Check out our Couchsurfing for Newbies Guide for more tips.
I’ve been a member of the website Couchsurfing since 2009 but have only surfed once. I heard about the site through other travelers as a great way to experience a destination while sleeping for free. The site creates a community of mutual trust by letting you search through profiles for people you would be interested in staying with.
I finally got to surf in January 2011 when I stayed with a high school guidance counselor in Los Angeles. My family wasn’t thrilled with the idea of me sleeping on a stranger’s floor in La Brea, but it all turned out fine. I spent a few days playing with her pit bull and wandering the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. I got to see parts of L.A. that wouldn’t even have been on my radar before. It also allowed me to experience the fascinating public transportation of the city that many locals don’t even use.
My experience was a positive one, but not every experience is like this. So it begs the question: should solo females Couchsurf?
If you have some safety concerns, they aren’t unwarranted. There have been a few stories about bad things happening to surfers. But in my mind, your host has to trust that you won’t hurt them as much as you trust them not to hurt you.
Izy of The Wrong Way Home had one unsavory experience out of six times surfing: “I’ve couchsurfed in America, Mexico and Spain and had a number of different experiences – some incredible, and some a bit awkward. Like this time a Spanish couchsurfing host decided he wanted to sleep with me, despite me having a boyfriend and telling him it made me feel uncomfortable. He took me out to drinks/dinner, ordering expensive things and expecting me to pay. Drank too much he couldn’t drive home (and didn’t tell me this was his intention), asked me to pay for a taxi because he couldn’t afford it and then proceeded to slap my ass and made me feel really uncomfortable!”
Diana of D Travels Round didn’t have the best first impression of the community when her host was putting the moves on a girl in his apartment while Diana sat awkwardly checking her email. She ended up leaving to go stay in a hostel.
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures had her room given away by her Couchsurfing host in Cuba and had to look elsewhere for accommodations.
I will say that most of these situations are rare and isolated. Many can be avoided by carefully reading your host’s profile. Are all of the reviews from people who haven’t actually surfed with them? Are their pictures of them traveling or with other CS guests?
Ways to Stay Safe
If you’ve decided that you still want to give Couchsurfing a chance, there are a few ways to stay safe and to make sure you have a great experience.
1. Choose Wisely. Look carefully through profiles to pick someone with plenty of positive reviews. I also prefer my hosts to be both vouched and verified, meaning their address has been confirmed. You may also prefer that your host be female or a couple. Community Members are also great people to surf with as they have experience hosting many people and know a lot about their cities.
2. Know the details. Before taking the bus to this person’s house, know what you’re walking into. Make sure your host will be home when you arrive or has made a plan for someone to let you in. Where will you be sleeping? On a couch, an air mattress or in your host’s bedroom? Also know who else will be staying there, namely roommates or other surfers. And lastly, it doesn’t hurt to Google your host’s name.
3. Have a backup plan. Sometimes your host is too busy to show you around or you get a bad vibe from someone. Or they may have overbooked surfers or just plain forgotten. It’s okay to leave and in this case, always have the phone number of a hostel or place to stay if surfing doesn’t work out.
4. Start local. If you’re nervous, start with coffee or local meetups in your community. Talk to other people who have surfed before and ask for tips. You can even host travelers yourself.
What the Travelers Say
If you’re still not sold, here is some advice from the travelers who have been there, both male and female!
“1) Stay with a woman or a place where the woman is the primary contact. 2) Contact your host’s referrals directly for feedback on the experience. If anything seems amiss, cancel the stay, even if it means you have to pay for a hotel. 3) Set up a phone or skype call with your host in advance so you can get to know them a bit beforehand and, again, cancel if anything seems amiss.”
– Beth Whitman, founder of Wanderlust and Lipstick
“Please advise women to never, ever post a phone number or address anywhere on the CS site, because those posts are now being indexed by Google and anyone can access them- even if they’re not a CS member.”
– Scott Shetler, blogger at Quirky Travel Guy
“If you are a girl wanting to couchsurf with a male host, one thing to consider is culture norms between the sexes. There is no reason to steer clear of male CS hosts, but that is definitely something to consider.”
– Erica Kuschel, co-founder of Over Yonderlust
“I think the references are the backbone and foundation of this idea, and need to be used accordingly. Your gut instinct will tell you a lot about whether you should stay with someone. If they don’t have a lot to tell you about themselves, that sends off a warning bell – I think I can hear it in their personal voice. If they don’t have many references, or good quality references, that raises red flags for me too. I personally still think it works, but it’s only as smart as you make it.”
– Kate Clarke, blogger at CanuckiwiKate
Be a good guest. Bring a gift or offer to cook dinner one night. I brought my host a nice candle. Don’t treat your host’s home like it’s a free hostel. Be interested in what your host has to say about their city. Clean up after yourself.
Write plenty of details on your profile. Your host is taking a leap of faith by letting you stay at their house, so give them some information about yourself. Get your CS friends to write reviews on your page, vouching for you. Where have you traveled before? What are your favorite bands, books and movies? These types of information may not seem important, but help you to find common ground.
