I use Couchsurfing since 2013, slept on over 100 couches in North, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and hosted a few people at my place in Biel, Switzerland. I am blown away by the amazing people I met so far.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing (CS) is a web portal that helps to connect travellers and hosts (mostly locals) almost all over the world. First 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 place 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 and Costa Rica, 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 we 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 also use Couchsurfing to meet people. Even in my city. There are great events like potluck dinners, karaoke parties, living room concerts, language exchanges. A great way to meet similar minded people.
How long do people usually stay?
Most of the time I request 3-5 nights. Some people refuse when requesting 1-2 nights as they say it is not long enough to get to know each other. A few places I stayed I ended up staying longer because I gave back through simple things like cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, looking after kids or animals. Many hosts have said to me I am welcome to stay longer or come back any time. I think too long is probably when it is no longer convenient, comfortable or pleasant.
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. 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. He told me that men can be hosted just as easily as women by searching for hosts who set their profiles to “Preferred Gender Male”. Now he has more references than me. I love to couchsurfe with him and look forward to host people in the future in our tiny home.
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 themselves. 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.
As a couple we usually filter for “private room”. Surprisingly many places we stayed are very luxury. But we also found the contrary. Be open-minded and listen to people’s stories.
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 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 from 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 and 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.
- Tell somebody where you are staying if you feel safer and get the phone number of your host in case you get lost.
- Ask for the address AND location, dangerous areas in that city, how to get to a place (e.g. which bus), and if there is a bell.
- 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.
Please feel free to share your experiences 🙂