Couchsurfing Tips For Women
By Sally Kay
The Couchsurfing Project is a great tool for the curious and thrifty traveler. The project idea is a cultural exchange in which members are the type of people who want share their culture and to learn about others. Couchsurfers want to get to know more than just the tourist attractions: they are travelers, not tourists.
I have been a member for almost three years now, surfing, showing people around my city, and hosting. As fantastic as couchsurfing can be, there can be a dark side too. Because of that, as a woman, especially if you are a woman traveling solo, you do need to be careful. In some countries, in the Middle East for example, it is better to couchsurf with women. However, I do not like to limit myself as far as hosts. Here are a few guidelines to make your experience the best it can be.
Read your potential host’s profile carefully
Couchsurfing isn’t about getting a free place to stay; it’s about cultural exchange, getting to know the real place. Don’t send a request to people you don’t think you’ll get along with. Everyone has different criteria for choosing hosts, but I try to contact people who share my interests, have hobbies I find interesting, seem like I could learn from, or who would just be fun to spend time with. Traveling is a lot more fun when you’re with people you like.
Only contact members with filled-out profiles
If a person hasn’t taken the time to fill out their profile, they probably aren’t the best choice for a host (or for a guest). How can you tell what interests you share, what their views on life are, or really anything about them unless they have filled out their profile?
Only contact people with pictures who have pictures
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. If a member hasn’t taken the time to upload a picture then one has to wonder why. (Editor’s note: you also want to make sure the picture is the same individual you meet in person)
Read over the Couch Information
This tells you what the bed is like, if you’ll have your own room, and what the sleep set-up is. It is couchsurfing, so you shouldn’t expect to have your own room, but I stay away from men offering to share their room. Even if there are two beds in the room, I feel like it’s best not to tempt fate.
Make sure your potential host has references…
and read them carefully. References are there as a safety measure, and you can learn a lot about a person from them. Sure, everyone starts out without references, but for a woman couchsurfing alone it’s safer to send couch requests to hosts with good references. If you want to be extra careful then look at the profiles of the people who’ve left the references.
Another safety measure in couchsurfing is vouching. It signifies the person vouching for the couchsurfer trusts that member. Members who are vouched for are safer to contact.
Stay away from male hosts only offering couches to women
There are always exceptions, but often when a man puts “preferred gender” as “female” this means that the man is using couchsurfing for the wrong reasons: to meet women. One of the first rules of couchsurfing is that it is not a dating website. Of course romances can happen; sometimes there is chemistry between two people. However, if the host assumes something romantic will happen with their guests, tries to manufacture a romantic connection, or feels that the guest is in some way obligated to him, then that is definitely not okay.
Always trust your instincts
If anything gives you a bad feeling about a profile, then don’t send a request. Intuition is a powerful thing and it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Stay with families
I prefer to stay with women, or men living with their family. Living with your family into adulthood is extremely common in many countries, and the families are generally extremely kind.
Talk to your host first
Send a few email exchanges back and forth, chat on Skype or MSN messenger to get to know your host a little before staying with him or her. At least for your first few times couchsurfing.
If you don’t feel comfortable in a place then leave.
Go to a hostel or check into a hotel. If something in the back of your mind says that this isn’t the right place then listen. Just because you’ve sent a couch request does not mean that you are obligated to stay the exact number of days requested. If you feel awkward telling them the truth, then invent an excuse, but always remember: your safety is first.
By following these guidelines and by using a little common sense, you’ll have a fantastic time. In fact, I find that couchsurfing is actually a safer way to travel; you have a friend wherever you go. To make things better, you are under the auspices of a savvy local who knows his or her way around the city, give you advice, and want to help. So what are you waiting for? Get couchsurfing!
After graduating from the University of Kansas’ school of Journalism Sally hit the road and hasn’t looked back. She has explored Europe, Africa, South America, and North America, lived in Slovakia, Hungary and Argentina and is currently traveling in South America. She writes about her adventures in the blog www.adventuressetravels.wordpress.com, has had articles in various online travel magazines, and is a travel guru for the website Tripeezy LLC.