CouchSurfing is one of those things that you may have always wanted to try, but never gathered the courage to actually do. For me, at least, this is how I felt for a long while. Then, when visiting Austin for the first time, my friend and I decided to give CouchSurfing a try. We both were instantly hooked after staying up until 4 AM talking to our host about his life and artwork.
After that, I have stayed with people I’ve never met a handful of times, including in foreign countries. I have lived the CouchSurfing experience as a solo female traveler. Here are a couple of main CouchSurfing tips on how to stay safe and make the most out of your experience, especially if you are traveling on your own.
Stay With Friends of Friends
I put this one first because I think it is one of the best ways to have a “CouchSurfing” experience with a much safer and more secure foundation. What better way to connect with people in the world than through your friends, who can attest to your hosts’ sincerity and enthusiasm. By staying with people your friends know and trust, you can experience the local culture without the hassle of having to sift through dozens of host reviews online and being on edge around complete and total strangers. Plus, you know you’ll have at least one thing in common to talk about once you meet!
When I was visiting Recife, in Brazil, I stayed with my boyfriend’s cousin, Felipe, who I had never met before. He and his girlfriend, Carolina, picked me up from the bus station, showed me around the whole city, made me breakfast, and even spoke with me in English the whole time! It was much easier to trust him because I had heard about his interests and personality beforehand, and I was able to instantly relate to them. To be honest, they were the best part of my visit!
You may not know if any of your friends know people in the city you plan to visit. That’s okay! It’s as easy as posting a Facebook status saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in X City on these days, do any of you know someone who lives there?” Chances are, someone will, and even if they don’t, it was worth the minimal effort to find out.
Research, Research, Research
Research. Must I say it again?
Researching your host, your location, local customs, etc. can make the difference between an amazing CouchSurfing experience and a terrible one. This includes reading thorough reviews on your host(s), deciding how you’re going to get around the city, and figuring out what kinds of language barriers you may have. Becoming a “mini-expert” on these topics and other logistical aspects will make your trip run much more smoothly and painlessly. This is one of the most important CouchSurfing tips I can give you.
Take, for example, a situation where you have an amazing and hospitable host, but they live far away from the city with no nearby public transit lines. In this case, it would be very difficult to go sightseeing in the city unless you were to rent a car. It’s a silly predicament that can be easily avoided by research and planning.
One really important aspect of researching that I want to emphasize, especially if you are staying with a complete stranger, is reading reviews on your host. Are they clean or dirty? Do they have a significant other? If there is even one negative review, that could be YOU in that situation, so keep that in mind as you are weighing potential candidates.
Have A Backup Plan
I say this as one of my CouchSurfing tips but it’s a good thing to always keep in mind while traveling: always have a plan B. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, it gives you the comfort of knowing that you will have a backup in case of emergencies. Also, if you do need to evacuate your CouchSurfing situation, you will have already researched about some different options and therefore will be able to quickly find an alternate arrangement.
Another thing to keep in mind is to always have a form of communication on you when you CouchSurf, even if it’s a cheap local phone and a basic texting/calling plan. This is just a safety precaution, but getting stuck in someone’s home without access to the outside world can make for some sticky situations. Plan accordingly, and always have a way to contact the outside world, even if it’s just to make a booking at a local hostel for the night.
Follow Your Gut
Your instincts know when a situation feels wrong. Follow them. Your brain knows when someone is trying to take advantage of you. Listen to it. If a single male (or even female) messages you and asks you if you can come alone to CouchSurf with them and aren’t allowed to bring a friend (which, unfortunately, has happened to me before), that situation is probably bad news. When your gut tells you that something is not right, follow it.
On the other hand, if your senses tell you that you should relax and that things feel fine, you can listen to that too. Of course, always have a backup in case things go south, but if someone was willing to welcome you into their own home, chances are they are good people who are inspired by travelers’ stories.
CouchSurfing can be an amazing experience that brings loads of good vibes and lasting memories. It can help you make friends around the world. It can help you learn languages and hear snippets of peoples’ lives that change your view of life. But most importantly, it is a tool for forging safe connections between travelers and hosts, and one that should always take into account the risks and rewards of responsible travel.
What other CouchSurfing tips do you recommend?
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