Cities Journal

How Safe is Couch Surfing?

The art of couch surfing, or crashing for free on other people’s sofas, has become a viable part of global travel for all ages. According to Couchsurfing, the leading website for the practice, surfers range from 18 to 60-plus in age, with 28 being the average age. 47 percent of the couch surfers are female and 53 percent are male.

For veteran and novice travelers alike, the idea of staying with someone you’ve never met poses safety questions. While couch surfing does entail risk, the same can be said for many other travel practices. Learn how to mitigate your risk, if you decide to try couch surfing.

Best practices when looking for free places to stay

The Coachsurfing website provides helpful tips for travelers and hosts who want to protect their security. They suggest that you read all reviews carefully. If a host in a given location has no reviews or friend connections, strongly consider looking for a host with several positive reviews or paying to stay in a hotel.

While the unknown stranger could be perfectly safe, you’ll feel better staying with someone who can be vouched for by fellow travelers, especially if you are a solo female traveler.

Think about what sort of behavior would irritate you or make you feel unsafe, and brainstorm ways to look for this behavior when reading people’s profiles. For example, a guy who writes that you can stay in his bed only, and that he is only looking to host chicks could be hoping for a hookup.

If that’s why you are couch surfing, that’s fine. If not, you’d best stay elsewhere. Likewise, hosts who advertise clothing-optional stays or post provocative pictures of themselves are probably not going to be a good match.
When communicating with potential hosts/guests, keep conversations to the onsite messaging system and avoid exchanging personal emails or telephone numbers for safety.

If you’re really nervous about spending the night with someone you’ve never met, consider attending a meet-up beforehand. Many cities have regular meet-ups for people interested in the couch surfing community. An evening mingling with normal-seeming hosts and guests can allay some of your fears. You may even connect with someone who is able to host you for part of your stay.

Once you find a place to stay

Before you meet, tell other people where you are going and create a backup plan in case things seem of. Once you arrive at the meeting spot, trust your instincts. You don’t have to stay with someone, if they’re giving you bad vibes.

Finally, whether you have a positive or negative experience, leave feedback to help fellow travelers plan their trip. The Coachsurfing website has an “abuse and negative experiences” board that handles complains confidentially. If you’ve found your free couch through another venue, a different website, by word of mouth, a recommendation in a tourist office, etc. give feedback as to how it went.

Resources if something does go wrong

If you do end up in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, know your rights. If there is a consular office or police station nearby, have the address in your bag. It’s generally advised to write down this information when you know you’re going to a specific location, so you have it in the heat of the moment.

Have on hand information on local transit options and an idea of where to find a cheap hotel if you need one. Finally, if you’re in town and cannot connect with your host, there are last-minute forums you can post to in hopes of making alternative arrangements.

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