I know I had my reservations when it came to couchsurfing. At first, this network of travelers who wanted to share their homes with other travelers seemed too good to be true. Is couchsurfing safe?
Who were these curious people and why did they want complete strangers in their home? Didn’t they need their “me” time?
Second, as I explored the website, looking for couchsurfing hosts in Paris and Barcelona, I noticed the majority of the hosts were…. men.
Staying the night with a strange man in a foreign country without an incredibly romantic back-story, seemed rather, well, dangerous.
I’ve come to believe that couchsurfing is safe. But, there are ways to make it safer. Here are our top tips for staying safe on Couchsurfing.
Only Stay with Verified Hosts
One of the best things about couchsurfing is their verification system.
To receive verification from the Couch Surfing website, a person has to prove their identity and location. This is done by submitting a donation to the website and replying to a postcard sent to your address.
Then, there are the reviews from people who have stayed there before.
Read the Reviews
Reviews are the best way to see if anything was sketchy, particularly when they come from other solo female travelers.
Couchsurfing was a big hit around 2010, and you could stay almost anywhere in the world for free. These days, I’ve found that couchsurfing is larger in certain areas, and not as present in others.
Brazil has a huge Couchsurfing community, as does Paris. But Los Angeles, for example, won’t have as many active accounts.
Both my potential hosts had been verified through CS and vouched by other travelers. That helped ease my over-active imagination a little, but not completely. I needed to go one step further.
Reach Out to Other Solo Female Travelers
I sent private messages to the females who left reviews on my potential hosts profiles. I asked them their opinion.
Would I, as a female traveling by herself, be comfortable staying with this person? Did she encounter any problems? What else should I know?
All the ladies I asked responded. My potential hosts received positive, even glowing reviews. Yes, they said, I would be safe staying with them.
However, one of them mentioned that my Parisian host liked to smoke marijuana at night. While this wasn’t a deal breaker, it was something I was grateful to know ahead of time.
And so, I confirmed my dates with my Paris and Barcelona hosts. They were both wonderful. My Barcelona host even drove me around town in a red convertible, a la Vicky Cristina Barcelona!
And thanks to my fellow female travelers honesty and help, I had an unforgettable trip. Couchsurfing made my spring break to Europe possible, and gave me a new perspective on traveling.
While I probably wouldn’t couchsurf for an entire trip (I like the built-in community of hostels too much) it is something I would do again.
When I a student in Europe and then a magazine editor in NYC (read: broke), I did a LOT of CouchSurfing. (I don’t do it anymore sadly, as all my travel is for work and thus requires hotel reviews and the like.) I stayed with a lot of dudes and never thought twice about it…maybe I should have? I also joined CouchSurfing during its first year when there weren’t nearly the numbers on it that there are today. In more recent years, I’ve heard it’s become a means for international trysts, which makes me sad. So honestly I don’t know how you vet the goodies from those just looking for a one-night stand, but all I can say is all the guys I’ve ever stayed with have been kind hosts who never came onto me.
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As a guy I reckon you’ve done well – you should probably also do it just as much for couchsurfing at a woman’s place as well, no????
Absolutely! It’s important to do your research on anyone you are staying with, although there is a sense of, for lack of a better word, sisterhood when crashing with another female traveler.
1 MILLION percent yes. I’m glad you had such a great experience because I feel like CS gets a bad rep sometimes because of one off incidents. Every surfer I have EVER surfed with has been male (not because I didn’t ask chicks, males just tend to be more open to the idea of CS in the first place). In addition to the dozen or so times I’ve surfed, I’ve hosted over 50 people, probably more than 40 were guys and have NEVER had issues or problems with safety, feeling uncomfortable or not at ease. CS’s great vouching and review system ensures that it’s difficult to get through as a creeper. I love that you went out and tried CS anyways, and as a general rule, I always tell people to trust your gut, if you feel weird about staying with someone, don’t. Even if you’re in their living room. It’s never too late to back out. Thanks for this post!
“Even if you’re in their living room. It’s never too late to back out.”
Great point. Sometimes you get those feelings when you travel, and being in a foreign country alone can make you ignore that feeling in your gut, just because you don’t know what else to do. It’s good to remember, couchsurfing or staying at a hostel/hotel/etc., if it doesn’t feel right, leave.
