This is Part 7 of the 8-part Beginner’s Guide to Couchsurfing:
1. Introduction to the Guide
2. What Couchsurfing Is & How it Works
3. Getting Started and What Hosts Want
4. How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Profile
5. Examples: What Not To Do in Couchsurfing Requests
6. How to Write a Great Couchsurfing Request
7. How to Make Sure Your Couchsurfing Experience is 100% Safe
8. Isn’t Couchsurfing Dangerous For Women?
As a solo female backpacker, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to Couchsurf safely. Thus far, as of July 2017, I’ve safely Couchsurfed 31 times, hosting guests 10 times and surfing 21 times.
The first thing I’ll point out is that there is no such thing as a 100% safe Couchsurfing experience. I’d argue there’s no such thing as a 100% safe travel experience, either. These things can always carry a small inherent danger that prevents someone from guaranteeing 100% safety. But you can get pretty darn close with the tips below.
1. Only stay with people with a large number of reviews.
Additionally, don’t interact, stay with, or host people who have 0 references or seem off in some way.
Every person on the platform has a reference section which details what staying with them is like. It’s just like a Yelp or Airbnb review. As a solo surfer, stay away from people who don’t have reviews – while they’re likely great people, they could also be more sinister, and since you cannot differentiate which of the two they are, don’t stay with them or meet up in person.
How many is ‘large’? This depends on how trusting you are of the community. I’d say the following is a good outline:
- Very Relaxed Safety Standards: 10-15 reviews
- Average Safety Standards: : 15-30 reviews
- Strict Safety Standards: : 30+ reviews
When I surf, I generally will stay with people with 12+ reviews – if they’re in the 12-22 range of reviews, I’ll be sure to analyze the references and make sure they’re above-and-beyond.
Generally, speaking, if they have 30+ positive reviews, they’re very, very likely to be fantastic hosts. It still helps to take some of the precautions listed below, especially if you’re new to Couchsurfing.
Also, if someone seems ‘off’ when messaging you, err on the side of caution and find another host. One of my to-be hosts with about ~7 reviews once messaged me with a ‘Hi ;)’; of course, it could have been well-meaning but I didn’t want to take the chance – I quickly arranged another option and didn’t stay with the host.
I personally surf with both men and women but if you’re a beginner female Couchsurfer who is very uneasy about the idea of staying with a male host, you can always choose to stay with only female hosts, but note that your choices in hosts will be very limited. That being said, it’s still a good way to dip one’s toe into the community to see what it’s like if you can find a host.
If I’m still not sure if it’s safe, I’ll do some of the things outlined below.
2.If someone offers to host you (instead of responding to your request) be extra sure they have a large number of great reviews.
If I do accept to stay with hosts who offer to host me, it’s only because they have a large number of positive reviews. If they offer to host me, usually I’d need 15-40+ reviews to feel comfortable staying with them.
3. Contact people who have stayed with the host before
Again, to double check the safety of a host, especially if you’re very uneasy about surfing with a male host, you can message women or past surfers who have stayed at the potential host’s place and ask them if they felt safe and what the host is like.
To do this:
- Navigate to the host’s ‘References’ page and click on the profiles of those who have stayed with him/her before.
- Send them a message asking about their experience with the host and if they felt safe. Make sure to do this with 5-7 hosts if possible (or as many as you can in case some don’t respond).
This has been incredibly helpful for me in the past, with screenshots of what I’ve sent as an example below. If any one of them report anything ‘off’, don’t take the risk and find another host.
4. Analyze the references carefully
Good hosts usually have a large number of rave reviews referring to the host as super great and generous. If a number of reviews have more neutral tones or mention things that seem ‘off’, it’s better to dig deeper by contacting previous surfers.
In Conclusion: Is it safe?
If you follow the guidelines above, yes.
Of my 31 Couchsurfing experiences, all have been positive ones. The closest I’ve come to in terms of trouble were 2 guys who subtly hit on me; when I made a point of declining, they totally honored it and both experiences were entirely positive.
My good experiences on Couchsurfing.com have been purely because of the precautions I took above; a number of travelers who don’t take these precautions naturally will have bad experiences.
In other words, if you follow the guidelines above, I have a hard time believing you’ll have a bad experience traveling – especially if you stay with hosts with only 30-40+ reviews and reach out to 5 or so of their past surfers. The Couchsurfing community offers so much richness when traveling. My best experiences abroad have almost always involved my hosts and surfers.
And that’s pretty much it! Take the steps above, embrace your freedom and Couchsurf on!
Other Posts in This Series: