WHEN YOU’RE TRAVELING on a tight budget, Couchsurfing can be one of your biggest blessings; however, as a solo female traveler you have to add an extra layer of precaution to your Couchsurfing adventures — especially now that so many people have distorted the real purpose of the site and started using it as a hookup app. Couchsurfing Horror Stories is a Facebook page filled with tales of women travelers who, instead of having a free place to sleep, ended up getting harassment and unwanted propositions. There are even some jerks openly blogging about how they use the site to bang foreign women.
This does not mean every person out there using the app is looking for more than what they state: a place to sleep and/or a new friend to hang out with while traveling. But, given that there seem to be so many creeps out there, here is a short list of tips to add to your personal security measures when Couchsurfing.
1. Have a good look at the host’s/surfer’s profile.
It’s the first thing you should do when looking for a host or casting a surfer. Some people are not good with words but you probably should avoid that guy who only lists “football” as his interest, and only talks briefly about himself. A person’s profile is the first impression you get from them so it’s important that you read it thoroughly. If anything seems shady, shut that tab and go find some other couch.
Some warning signs to watch out for:
- They don’t use their real name but a nickname.
- They have very few photos of themselves or only have pics where you can’t see their face clearly.
- They list “sex” as one of their interests.
- They are only willing to host females.
- Talk frequently about what a “good time ;)” they’ve had with previous woman surfers.
It’s all about the references. If the person has none, there’s a chance that they’re new to the site, but it may be best to keep a cautious eye out. I prefer people who have at least 3 or 4 references — and the more detailed the better.
But even if they have plenty of recommendations, check them thoroughly. Some people may not want to be rude or be wary of posting an openly bad reference, so it’s best to read carefully, so you can pick up on subtle queues. Once, while looking for a host around the Atacama Desert, I noticed a comment by a female surfer (among an array of great references) warning about the host’s “overtly friendly” roommate and how you should make your intentions clear when staying at this person’s place. Not a good scene.
3. Interact before the meetup.
You get to know them and their intentions a little better and, even if they’re not trying to hook up, by talking about your plans, you’ll be able to figure out if this person’s the right host for you and if you’ll be able to get along. It is an awkward situation when you find yourself staying with someone who has decided to accompany you everywhere you go or with whom you have absolutely nothing to talk about.
4. Check the couch information.
Are they offering a bed, a private room, or a couch? Do they have no info at all? In that case, be straightforward and ask about it. I’ve run into a few people who only offer a shared bed…
5. Trust your gut.
Above all things, trust your instincts. A person’s profile may seem perfect, but if after interacting with them, anything seems weird or makes you uncomfortable, either address it or just go find another host.
The same thing applies if you’ve already arrived at their place. You are by no means obligated to stay with anyone if you’re not fully comfortable with them or the situation. Remember that Couchsurfing is for people to offer their homes and company out of kindness and as a chance to connect with travelers. Nothing else. You don’t owe anyone anything but a good conversation and respect for them and their house. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, excuse yourself and go.
6. Have a backup.
Always have the info on nearby hostels or other places to stay in case something doesn’t work out.
Overall, you can be certain that great Couchsurfing experiences vastly overcome the few bad ones, but stay alert. There are things much more important than saving a buck.