During my trip, I have used multiple types of accommodations, including couchsurfing, airbnb, hostels, and hotels. Each one has serious pros and cons, but the one I get asked the most about is Couchsurfing. Is it safe? Is it scary? Would you recommend it?
The answer is a resounding yes to all 3.
First, let’s discuss what it is. Couchsurfing is a community that allows travelers and Hosts to connect. The host opens their home to a stranger, with no monetary exchange, and the traveler brings with them stories and experiences to share. The idea is to partake in a cultural exchange. Each participant may then leave a review on the others’ profile, thereby helping hosts\travelers to be discerning in their choices. These reviews are what make the whole experience feel safer, as you get a general feel for the person you will be meeting.
With that in mind, safety still comes down to your own judgement. Especially for myself, a young female traveling alone. Staying in a stranger’s house can be very nerve wracking at times. On one occasion, I met with a host a few days before I was set to stay there. He took an interest in me, and as I did not share that, I extended my stay in the hostel I was at. However at another point, I connected with a host so well that we met up again two countries later!
My worst experience with couchsurfing was in Italy. I had made plans with a local to show me around Florence, but I was thankfully not staying with him. My guided tour started off alright but quickly descended into a series of uncomfortable situations. I repeatedly had to tell him off for being too handsy, too forward, and explaining that I was not interested. Red flags were going off in my head for a good hour. He eventually pushed me too far, and I had to actually shove him off me and my best option was to briskly trot away, nearly running. I actually left my jacket behind and ended up buying this super comfy sweatshirt that doubles as a souvenir.
I was staying at a hostel about 45 minutes outside Florence, and when I returned there I reported him to Couchsurfing’s admins. I can only applaud their response. I received a reply in about an hour, and their main concern was that I was safe. Once that had been established, they removed him from the site. So although my experience was wrenching, the Couchsurfing team was really quick to handle it.
I’m not sharing this to scare you. As I said, I completely recommend using this amazing community during your travels if you can. I have stayed with locals, and used it to meet with other travelers as well. Through Couchsurfing, I have met some amazing people that I anticipate being friends with for many years. I have been able to try interesting traditional dishes, compare cultural differences, and actually see what it is like to live somewhere, not just visit. Couchsurfing is a valuable way to enhance your travel experiences.
My positive experiences far outweighed the negative. I used couchsurfing to meet with other travelers in a few places. In Iceland, I met a group of about six other travelers, most of them also on solo trips. It was lovely to have company as I explored the very unique city of Reykjavik and surrounding landscape. In Germany, my host greeted me with tea and cake, and provided me with maps and advice on where to best explore. He even gave me a key so I could come and go as I pleased. In Scotland I was hosted for one night by a friendly gentleman who taught women’s self defense. I’ve done some training in Krav Maga, so we spent some time comparing techniques (tossing each other around!) and giving each other pointers. These hosts were just the start. I stayed with some truly exceptional individuals along the way and I am grateful to have met every one of them.
With all occasions where you meet someone online, be aware and discerning. Read the reviews, and take your own precautions. Whether this means learning some self defense (which everyone should do anyway) or having pepper spray on you. As a solo traveler, I kept at least 3 people posted when I was meeting a new host, in case there was a problem. In two months of travel and after meeting with hosts, travelers, and locals in 7 different countries, I only had one experience I would describe as bad. That’s a pretty good track record.
If you’ve had any truly terrible or fantastic experiences using couchsurfing, I would love to hear about them! Drop me an email or post in the comments! Ciao!