What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing (CS) is a web portal that helps to connect travellers and hosts (mostly locals) almost all over the world. You need a profile. After staying at somebody’s place you leave a reference. Same for the host. Long positive references are the best ones. I think it is a way to show your gratitude. Start hosting people at your placs or meet other couchsurfers to get references before you travel.
Besides the free accommodation you spend time with locals. They give you a different perspective of the culture of your destination. I often get travel advices, have the opportunity to use their kitchen, and do things I would have never considered trying by myself (e.g. learning how to surf in the US, reiki in Thailand, having a presentation about Switzerland at a university in Japan). The list is long. I also hosted couchsurfers for a second time or visited them in their country or met up somewhere else…You never know who might be the next surprisingly amazing person! You do not have to offer a place to stay but I think it is a great experience.
I like to sleep on a couch. It feels like somebody is hugging me from behind. But I do not say no when my host offers me a spare bed or even a spare room. It is also possible to surf and host with a friend, a partner or as a family. For me as a woman travelling solo it is very easy to find a host. Often I can write a request in the morning and get a host for the same day. Fits great to my spontaneity. As a guy or a couple you need to ask around 1-2 weeks before your day of arrival. The more and better references you have on Couchsurfing, the easier. My boyfriend had a more difficult start than me. Women prefer to host other women and men prefer to host women. So in the beginning he got mainly hosted by gay men till he had enough references to seem trustworthy. Now he has more references than me. Love to couchsurfe with him and look forward to host people in the future in our tiny house.
So far I never had a really negative experience. Only a few weird ones. Most important are the references. Look for subtle hints. Many people do not write a negative reference since they do not want to have a negative reference themself. Today it is not possible to change a reference anymore. I think that is good. Once a host in Hungary asked me to change what I wrote about him. There was an incident at his place where he made me uncomfortable. After I said “no” he threatened me to write me a negative reference. I did not reply and luckily never heard of him again.
Is it safe?
There exist much more male CS than female CS. And some of the few female couchsurfers only surf and do not host. So most of my hosts were/are male. As a girl/woman travelling solo you will definitely learn how to say “no” in a clear way. Consider it as school of life. I would be lying if I would say I never had something with any of my hosts. It happend. But it is definitely not common.
You can’t be 100% sure who you are being hosted by or who is coming to your place. It is easy to set up a new account when somebody had a bad reference. But then the person has to start at zero.
Once I hosted a girl. She had no references but I thought everybody starts once. We shared similar interests so I was looking forward to meet her. She turned out to be a total disaster. She took Speed, said she hates asian food outside of her country while I was cooking her an asian curry and freaked out when she couldn’t open the bathroom door. It was closed because my roommate was using the toilet. However this experience did not stop me from hosting or surfing.
Honestly I feel much safer and often more comfortable to use Couchsurfing than staying in a hostel. Most of my hosts treat me as a family member or a good friend. I often feel home. Hostels are colder and can get very busy. I remember very well when I arrived in Chicago for the first time my host made many red crosses with a marker on a map on areas that are considered as dangerous. Another place my host persisted on picking me up with his car. Locals often know better and make sure you have a nice experience.
Safety Tips for Couchsurfing
- Tell somebody where you are staying if you feel safer and get the phone number of your host in case you get lost.
- Make sure the person has at least one picture where you can see the face.
- If your feeling tells you that there is something wrong – leave
- Please don’t just stay with someone because it’s free. If you can’t find a good host then you shouldn’t use CS for that town. There exist many weird people out there.
Exchange of knowledge and experiences
My last host in costa rica is a great example that couchsurfing is so much more than just staying at somebody’s place. He teached me how to surf a surfboard. He is such a patient teacher and got an incredible good friend. He made me feel like home. I’m so grateful for all the interesting conversations over meals and all the laughters.
Learning how to surf is not only fun. It’s exhausting, drinking a lot of saltwater which burns in the throat, and getting hurt by the surfboard and jellyfish. But thanks to my host who was my teacher for the last two weeks I managed not to be afraid of the waves anymore, stand up, and even turn left or right a little bit before I felt again like in a washing machine. But the feeling of catching a wave, being in the air is incredible satisfying and makes you forget everything else. Which can be bad if you also forget to stand up right in the right moment…
What can I give back? Since I love to cook I often cook for my hosts. In Japan I was babysitting, in the US dog sitting. I also clean the dishes or help whatever I can. Often my hosts tell me I can stay as long as I want. Do not take it for granted to get hosted! Some hosts get over 15 requests per day (e.g. New York, Amsterdam).
Please feel free to share your experiences 🙂