Let’s talk about Couchsurfing! I always have a lot of people reach out to me online that are really curious about Couchsurfing but they don’t know how it works or they don’t know exactly what it is so this article will explain some of my experiences and safety tips, especially as a woman who frequently travels alone and uses the platform.
If you didn’t know already, Couchsurfing.com is an app that lets you connect with other travelers and locals in foreign countries and around your own. It used to be free but now costs around $15/year to sign up and maintain an account. It’s mainly for locals who want to open up their home to travelers and get some sort of cultural experience. Usually, you send a personalized request (not a copy and paste request) to the host and if they’re available they will either decline or accept your request and let you know whether or not they’re available to host you for part or all of your trip.
For me when I’m deciding who I want to surf with I always thoroughly read their profile. I read all recommendations and all reviews (the good and the bad) it definitely takes a while but it’s really worth it. Even if you see one bad review, just take that into consideration especially if you are a female traveler or by yourself. One thing I always look for when looking at profiles is if I’m requesting to stay with a guy does he have only references from women or have his profile preferences set to host only women? This can be a red flag for creeps so I always very carefully look at their profile when I read the reviews. A lot of the times I’ll message some of the women that stay with these people just to ask them about their experiences with that host because it’ll show who left the review. When I’m traveling by myself or if I’m requesting to stay with a guy or a couple it’s just an extra precaution.
When you look at hosts profiles you will also see what type of person they are by reading more about them, their personality, age, interests etc., as well as what type of accommodation they’re offering. For example, is it a private room, a shared room (like a studio or couch in a living room) etc. It will also tell you if the accommodations are a couch, air mattress, the floor and more. Occasionally I will be road tripping with a friend and I will bring them with me and so it’ll also clarify on the profile the hosts limits on the number of guests. Most cap at 2-3 people and a lot of times people were very picky and rightfully so. A lot of people will only host solo travelers or they’ll only have room from one person it really just depends but that will all be on the host’s profiles.
I like to personally stay with people that have common interests as me because a lot of the time you will be talking with these people about your travel experiences and interests. That’s what Couchsurfing is all about, it’s not just staying with somebody for free like most people think it is. It’s about exchanging cultural stories, connections and travel stories because they want to get to know you and where you’re from.
There are all different types of hosts and there’s all different types of travelers.
There’s travelers who want to stay up late a drink and go bar hopping with their host and see the city, there’s people who want their host to show them around the city and there’s hosts that are very hands off and just want a quiet guest or who have long working hours and can’t commit to being a tour guide or staying up late. Be sure to communicate with your host ahead of time to understand so there aren’t any misconceptions that could cause issues. Most hosts however do want to talk to the travelers at least a little bit so if you’re expecting to use Couchsurfing as just a free hotel and not speak to your host, you’re better off booking a hotel or Airbnb.
In regards to safety, I already went over a bit about reviewing profiles but Couchsurfing is just like meeting up anyone from online (Tinder, Meetups, Facebook groups etc.) just use common sense as you would anywhere else. All my experiences I’ve had have been great I have never had a bad experience yet in my 5+ years of using Couchsurfing.
Additionally, I always tell somebody my travel itinerary before a trip and if I’m going to be couch surfing, it includes my host’s address and number as a safety precaution. If you arrive somewhere and something just feels off or the person is being creepy, then LEAVE. You are not obligated to stay. Always, always, always have a back up plan and have the extra money to go book a hostel or hotel if things don’t work out with your host. I know a lot of budget travelers use the platform but you should always have enough money to cover yourself in case of an emergency.
Even if you don’t want to stay with people, Couchsurfing has a meetup function to help connect locals with travelers who just want to meet up with others. Some people are happy to meet up for a drink or a meal and talk with travelers and some might even have time to show you around their city. Some of my best travel memories have been from staying with some incredible hosts overseas that I would have never have had the opportunity to have if it weren’t for the Couchsurfing community.