When I tell people that I CouchSurfed my way around Europe and North Africa, I am met with either one of two responses: a cringe and ”You mean, you stay with strangers? …Is it safe?” or an enthusiastic “Wow, how can I sign-up for this free accomodation!”
This post is for those of who you haven’t tried it yet, but maybe thinking about it. Or for those who think I’m nuts staying with someone I haven’t met.
As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place [...] CouchSurfing isn’t about the furniture- it’s not just about finding free accommodations around the world- it’s about participating in creating a better world. We strive to make a better world by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. – CouchSurfing
Nothing in life is a guarantee. Unfortunately, there are some strange people out there, but do your research when you are looking for hosts or accepting guests, and these easy tips can help ensure you find someone you are compatible with.
Hosts are requested when they join to verify their address. To register, you have the option of making a credit card donation, and having a postcard sent to your address to verify where you live. If you are worried about your safety using the site, I’d advise looking for a host who has the verified tick of approval.
Although, while more-and-more people are becoming verified, many don’t for one-political-reason-or-another. So looking only for verified addresses may narrow your search results somewhat.
Vouching is part of the safety features of CouchSurfing. It allows other members to show their trust in a member of the site. When you vouch for someone, you are basically telling the community that you trust them highly and willing to stand behind them (or “vouch” for them). By having a good reputation, and many references, you are boosting their reputation.
You can vouch for another member once you have received 3 vouches yourself.
When my younger brother joined the community recently, I had no qualms vouching for him, as an example. Obviously I trust my brother, and am happy recommending him to the community.
A lot of CouchSurfers want the street cred. that comes with being vouched. They shouldn’t try to work the system or rush the process, but just work on being a good person, and building positive, trustworthy relationships. As a habit, I generally don’t vouch for people who outright ask me for one. It’s my trust, I don’t just give it away.
Read the references of your host/surfer. They should be more than a few words, and mostly positive. Skim the profile of the person leaving the reference, they should have photos, have been a member for a while, have a full and complete profile.
In Egypt I noticed a few scammers with almost-empty profiles, their references were positive, but on checking the profiles of the “guest” I noticed they were also empty and brand-new. Obviously I wasn’t going to trust these people.
Sometimes you will find the member is new, and therefore doesn’t have a lot of references. You take a risk with them. But generally if they have a full profile with plenty of pictures, they are making the effort, so it could be a risk worth taking. See my post on being noticed on CouchSurfing for tips on how to build your references as a new member.
Not so much a safety issue, but good common-practice for finding the best match. Check the members response rate (CouchSurf requests replied to). This is an indicator of how many requests they have responded to. Like anything, the system can be gamed. But generally, an active CouchSurfer will respond either yes/no to their requests, and maintain a response-rate above 90%.
As a rule, I narrow down my couch searching to people who have logged in the last 7 days. I only want to stay with active members (and would like a reply ASAP to my request). Someone involved heavily in the community is more likely going to be a safe person, and a great host/guest.
Meetup in Public
When I started out hosting, the first few times, I would get the guest to meet me in a public place like a cafe or a market. I just wanted to spend 20 minutes establishing if they were trustworthy. After a few years of hosting I got too lazy though, and it wasn’t very often that I hosted someone strange. Yes, there’s been the odd few.
If you are concerned for your safety, I would encourage you ask your host to meet somewhere public, during daylight hours.
Having said that, I’ve met hosts at 2am at their house, and haven’t had a problem.
Host Only Real Life Friends
I would only do this one as a last-resort, since I am a little more open to meeting new people, but it is an option for those out there worried about meeting strangers from the Internet.
In Hungary I met a few girls who only host people they have previously met at CouchSurfing events. So, they would attend a meeting where a host would take along their surfer. They would hit it off, join up with the activities, and become friends (even though they weren’t hosting the person directly). Then in the future, they would offer up their couch next time the surfer wanted to visit. I met one girl in Hungary who followed this strategy, and couchsurfed with her later in England.
In Slovakia I met people who didn’t often say yes to couch requests, but they still attended all the meetings. There was one American couple looking for a host for that night, and these people said yes, no problem. Since they met them at the bar, and they seemed like a good, honest couple.
Not a Dating Site
Unfortunately there are plenty of people out there that give CouchSurfing a bad name, they use it just to meet people for casual encounters… which is why so many people find themselves saying “CouchSurfing is not a dating site!”
I’ve seen many profiles of guys who only accept female surfers, I’ve even see the odd one that says “we will have to share a bed, I don’t have a couch”. If you’re comfortable with that, then go for it, but I wouldn’t be.
But for every 2 or 3 people who are looking to hookup, there’s another 1 or 2 who are looking to open their homes up to a traveller for a genuine cultural exchange.
I was a host for years before I grew the courage to travel solo myself. It was a fantastic way to inspire and motivate me, and hear all the stories of places travelled and adventures had.
And as far as the whole “dating site” thing goes… no you shouldn’t be using CouchSurfing to find sex, but sometimes when you get two people together who have similar interests and passions, magic happens. It’s not always avoidable.
Don’t feel obligated
If you’re feeling unsafe, or if they seem a little bit off, trust your gut and make other arrangements. That’s why it pays to always have a backup plan. With all my surfing experiences, I generally take down a few hostels in town just in case things don’t work out.
Is it Safe for Women?
Yes, I still think it is. But there are a few cases (amongst thousands of “normal” exchanges) where women have been taken advantage of.
When I couch surfed my way through Morocco I met a fellow CouchSurfer in Essaouira. We connected through CouchSurfing, and she was heading back the way I had come, so I referred her to a few good CouchSurfers I had stayed with.
A few weeks later I had an email from her, she was a little distraught, and giving me feedback on one of our mutual hosts (and a CouchSurfing friend of mine). When I stayed with him, he was fantastic. He showed me around his city for 2-3 days, we had great conversations, and a wonderful time. I met his family, had my haircut at his barber, and we even went to a Hamam together.
Her experience was not quite the same. She told me he was physically agressive with her, and insisted they share a bed. She ended up leaving in the middle of the night, and getting him to leave her backpack outside for her to collect.
I was shocked. Sure negative experiences happen, but I didn’t expect it from one of my hosts.
Turns out, you never really know how someone will act.
Because I am a guy, my experience was different. So, use common-sense, and be a little cautious. Adopt the methods I mentioned above. Most times it will be overkill, but it’s better to be safe.
A well-written article in Time (Travel) from Cody about his experiencesCouchSurfing.
Roy from RoyMarvelous has an entire series dedicated to CouchSurfing. A trusted resource, with some really good tips. Roy and I hold very similar opinions of the project, and we both get involved with the community as much as possible.
Daniel from TwoGoRTW wrote a really great post about the safety-side of CouchSurfing, I encourage you to read it. He goes as far as pulling quotes from a police interview!
And if you still want more reading on CouchSurfing, read the safety pages and the FAQ.
It is Safe
If I’ve talked you into giving it a try, hosting a traveller for yourself, or searching for some free accommodation next time you take a trip, why not sign up today? Then read my tips on how to make a CouchSurfing profile that get’s you noticed.
The benefits of Couchsurfing go far beyond finding a free place to sleep, but more on that later.
is a guy who gave up his career and mortgage for solo long-term travel. He travelled extensively across Europe for a year before heading onward to North Africa. He is now planning a trip to Latin America. As always there’s sure to be plenty of laughs, tears, and misadventures along the way.