The most important thing about moving to Los Angeles is to be patient and move at the right time – preferably when you’re ready to rent a place. But if you absolutely, positively have to get to LA before it’s ready for you, there is one tried and true method to ensure you don’t you don’t end up sleeping on the streets: couch surfing. Here are some tips for how to do it successfully.
1. Having Something, Anything, Already in the Bank
There is a very, very thin line between “couch surfer” and “homeless person” – although some of your relatives won’t admit that the line even exists. That line becomes thicker the more you have saved before you throw the clothes in your bag and hop on that bus out west.
If you haven’t saved anything, then we suggest calling your aunt who lives in Glendale and asking her if you can move in until you get on your feet. In which case, don’t forget the flowers, you know how much she likes them.
2. Be the Turtle
If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to find a way to move around every few days. Maybe you’ve got a car – which in the couch surfing world is like a house on wheels – but if not, you’re going to have to be smart about it. You’ll need to have the important things with you at all times, small enough to store and move but expansive enough to cover the bases.
Some people use luggage with rollers or oversized backpacks, but I got a lot of use out of a duffel bag I picked up at an Army surplus store. These awesome bags are built to fit everything you might needs, plus some stores will donate a portion of the proceeds to veterans’ groups. Pay it forward.
3. Getting by with a Little Help from Your Friends
Going to school that focused heavily on film, I made a number of friends who would end up making the move to Los Angeles before I did. Because I didn’t burn (too many) bridges after graduation, I had a variety of homeboys and homegirls to text “Hey u got a couch 4 me :)?” The ones that were willing to respond to a text like that were true friends, and they got me through many a cold night in the San Fernando Valley (it gets colder than you’d think).
While you’re there, don’t forget to be as helpful a houseguest as possible. Do the dishes, take out the garbage, and generally act like you parents probably think they taught you but we all know better. What is important to remember is that this friend of yours is putting you up out of the kindness of their heart – unless you’re blackmailing them into this, in which case manipulate away, you sly devil.
4. Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
As the saying goes, guests and fish start to stink after three days. Try to pack up and hit the next couch as soon as its available. If you know you’re going to need a few extra nights, make sure to give them plenty of notice – and then get out of the house and go see the city. The less crowded they feel, the more likely they are to put up with your stank (also, please shower. Please. Shower.)
5. There’s an App for That
It wouldn’t be the 21st Century if there wasn’t a way to crowdsource couches for travelers and expats. Couchsurfing.com is a well-named digital resource that connects couch-surfers with couch-havers through the public safety net of social media. It’s not exactly Airbnb but it is a way to find those who are willing to make room for people like you, provided you follow the rules. Rule number one: clean up after yourself (are you sensing a pattern here?)
6. Craigslist – Your Last Resort
One night, a couple months after I arrived, I was out of couches to sleep on. My next place to stay wasn’t available for another 24 hours, and the previous couch was now being taken by my fraternity brother’s sister. I had burned through most of my cash and hostels weren’t an option, so I turned to the place that anyone living through the Great Recession turned to for a last-minute miracle: Craigslist.
After a detailed search, I found a place that sounded great: close to Hollywood, plenty of references, and only $10 for the night. Of course, it didn’t sound as great when I showed up and found a bed and a TV and pretty much nothing else – especially not a couch. Giving it the benefit of the doubt (and because I really had nowhere else to go), I rolled out my yoga mat and slept on the floor.
Or at least tried to sleep. It was around 1am, when I heard my new friend ask “Are you doing okay down there little buddy?,” that I realized I wasn’t going to get any shut eye. Or in fact ever shut my eyes again.
What’s the point of my story? Using Craigslist, I was occasionally able to find a place to stay – but I’m also 6’1″ and can grow a mean-looking chin scruff. Reaching out to strangers for a free (or even cheap) place to stay is not always a good idea, all things considered.
If you really want to be successful in Los Angeles, get your name on a lease. Otherwise you’re really just on an extended vacation.