Stay safe while couch surfing
You are taking part in a conference in NYC or want to improve your Italian while visiting Rome and need a place to crash for free?
In my last post I listed some hospitality exchange websites and other ways to find a host for free.
Is couch surfing safe?
If you stay with a host than you trust a complete stranger basically with your life!
Bad experiences are seldom but unfortunately they do happen. Stuff disappears and some travellers got raped or abused by their hosts!
The hospitality exchange websites only offer a platform but no real protection from bad hosts. The reference and verification system helps but in the end you have to decide if you trust a host or not.
A word of advice to the solo female traveller. Some young male hosts look for a romance. So if one-night stands are not your thing you might want to stick to female hosts or families. Or you could contact a male host and ask him to show you some sights or have dinner together. If you get along and he behaves you can still spend the night with him.
To decrease your vulnerability, you can also travel with a friend but you might end up sharing the couch or sleeping on the floor since most hosts only have room for one guest.
Always have an alternative in case the place or host does not meet your expectations. Write down the address of the nearest hostel and know how to get there. Always trust your guts. If you feel uncomfortable – leave!
Keep valuables out of sight or with you. Put all your things in your backpack and lock it. For hosts with a low-income the temptation might otherwise be too big. Not only cameras, smart phones or iPads, also expensive outdoor clothes and shoes might disappear.
In order to reduce the risk of a bad experience, I use following criteria when I look for a host:
- There has to be a picture of the host on his profile. I use google image search to check if the name and picture match or if somebody used a picture from somebody else. If there is no picture or the name and picture does not match – stay away!
- The profile has to be filled out. This shows that the host is really interested in hosting people and making them comfortable by sharing some essential information. Hosts with an empty profile usually also do not reply to your messages. It’s a waste of your time!
- Hosts must have at least two positive reviews if they have hosted before. Guests usually only give a negative review if the host was really bad. Otherwise most guests prefer to just do not give a review because they do not want to appear to future hosts overly critical. Therefore, no reviews are an indication that the host might not meet your expectations.
Is it worth the risk?
In my opinion you should never take an unnecessary risk just for a free place to stay. But if you follow the above rules and trust your gut than you should be fine. Most hosts are wonderful people who open their homes to strangers from around the world. Hospitality exchange is more than free accommodation. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, share your culture and see places that tourists tend to miss out on. For freelance translators it is a wonderful way to learn or improve the language of your host country.
The only bad experience I ever had, was a host that wanted to marry me after he had one glass of wine. I left and went to a hostel. The next day after he had sobered up, he came to the hostel to apologize. We spent a wonderful day together and I stayed two nights with him after we made sure there was no more wine in the house.
If you find couch surfing too risky, need more privacy or free time or if you prefer to stay longer in one place than consider house swapping, house sitting, doing a work exchange, volunteering or staying in religious or non-religious communities.