Being a budget savvy traveler I’m always looking for new ways to save money while on the road. Being a solo female traveler, I want to make sure I’m safe while traveling.
When I was 20 I stayed in a €10-a-night hostel in Dublin, sharing a room with four strangers (two of whom snored loudly) and sleeping on a bed where the former traveler’s hair still resided on the pillow.In Haad Rin, the tiny beach community that hosts the world renowned Full Moon Party in Thailand, I arrived two days prior to the event and ended up staying in a $12-a-night hostel/brothel (note: hostels and guest houses are hard to find within days of the FMP without prior reservations). Both times I was on my own did and did everything on the fly.
When I decided to go to Spain for a week I wanted to do a little bit more planning. I heard about CouchSurfing.org, an online community that helps connect people looking to travel the world and stay in homes for free with local hosts.
While browsing the profiles of the mostly twenty-something individuals who appeared to be normal and interested in meeting new people from afar, my mind started picturing middle-aged bald men wearing thick glasses, sitting at their keyboards with twisted fantasies of luring naïve females into a dark lair.
Ultimately, this is what I learned about Couchsurfing as a solo female traveler:
Random Men Will Contact You
What I have heard in various reviews and blogs that give advice about the site, a lot of men look at couch surfing as way to meet women and will offer their homes to you. It’s important to thoroughly review their profiles and read all recommendations to be more certain of what you’re getting into. If a man will only agree to let you stay if you Skype with him, for example, it’s pretty clear that they’re interested more in what you look like than your personality and your travel history. This is not what Couchsurfing is all about.
It Shouldn’t Be Uncomfortable
You shouldn’t ever be made to feel uncomfortable. Couchsurfing should be about friendship, meeting new people, and sharing in new experiences. It should not feel sexual. You should not feel like a pawn, or a hostage. Most of us at GGG have done our fair share of couchsurfing, and only 1 out of every 30 experiences or so have ever been negative. But, in that one experience, one of our writers snuck out early to avoid having to see the host that was making her uncomfortable. Listen to your gut! Don’t be afraid to leave.
You Don’t Have to Sleep Over
Many people on the website aren’t offering their homes at all, but friendship. Many are open to meeting for drinks or dinner, or to showing you around the house. A few of the women I contacted were more than willing to keep in touch and offer to meet up at local spots.
Don’t Offer Money
Instead, bring something from home or do something to show appreciation without offering cash. I cooked dinner for my artist friend which was a great way of extending my gratitude for his hospitality. In Seville, however, I offered to take my host out to dinner which never ended up happening. The next day I offered him some money right before I left, and he looked at me a bit confused and did not want to accept it.
Reach out in Advance
Because couchsurfing is a popular trend, often times couches and rooms in the homes of females and couples tend to be taken. This is also true for profiles of men who have seemingly “normal” profiles and good looking photos. Give yourself and your host time to plan for your stay, rather than showing up with a day or two’s notice.
Consider Staying With a Host That Speaks Little English
My Spanish is virtually non-existent but staying with people who spoke very little English forced me to communicate in Spanish which ended up helping me get around by myself. While there were times I felt very intimidated, frustrated and confused it was a new experience that I would not have had if I stayed in a hostel or hotel. Traveling is about taking risks and going outside your comfort zone.
**Staying in an artist’s cave in Granada was quite the experience as was staying with a flamenco guitarist in Seville.**
Like any place you go, there are always concerns about safety and well being. My advice is to do research about people you are looking to stay with beforehand, stay in contact with them, and if you still feel uncomfortable look up alternative destinations.
Overall, I would recommend couchsurfing. You find yourself in places that no guidebook can recommend (I ended up at some underground flamenco gathering), you speak and communicate in the language of the locals, and you begin to challenge yourself, take risks, and make decisions that don’t typically exist in your everyday life.