My Experience Couchsurfing Safely
I’ve had many years of great experiences hosting, in hosts homes, with daytime hosts, and at events. I wish you many years of safe couchsurfing with our great community!
6 Tips for Safe Couchsurfing
Tip #1 – Online Communication
Keep your communications within the Couchsurfing messaging and invitation systems as much as possible. This allows the Couchsurfing organization to access your plans and any information sent between you and your host. I feel safer using this system because if I go off my family’s radar, they can seek assistance from Couchsurfing Support, which I expect might be much easier than seeking support from Facebook Messenger, my cell phone provider, or my email provider. Considering it took me 7 phone calls to resolve an error on my phone bill, I cannot imagine the stress and difficulty my family would have in getting my most recent weeks’ texts in case of an emergency. If a host really insists on using a different messaging system (WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.) I email one or two of my close friends the hosts username, address, and all contact information of the host (Couchsurfing profile name, email address, Facebook name, etc.) that I have, along with the planned dates of my stay.
Tip #2 – Emergency Contact Information
The dropdown menu from the profile photo in the top right corner of the website has an option called ‘Account & Settings’. At the bottom of Account & Settings is a textbox for emergency contact information. Make sure to enter a friend or family members’ information. This way, if you’re with a host or other couchsurfer and are injured in a moped accident or some other disaster, they can reach out to Couchsurfing instead of searching your bags for your passport and wallet.
Tip #3 – Meeting New People
Couchsurfing events often are held in public venues, like restaurants. I also meet my hosts and surfers in public places. This means I pick up my surfer from the train or bus station. The stations are near hotels and other public transportation, so I won’t feel too badly if I leave them there—they can easily go elsewhere.
Tip #4 – Who to Host & Surf With
Who do you feel comfortable sharing space with? Personally, I prefer hosting women who have at least 2 positive references, or men who have at least 2 positive references from women. However, for daytime hosts, when I know I’ll always be in public places, I don’t insist on those requirements. You should choose your own safety strategies based on your travel experience, comfort, language fluency of the place you’re traveling in, and any other factors that are important to you. When hosting, I’ll mention to my neighbors that I’m having couchsurfers and to call the police right away if they hear screams, or see anyone walking out with my possessions. My neighbors shake their heads and mumble things like ‘crazy’, ‘why?’, and ‘well, that last one seemed nice’. However, I have never had any problem with any of my guests– just 1 took my tube of toothpaste, since we had the same brand, and they mistook it for theirs when departing. Oops!
Tip #5 – Back Up Plan for Lodging
Always have enough money in local currency for lodging for a variety of reasons. First, you may decide that you do not want to stay with your host. Upon meeting your host, you may not feel comfortable with the person, or even with couchsurfing in general. Second, your host may have a sudden change in plans, and is suddenly unavailable to host you, due to a family emergency or illness. I once had a host who had the flu. She kindly offered to host me despite her illness, but I didn’t want to risk getting sick during my travels or cause her extra work when she wasn’t feeling well. Last, you may get unlucky and get a host who simply stops responding to your messages hours before your arrival time. I had this happen to me once. Luckily I’d been hiking with a daytime host, who offered to let me stay at her home. I stayed with her a few nights and she and her family were wonderful!!!! So, don’t get too upset if a host doesn’t work out. You may get an even better host, instead.
Tip #6 – Internet
As with any website, anyone in the world can write and post photos of anything. You will never know if it is the truth, so if you don’t feel that you trust your host or surfer, then you should always feel free to leave or ask them to leave if they are in your home. Simply let them know that you’re new to Couchsurfing and suddenly not comfortable.
- Hosts: If you suddenly can’t or don’t want to host after accepting a request from a guest, you should provide an explanation. It’s polite to at least meet them in a public place and make helpful suggestions for alternate lodging. Flaking without notice or assistance will get you a negative review. As a surfer, it is really stressful when a host cancels with short notice. Arriving in a new location is already a little difficult, and no traveler wants to research and request lodging at the last minute. Fewer hosts are available and budget lodging may be fully booked. I’ve experienced a flaky host, and it’s terrible!
- Hosts: if it is your first time hosting, consider being a daytime host. Once you meet the surfer, you can always choose to extend an invitation for an overnight stay.
- Guests: If you will not be staying with a host after you’ve accepted their invitation, PLEASE write them a short note thanking them for their consideration and letting them know as much time in advance as possible (days are better, but hours is better than no notice). No-show guests are horrible! Your host has likely taken time cleaning and planning for your stay. Also, a host who has experienced a no-show guest is often more strict with future guests, based on a poor experience.
Since 2008 I have used the free Couchsurfing.org website for much more than finding a free place to stay the night. When traveling, I connect with locals who share my hobbies and interests, so I can learn the “best of…” in their area. And, when at home I use the website to connect with travelers and like-minded locals by hosting travelers for a few hours or overnight and attending events, like meet-ups or the local ‘couchsurfing foodie’ group. I’ll share my tips with you here.
Personalized assistance is available. A 45 minute session includes a review of your profile and advice specific to your needs, such as what should be included in your profile or any fears or concerns about meeting a host for the first time. Couchsurfing.org is truly an amazing resource, which unfortunately most people don’t take full advantage of, since they think it’s only for staying on someone’s dirty couch — personally, I’ve never stayed on a dirty couch, and never plan to! As an added benefit to me as a traveler, Couchsurfing.org has saved me thousands of dollars on tours, transportation, and lodging, and you can do the same. The website allows learning directly from local contacts generously helping travelers like you and me!
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