Throughout my travels in Europe (and after I got back), the question 'is Couchsurfing safe?' came up a lot.
I had some incredible experiences that gave me the opportunity to see and do things from the perspective of a local – things I never would have done otherwise – but when I shared these stories, what struck me was the amount of women who were keen to try it, but hadn’t signed-up out of fear.
I completely understand having anxiety when it comes to Couchsurfing – I was pretty anxious about it myself. Staying in the house of a complete stranger, in another country, where you may not speak the language, is counterintuitive – it defies all the ‘stranger-danger’ warnings drummed in to you as a kid, aligns with a bunch of different horror films, and insights a range of creative ‘what if?’ scenarios that most-likely end in you dying a gruesome death.
I’m not saying bad things don’t happen, or denying Couchsurfing horror stories, but the odds of those things happening to you are slim. You also put yourself in potential danger when you cross the road or drive anywhere, but you take safety precautions when doing those things – the same goes for Couchsurfing.
If you’re feeling anxious about Couchsurfing, here are some points I found useful before signing up:
1. Read Host Reviews
Host reviews are the first indicator of what your host is like as a person, so make use of the reviews and read them all. I hate that I have to say this, but I probably wouldn’t stay alone at a man’s house unless he had a lot of great reviews from solo female travellers.
It’s sad that we live in a world where guys on Couchsurfing have to prove they’re not creeps – I know there are genuinely friendly guys out there who just want to make friends – but staying with a guy who has no reviews on his profile send off alarm bells, and I wouldn’t do it.
2. Meet Your Host In Public
If it’s your first time, you might be feeling a bit anxious about walking straight in to the home of someone you’ve never met, so it’s a good idea to meet them in public before you dump your stuff in their living room.
I’ve met hosts at cafes, in parks during the middle of the day, at city landmarks, and at the station as I got off the train – it’s totally normal and ok to arrange to meet up first in public. On the flip side, the host is probably also sussing you out to make sure you’re not a killer – it works both ways.
3. Trust Your Gut
If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. Don’t stay in a situation because you’re too polite to back out, or you think it would be awkward. If it feels weird and you want out, you are completely entitled to leave. If you’re worried about how that might be received, make something up (my mum just arrived in town a day early; my friend is upset and wants me to see her; I need to go to the store; I need to get to the next town this afternoon instead of tomorrow; ect). It’s better to feel safe.
4. Use The ‘Hangout’ Feature
Aside form finding somewhere to sleep, if you want to meet people without staying at their house, the Hangout feature on the app is the way to go – I’ve raved about this before, but I love it! Press the ‘Hangout’ button, type in what you want to do, and meet up with someone or a group of people who want to do what you want to do, and go back to your hostel/hotel when you’ve had enough.
I’ve met up with locals and travellers to have beers, explore the city, and drink coffee, and they’ve all been fantastic experiences – it’s a really great way of making friends in a new place.
5. Read Positive Reviews
The last things you want to do is become so cautious you can’t enjoy yourself, so it’s beneficial to read about some really great experiences. According to Couchsurfing, 99-percent of user experiences are positive. Couchsurfing wouldn’t be as big as it is if terrible things kept happening to surfers and hosts, so keep that in mind.
While it definitely pays to be wary, in my experience, lots of people really do want to help you out, give you somewhere to stay, learn about where you come from, be your friend, and provide you with experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of good people in the world, and I think it's important to remind yourself of that sometimes.