Leave a review. Be honest about your experiences, bad or good. It benefits the safety of other surfers. You don’t need to get unnecessarily catty but if this person threatened your security, say so. And if someone asks you for money, get out of there. Offering to buy a meal is one thing, but chipping in on rent or covering your expenses for your stay is inappropriate for your host to ask, not to mention against CS guidelines.
CouchSurfing is NOT a dating site. Treating it as such changes the way the community is seen by people who aren’t a part of it. There are plenty of other websites for meeting men on.
- What is Couchsurfing?, Solitary Wanderer
- Can I Sleep On Your Couch? An Ode to Couchsurfing, Bridges and Balloons
- Couchsurfing in the Middle East, Flashpacker Family
Have you ever couchsurfed or hosted a traveler? Do you have any additional advice?
I’ve couchsurfed a few times in Canada. As a girl travelling solo at the time, I’ve actually stayed with more single males then I have females. The only unfortunate experience I had was with a host in Ottawa. He had cats and I got the impression he hadn’t cleaned his apartment of the cat hair in a LONG time. I’m not asthmatic but I was honestly concerned that I was going to have an attack. I didn’t have the heart to say anything regarding the cat hair in the review I left on his page.
Marian @ Couchsurfing says
This is an amazing post, thank you so much Caroline for writing! Unfortunately (and this is totally a societal thing), women have to be especially aware and careful when traveling alone. The advice from these bloggers is spot on. If you’re smart and take your well-being seriously and always have a back up plan, your Couchsurfing experiences will not only be safe, but life-changing.
Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com says
I’ve been surfing solo since 2009, and used it all the way in my 70-day solo backpacking trip in Europe last year. It has changed now since I last signed up in 2007 but I still love it. Thanks for including my post!
Great post Caroline.
I’m a solo female CouchSurfer and luckily have never had a bad experience, either hosting or surfing.
I wrote a post on safety advice for solo female CSers a few months ago and the only thing I would add to your tips is to let someone know where you are. I text or email my family or a friend with the name, address and contact number for anyone one I’m surfing with. They also have the login details to my CS account if they need to check up on me. They’ve never had reason for concern but I, and they, feel better knowing where I am and who I’m with.
I surfed only once and it was with a male host in Mexico City. I guess CS is not a free hotel service, but my host Rolando Heffers did everything to make it as comfortable as possible, like a hotel plus tourist service. There was always food and his maids asked me what I wanted to eat, they bought all kind of stuff, his driver drove me around, and I never was asked to pay anything. I never had to clean, he said just treat it like your home etc. I felt really comfortable and the company was great, he introduced me to lots of friends and fun people. We even went out for dinner and he did not let me pay. And never a hint of anything sexual, in fact I could see other girls at parties were hitting on him but he seemed just too busy with work and with organizing parties (I never understood if the parties were part of his work, lol).
Megan E. says
I too have been signed up forever, but only did it once. I connected with a girl in France and stayed with her family outside the city. It was a lot of fun, she was kind and met me in the city, we had dinner first, then went back to her family’s place. Her mom helped me get around the next day and I contributed a baguette for dinner that night. I also showed them pictures of my other travels and we discussed living in different places. I would do it again if the need or opportunity arose. We did talk online before I met with her and I would recommend doing as much searching and verification as possible.
My rule is usually to only host or surf with girls (unless I feel pretty certain a guy is gay or it’s a male/female couple living together). Sorry single straight dudes, I just don’t feel comfortable staying with or hosting you. I hate to stereotype but I’d rather do that than feel unsafe. I also usually talk to them on facebook or something first, but not always. And I will always meet them in a public place like a train station before they come to my place or I go to theirs.
Adventurous Andrea says
While I do think it’s important to take extra precautions (making sure the person has a lot of positive recommendations, checking their websites, be-friending them on a social network, etc.), I have never felt unsafe while Couch Surfing. I think it’s all about tapping into your intuition.
Kara B says
Thank you for all the helpful tips. Planning to do CS anytime soon and I’m still a bit half-hearted. But I’ll keep all these things in mind. =)
Some precautions that I take:
1) Women or Couples. Men ONLY if there aren’t options, they seem to host solo female travelers without any hint of any sexual thing going on, girls leave raving references about how “kind” + “respectful” someone is.
2) Only stay in the city near reliable public transit. If it’s a bad situation, you need to get out of there immediately–and being near public transit/in a city gives you that flexibility. Plus, I don’t like needing to wait or walk by myself at night more than I need to do, especially in a foreign city where I don’t know the transit system well.
3) READ ALL THE REFERENCES. I eliminate people if I see a neutral or negative reference. It’s rare, but it’s enough for me to say no especially considering how many CSers are in cities.
4) Sort by experience and pick someone you feel like you’d get along with–and has an actual bed/sofa bed for you, preferably NOT in their room. Even if they’re a couple or a girl, I like the idea of having my own space.
Great tips, I’ve just joined Couch Surfing and was wondering about the safety side as a solo female travelers…..crossed fingers I have a good experience!