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A lot of solo female travelers avoid Couchsurfing altogether, and I don’t blame them.

What started as a close-knit community of travelers willing to share their homes with others passing through has evolved into a bit of a monster. Just type “Couchsurfing” into Google and one of the first suggested searches is “Couchsurfing horror stories.”

Hosts expecting sex in exchange for a bed. Guys who offer to show a girl the town, get her drunk, and take advantage. Surfers who come back to a host’s home at 3am with 5 new friends looking to continue the party there.

Many people have deleted their CS account or use it solely to find meet-ups and local events.

As a solo female traveler, I’ll be honest. I’m pretty torn. I have met some awesome people through CS but I have also received my share of creepy emails along the lines of “you’re a beautiful girl, I’d love to show you a good time. ;)”

If you do choose to Couchsurf, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe.

CHOOSE EXPERIENCED HOSTS

If someone has 32 friends and 15 vouches, there is less of a probability that they’re a total creeper. I’m sure there are perfectly respectable new hosts out there, but as a single female I’m more comfortable staying with someone who has a good track record.

LOOK FOR FEMALE OR MULTIPLE HOSTS

This is easier said than done, I’ll admit. When I started Couchsurfing I decided that I would only stay with women or multiple people to reduce the risks. Never a single man. However, I have never had a single female respond to a surfing request. What is that about, ladies?

Usually when I update my itinerary to include a new destination I’ll get at least 20 messages/invites. ALL from single men.

I actually broke this rule the first time I surfed, and it turned out completely fine. He was a gentleman and a fantastic host. That being said, I still always look for female hosts first.

READ A HOST’S PROFILE

I put a lot of thought into my profile and I expect others to have at least a few sentences telling me who they are and what they’re about. If someone hasn’t bothered to fill in their profile info at all, I don’t waste my time. I look for people who I have something in common with; who I feel like I would genuinely want to be friends with.

EXCHANGE A FEW EMAILS

Whenever you send a request, first off, don’t use the copy/paste method. It’s tacky and less likely to get you a safe, sincere host. Send a personal message and try to email back and forth with someone a few times before arriving. People just looking for an easy hook-up will rarely take the time to answer your questions and email back.

BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS

No one wants to be the girl who comes out and says “hey, by the way, I’m not gonna sleep with you, just in case you were thinking I might,” but there are subtle ways to make your intentions clear. For example, one time I was emailing a potential host and I dropped the line “It’s nice to get a sincere invitation. CS has such a hook-up culture now, and if I wanted a date I’d be on match.com.” Never heard back. I consider that a bullet dodged.

BEWARE THE WINKY FACE

Oh, the winky face. Men…WHY? If a man I don’t know sends me a message with a winky face I can assume one of two things. Either there is just a cultural difference where you believe it’s cute (and I’m really giving you the benefit of the doubt here) or you want to have sex with me. Let me tell you guys, it’s not cute. A smiley face is friendly; a winky face is creepy.

MAKE IT OFFICIAL

CS has a pretty good system in place to track where you are, but only if you use it properly. It’s fine to send some messages back and forth first, but once you have decided to stay with a host, make sure there is an actual surfing request or invitation logged.

MEET IN A PUBLIC PLACE

It’s always best if you can meet up in public instead of directly at the host’s home. That way if anything seems off – anything­ – you can make an excuse and leave. Remember, you are NOT obligated to stay with someone just because you’ve arranged to. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, get the frack out of there.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Whenever I line up a host, I always make sure that I know of at least one hostel nearby that I can head to if things go south. It’s also nice to have another Couchsurfer’s number as well, in case something falls through with your original host.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

This is the best advice I can give, ladies. Your intuition is strong. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, DON’T STAY IN THEIR HOME.

I have read my fair share of CS horror stories. One girl wrote that she had a met a guy who seemed normal at first. The 2nd night she stayed with him he started insinuating that she owed him sex in exchange for staying there. He was so persuasive that she gave in, feeling like maybe she did owe him. Whoa.

Girls, here is what you owe a host when you stay with them: respect for their home, interest in them as a person (not just a free place to stay), and good, friendly conversation. That’s it. A little gift or a home-cooked meal is nice but not required. Sex is nowhere on that list.

If, however, you and your host are two consenting adults who are both completely into each other and want to get your freak on, go for it. Get it on like little sexy rabbits. Remember, there is only one reason a woman should ever have sex with a man: because she wants to.

The truth is that most people on CS, male or female, are genuinely interested in learning about other cultures, helping out a fellow traveler, or just paying it forward for some good karma. They love their country and want guests to have a great experience there. But, as they say, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch.

