I have been a couchsurfer and Couchsurfing host for several years. Generally, I think it’s quite fun to meet new people and show them around my city, even as I sometimes struggle to find the right things to interest them. Many people question my sanity for allowing strangers into my home to spend the night, but the key to having consistently good experiences is to also have standards.

I recently decided to increase my standards because I found that I was getting annoyed by a lot of the requests from some of the site’s users. In the majority of cases, I’m sure these were wonderful human beings, and I’m sure in some cases we would have gotten along famously, but they all had something in common: the word “references” paired with a very small, single-digit number.

As I wrote a couple months ago, I feel like Couchsurfing has lost most of its glory-days appeal because the system became unsustainable: too many takers and not enough givers. While I don’t begrudge successor AirBNB’s success, you have to admit, paying for a place to stay isn’t quite as nice as saying at a place for free. But at the same time, for most people, giving someone a place to stay for free has its own costs:

  • You have to be available to meet them to let them inside.
  • You have to be willing to arrange their comings and goings.
  • You may feel obligated to provide entertainment or food.
  • You have to come to terms with their noises and idiosyncrasies.
  • You have to clean up after them.

(Sidenote: as a guest, I always try to defer these costs by staying out of my hosts’ way, buying them a meal, and cleaning up after myself.)

I found myself declining request after request because they just didn’t seem like proven community members. Whether or not I trusted these people didn’t even factor into it at this point. Finally, I just decided to be up-front and make it clear exactly what kinds of guests I was expecting. I figured it would save the other members’ time because they could look through the checklist and see whether or not they were a fit. I also figured it would save me time, because I would have fewer requests to sift through each week.

And so, I completely did not expect what happened next: I got tons of requests! I’ve had at least one request about every day or so since then.

Here’s what my hosting criteria look like at the time of this writing. A good match would need to meet at least two of these:

  • You have a verified address.
  • You have several positive references and no (or proportionally very few) negative references.
  • You have at least one (just one!) hosting reference.
  • You are from Nebraska or Iowa (my old stomping grounds).
  • You are from a different country, especially French-speaking (because that’s just interesting).

I started getting requests daily, primarily from Europeans, but also from the occasional other American host. (I also got lots of requests from Americans who were born in foreign countries and many requests with excuses for why they have no hosting references.) I’ve received so many that I still have had to decline a lot just so I can have a little bit of time to myself.

It’s vacation season, so there’s a chance this would have happened no matter what, but what I think happened is that travelers see my “no” list as a “yes” list. They see that I’m picky about who to accept, but they also see that I’m willing to accept them, and because of that they’re more likely to see me as a “sure thing”. Furthermore, my criteria aren’t really that stringent; I will basically accept anybody who actually uses Couchsurfing as more than a free hotel. Instead of filtering sand through a sieve to find the iron, I held a magnet to it.

Just as being able to say no gives you more power to do the things you actually want to do, having hosting standards gives you power to find the people you want to host. But when you publish your standards, you may also increase the expectations of the people who now have access to them, so be prepared to be held to them. Overall, I’m happy with the outcome, but I still feel a little pang of guilt when I have to say no.