Great post. We’ve hosted and couchsurfed all over the world, but always as a couple. I’ve always wondered if I would be comfortable surfing or hosting a guy. I’d like to immediately say yes, but I think going through the steps you mentioned would make me a lot more comfortable. As Abbey and Camels & Chocolate said, we’ve always had good experiences with the CS community, but it always pays to do your homework. I’ve definitely seen profiles of people looking for more than just a couch..
I’ve never tried couchsurfing. I really, really value my space and when I imagine staying in a stranger’s house, I worry about a lack of privacy. Your post has made me reconsider my perception of it though – I’ve used AirBNB quite a bit, which is a lot like couchsurfing, only you have to pay!
Yeah, I’m the same way, I need my me time. I was surprised at how much privacy I had when I surfed and how generous the hosts were with their time, making sure I had a really great time in their city. I even lost my passport in Barcelona (of course) and my host took me to the American Embassy to get everything straightened out.
I’m glad to hear that you’ve had a good experience with Couchsurfing! I’ve always thought about it, but when it comes down to it, I just haven’t had the courage. Despite the vouch system, the thought of crashing at a stranger’s pad just freaks me out. I really enjoy my privacy and having my own bathroom, so I’m not sure if I could stand it. But if I needed to really travel on the cheap, I would maybe do it with a female host first to see how it went. I love the concept, at least! I’ve strongly thought about using it instead to grab coffee with a local or have someone show me around, just not stay with them. I like that the site has that option!
Staying with locals is definitely a great budget travel option. And as long as you do your homework and research your host’s profile, it’s a safe alternative. There’s actually an online community called Tripping that makes it easy for travelers to safely connect with locals. [https://www.tripping.com] Tripping has a TripSafe program that has features like anonymous ratings, references and Skype validation. They even have an emergency hotline. And they have part of their site dedicated to solo female travelers: https://www.tripping.com/network/solo-female-travelers.
I haven’t CS before, mainly because I usually travel with my boyfriend or other friends. I’m not opposed to the idea- just has never been an option. Good to know other people have tried it (a bunch) and rave about it.
This was helpful, thanks! I’ve actually just finished 18 months of travel and have settled down. I’ve actually been wondering if it was safe to HOST as a single female. I’m sure I’ll be wanting to travel again soon-ish, and I’d love to be in on the couchsurfing program.
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Just to play devil’s advocate a lil’ bit, if I may…
I’m a long term (male) user of CS with an immaculate, 30+ positive reference, multiple-vouched-for-profile, the majority of refs coming from girls. As of late, I haven’t been using it that much, simply because nearly everybody now on it is just not my style in the least… I guess I’ve gotten too old and cynical.
Regardless, I have to say that _every_ man I ever speak to about CS, and who know what it is/uses it, does use it to hit on girls. Even if they don’t actively hit on ladies i.e. make proposals, wine ‘n’ dine etc, they will be thinking it. I’m not innocent. I never host ugly girls, and nor does anyone else (aside from other ugly girls). Ugly guys I give a shot to if they seem cool, but again, my female CS-user friends in the city where I live unashamedly only choose good looking surfers (and pretty often sleep with them too). I can’t help but noticing the parade of pretty faces that adorn the comments on this article – something tells me you won’t have had too much of a hard time finding a bed for a night in a foreign city.
Now and then I’ve hooked up with CSers, but only when I stay at theirs, never vice-versa. I also do know about cases where girls have been made to feel pretty uncomfortable. I do think CS is a great idea and I like it, but please be aware that whether it’s obvious or not, your male host will be wanting to get into your pants.
I think this is a classic case of ‘speaking for yourself’. Don’t try to stereotype all guys and put them in your ‘creepy’ category. There are genuine people out there, it’s just a matter of finding them.
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Hey! I know this comment is coming over 2 years after you’ve written this post… But I’m embarking on a 5 week solo trip through Central Europe in exactly a week, and I intend to couchsurf throughout unless I’m absolutely stranded.
I was completely okay with the idea, till about two hours ago when my friends began to freak me out. Now I’m wondering if it’s such a good idea.
Your post has reassured me to some extent… But I still have my fingers crossed!!
Hey Surya, don’t worry, Couchsurfing is totally awesome and something we do often. You just need to be smart: do your research, check out a person’s references, look at their pictures and listen to your instinct. You’re going to be fine! I couchsurfed across South America without incident, just trust your gut!
I never thought of reaching out to previous female guests to ask them their opinions, which is such a great idea, and something I will definitely be doing from now on! Thank you for all the great tips!