It’s a sad fact of life that women have to be constantly on high-alert for attacks or harassment, but unfortunately it’s a reality. (For a great read on the unique challenges that female travelers face, check out Adventurous Kate’s fantastic post Why Travel Safety is Different for Women.)

With discretion and caution, it IS possible for solo female travelers to Couchsurf safely. Do you agree? Or do you think it’s more work than it’s worth these days?

Author

Mandie

Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

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Comments

  1. Amy Lynne Hayes    

    I’ve couchsurfed before, alone when I had met the host previously so already considered him a friend. And once with my female roommate when we stayed with a rather interesting person in Milan. And I mean interesting in the slightly-creepy-but-not-enough-to-make-us-run sort of scenario. Overall I’ve had very positive experiences through the site, you just have to be aware and trust your gut instincts.

    1. Mandie    

      I, too, have had positive experiences, although I have talked to others who haven’t. I think that being old enough to be confident in my instincts has helped me get over my initial trepidation about it.

  2. A Lady in London    

    Great post. I’ve always been wary of using Couchsurfing for the reasons you mentioned. Your tips are really good.

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks! I do think that there is still value there so long as people use common sense & stay safe. (But that really goes for all traveling!)

  3. Gail at Large    

    I’ve been couchsurfing for more than a decade, on several sites (some of which don’t exist anymore), nearly all of it solo, and I agree with everything you say. In fact, I’ve been thinking about writing such a post but you’ve got it covered so well I’m going to be lazy and link to yours!

    When I lived in Toronto, I put in my CS profile that women travelling solo sending me couch requests had priority because of the safety issue.

    Whenever I mention couchsurfing to anyone who hasn’t done it (nearly everyone I know), the first thing I get asked is “What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you?” It’s too bad that’s the focus but it’s human nature to be drawn to worst-case scenarios. Thankfully, the worst thing that ever happened while couchsurfing was not a traumatic situation for me and one I could deal with, but by that time I was nearly 30, had dealt with similar situations while travelling, and it didn’t put me off couchsurfing or travelling at all, it was just one crazy story among other crazy stories.

    But I can imagine if that had happened to someone much younger it would have a different impact in all sorts of negative ways.

    Couchsurfing is definitely not for everyone, but for me it changed the way I travelled for the better because I got to stay with locals. (I used hostels before the internet because there simply wasn’t much choice back then.) But it’s a network built on trust, and the site has been flooded in recent years by people who shouldn’t be using CS in the first place, and CS itself isn’t doing enough to weed out those people. It’s a shame that many long-time CS users are not willing to host anymore, because there are so many opportunities lost to genuine new members who want to meet locals.

    I will continue to couchsurf and host and encourage solo female travellers to do the same, but with all the caveats you mention.

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks Gail! I agree – I have still found some amazing hosts but there are a lot of people using the site who should not be. I only accept about 1 out of every 20-25 invitations I get, and only if I feel 100% confident about it. I’m actually getting ready to surf in Serbia so I’ll let you know how that goes. 🙂

      1. Gail at Large    

        Oh yes and on that subject I should mention I live in Porto, Portugal and if you or any solo female couchsurfers reading this post and are looking for a host in Porto to search for ‘Gail at Large’. I can’t guarantee my couch is available but solo female travellers get first dibs 🙂

  4. Wes Groleau    

    The second biggest turn-off for me about couchsurfing is the number of males who state females preferred. Not because I’m a male but because that suggests a sort of person I wouldn’t get along with anyway.
    But the biggest turn off is … sheesh, what an abomination of a web site! That alone makes WarmShowers.org and BeWelcome.org far more palatable.

    1. Mandie    

      Sorry you had a negative experience with this. I can definitely understand how that would be annoying. I stayed with a few men who said they would only host females because they’d had issues with male surfers in the past. It’s unfortunate that this has to be the case. I was surprised at how great of a CS experience I had, and how I actually had no issues as a solo female traveler!

  5. Nina    

    Very good article! Tnx 🙂

  6. Jelisa Moné    

    Agreed! Could i link back to this post?

  7. Viviane Borchartt    

    Great article.
    I am going to travel for the first time by myself and the first stap going to be in Rome, If you know any nice host there please suggest myself. hehe

  8. thetruth    

    Most of the girls I’ve hosted always had a creepy experienced before where they had to practically escape from their couchsurfer in the middle of the night and find another place to stay, others had to tough it out waiting for morning to come to find another place, usually girls see if a guy has references or not, but you also have to look if a guy has a lot of references but only by female cocuhsurfers, a couple of beers work wonders and then you don’t want to leave a bad reference on that guy, so a guy with a lot of good references doesn’t really mean its safe either, a guy in my city does that, he always has alcohol ready for his guests 😉

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