5 Tips for Couchsurfing Safely
In a last-ditch effort before moving back home from a year in Germany, I planned a month of traveling on a broke traveler’s budget. Think in the range of less than $1000 to travel around England, Wales, the Republic of Ireland, Germany and Iceland. I was pretty desperate for money at that point. But I was also pretty desperate to travel before I had to enter the real world again.
To help lengthen my low budget, I turned to Couchsurfing – an online community of fellow travelers who willingly host each other for free on their couches, beds, and floors… you name it. While in Germany, I used Couchsurfing to meet up with people in my town and gain a social life. During that last month I searched deep into Couchsurfing to find a place to sleep in every city I was visiting.
I found some really awesome people. I stayed with an old lady at her cottage in northern Wales who drove me around to various castles, a couple in Dublin who I had met from a previous trip there while celebrating New Years Eve with them, a German dude who simply thought Seattle was a cool place because Detlef Schrempf played for the Sonics, a young professional who lived right on the River Thames, and two Icelandic roommates who were really into Christmas. I made great memories from that trip, but I also made some bad ones too. Two men I stayed with at separate times sexually harassed me and one of them ended up stalking me after I left.
I learned to listen closer to my gut feelings.
After those negative incidents happened, how am I still such a big advocate for Couchsurfing?? I don’t excuse them for what happened, but they taught me what I was doing wrong in my Couchsurfing searches and that I should listen closer to my gut feelings. Thankfully neither led to anything dangerous, and the Couchsurfers who sheltered me right after them vindicated my feelings about Couchsurfing immediately with their kindness. If you are planning to Couchsurf for the first time soon, read these personally tested tips on how to Couchsurf safely…
Cast a Wide Net
Not everybody you send a message to will respond back. Therefore, it is necessary to send requests to multiple Couchsurfers to make sure some of them will reply back. Just make sure that you would be comfortable Couchsurfing at everyone’s place you send a request to.
It is important to read the previous reviews about the Couchsurfers to make sure that their guests never had any trouble with them before. Even the slightest notion of discomfort or complaint should be a good warning sign to not stay with that host. The more reviews about a host, the better!
Take your Time
When casting a wide net on who to message, send a generally early request to the hosts and then check up with them if it gets close to when you’ll need a place to stay. Some hosts are very last minute in their replies or are not sure of how long they wish to host their Couchsurfers. Flexibility is needed when requesting on Couchsurfing. If multiple hosts agree to let you in, ask one of them if you can keep them as a backup plan in case your first choice doesn’t work out so well.
Stay in your Comfort Zone
Don’t let desperation ruin your travel and Couchsurfing experience. If you have special preferences for the gender of your host or where you wish to stay for location, don’t be afraid to mention that in the Couchsurfing comment boards. It may sound picky to some Couchsurfers, but your safety is more important than their opinions.
Trust your Instincts
This is very important, especially for female solo travelers! If you have a bad feeling about agreeing to a certain host, or if they seem like a seedy character, or have questionable reviews – don’t stay with them! It’s okay to back out of an agreement to stay with another Couchsurfer that you feel more comfortable around. A general deal for some Couchsurfers is that they stay on someone’s couch for a day or two before they agree to stay longer. There are also many hosts who are willing to host another Couchsurfer during a last-minute emergency.
Find Fun/Free Events through Couchsurfing
In every city board on Couchsurfing, there will be board posts about official or personal Couchsurfing group events! Take advantage of these events to make friends, find cheap or free activities and have a good time wherever you’re traveling!
All photos taken and owned by Kumiko Matter