like “And she’ll even bring you your slippers in the morning.”)
Give people an idea of your personality, your dog’s personality, and why you guys make great houseguests.
The “Other Nearby Hosts Can Send Me Invitations to Stay With Them” Box
This is the newest feature on Couchsurfing.com and it is one of my favorite things about the site. By checking this box when you send an email to a possible host, you allow other area hosts to see the email you just sent about you, your dog, and your travels. This gives pet-friendly hosts the chance to reach out to you, instead of you trying to track them down through trial and error.
And if you don’t want to email any hosts directly? No problem. Just click “Post Your Travel Plans” after you log in. This will let you post your travel plans on the site for all area hosts to see…without emailing anyone directly. (Don’t forget to still include all the info about yourself, your dog, your trip, and what you are looking for in a host/house.)
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And while you’re using these three methods to find a couch to crash, here are a few other tips that will help your request stand out:
Be Willing to Pay
If I’m looking for a place to stay for more than a few days (read: two weeks or more), I let people know that I’m not just looking for a freebie. I say that I want to rent a spare room for me and my pooch.
This is how I found a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment up against the Black Forest in Freiburg, Germany for just 100 euro per week. It’s also how I ended up staying a whole month in Ghent, Belgium for just 300 euro.
Get Your Dog Some References
You aren’t the only one who should have references on your couchsurfing profile! Make sure your friends and hosts mention your dog too. That way hesitant hosts can see that you are telling the truth about your sweet, well-behaved pooch.
Be a Great Couchsurfer
When you do find a place to stay, make sure you leave a great impression. In addition to the obvious (no creating messes, behaving badly, allowing incessant barking, etc.), here are a few things you can do while you’re staying in someone else’s home:
- Do something nice for your host (take them to dinner, make them dinner, clean the house, treat them to a spa day, etc.). You are probably saving hundreds by staying with them, so don’t be stingy with your money or time.
- Be social. Most hosts are on couchsurfing.com because they love meeting new people and learning about new cultures. If you surf, you should also be social. Let your host show you the town, have a leisurely dinner or drink together, etc.
- Make sure to poop scoop as you go. And always ask where you should toss the poop (in Europe, most people will have compost piles; in some other places, it should go in the trash).
Now go forth and surf! (Or stop by and ask us any questions you might have.)
Gigi Griffis is a writer, humorist, and full-time traveler. In early 2012, she sold her stuff, packed a bag, and hit the road with her 12-pound Schnauzer-Yorkie mix, Luna. She frequently blogs about working from the road, traveling with a dog, living like a local, and funny stuff that happens on the road. And she just published her first memoir — about dating on two continents. She’d love it if you stopped by the blog and said hello.