The first of my Couchsurfing in… series, here’s my review of couchsurfing in South Korea!
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a free peer-to-peer home sharing platform where people offer space in their homes to visitors from around the world. Go on the website or app, find hosts in the location you’re going to for the dates you’ll be there, send a great message, and wait for a response! Of course, there’s much more to it, including expectations and safety, which I outline in my Couchsurfing article(TBA).
Check out my post on How to Sleep for Free While Traveling(TBA).
My Couchsurfing Preferences
Everyone travels differently, including couchsurfers. After couchsurfing only a few times, I realized that I prefer to have my own room, have no smoking at all, and be easily accessible to downtown. The rest is much less important!
My Thoughts on Couchsurfing in South Korea
The first thing I noticed while looking for a host in Seoul, South Korea, is that most hosts were male. That’s not unusual, but the percentage is a lot higher – I’d estimate at about 85-90%. While this isn’t a big deal for me, I knew that this was indicative of a different Couchsurfing sentiment in Korea. There’s always that apprehension of guys taking advantage of girls while Couchsurfing and I was getting the feeling that it would be more common here (one reason being that the culture *from what I’ve read* doesn’t really think that males and females can be really good, 100% platonic friends).
Another thing I touched on was lack of community. I did see a weekly Couchsurfing event, but with most of the hosts being guys and most profiles sparsely filled out, it seemed like there was less of a shared community. (Again, this is just my impression from what I’ve seen, not saying it’s 100% fact.)
Continuing that train of thought, there seemed to be a lack of responses. If there were 10 messages I sent out, then I’d get only 2-3 responses at all. And I write a thorough introductory message!
My choices were limited, however, as I put on the filter for non-smoking (a lot of Koreans smoke) and for a private room (again, getting weird vibes from the app). If you have fewer filters, more people should show up.
As for the sleeping spaces themselves, apartments in Seoul can be small, so expect to share a sleeping space with the host or in their common area! My first host had a 6′ x 4’ room that I slept in and yes, it was a bit squishy but at least it was my own space! You’ll also probably be sleeping on a mat on the floor, as that’s the traditional Korean way to sleep. It’s not as soft as a bed, but look at the bright side: it’s good for your posture! If the bedding is folded up when you arrive, you should fold it up when you’re leaving out of respect…unless you’re helping with the laundry!
I stayed with 2 guys in Seoul and they were both weird. One told me he wanted me to sleep with him and the other gave me a “would not host again” review despite him saying he wanted to host me again. With the latter, I noticed this was partly because of a lack of communication due to cultural differences and the way Koreans and North Americans speak. Still, it hurt my reputation. I’d rather not get into either in detail just because I’d like to move on from those times.
In summary, I didn’t have the best experience Couchsurfing in Seoul due to the hosts and their locations (far from anything central). There weren’t many responsive hosts within my filters and it seems like the sharing community has yet to really take off. Of course, I’ll try to use it in other cities and other countries, but not Seoul – not for now.
Culture Tips to Help You Couchsurf in South Korea
Don’t make the same mistakes I did when couchsurfing. Here’s what you should know to have the best experience possible.
- Show respect all the time, especially when your host is older than you. Age seniority is a big part of culture in Korea
- Take off your shoes when you go inside the house – there’ll be a little entranceway that differentiates the area with and without shoes!
- Fold your bed when you wake up/leave if it’s folded when you arrive. It’s to show tidiness and keep space open
- If you suggest or ask something to your host, unless you get a proper yes, take it as a no. Saying no outright is considered impolite in Korean, so you should try to pick up on the actions and behaviours that will signal it instead. There will be times when they shrug their shoulders, look away, say “maybe”, or anything else that seems vague….and that means no. You should follow suit and rather than say “no thanks”, try “hmmm, I’m not sure” or suggest something else instead. If your host wants you to just be you, a polite “no, but thank you for your offer/asking/etc.” should be more polite than just a normal “nah” or “no thanks”.
- When you go into the bathroom, wear the slippers provided!
- There are a lot of unspoken things in Korean, so do your best to try, or ask for clarification if you’re unclear about something.
- They sometimes say they don’t want to inconvenience you if you ask what you can do to help, but if it’s something somewhat important, they might resent you for not doing it even if they tell you that you don’t need to help. (from experience)
- Manage your expectations when looking for a host in Seoul
- Know how to voice your concerns
- Make sure to message back and forth with your host before meeting
- Try to understand the local culture before a couchsurf to
- Be prepared for no one to be able to host you
- Be open, generous, kind, and considerate in your messages and while surfing! You never know when you’ll make that lifelong friend 😊
That’s all for now! Let me know in the comments or via email your thoughts and questions.
Check out these related posts if you’re interested: Couchsurfing, How to Sleep for Free While Traveling, What to Do in Seoul, What to Do in South Korea, How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Introduction Message, What to Pack for Seoul/South Korea