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?