What Is Couch Surfing?

Couch surfing is a platform that offers a free place to stay for passing travelers and an opportunity to connect with like-minded people. It doesn’t even cost anything to sign – up all you need is a profile about yourself and a few good pictures.  After setting up user profiles on which other members can post reviews, members can request lodging publicly or directly from other members, “hang out” with other members or join/create events. 

couch surfing
Source: swww.couchsurfing.com

Couch Surfing was conceived by a computer programmer named Casey Fenton in 1999 while he was traveling from Boston to Iceland and didn’t have lodging. So Fenton hacked into the database of the University of Iceland and randomly e-mailed 1,500 students asking for a homestay for which he received 50 to 100 responses and stayed at the home of an Icelandic rhythm and blues singer for free. On his way back to Boston he came up with the idea of creating a website where other travelers looking for accommodation could come together and look for places. One can also list accommodation on the website if you wish to offer travelers a place to stay. 

There have however been reports on incidents that have happened to Couchsurfers which brings out the question “Is it really safe to couch-surf”?. While there are some risks involved with traveling, the primary risk in Couch surfing is meeting with strangers who you have encountered only on a social network and there are things that can be done to minimize that risk. So follow a few tips to ensure your safety, some of which have been advised by the website itself. 

Here Are A Few Safety Tips You Should Be Aware Of If You Choose To CouchSurf

Do Enough Research

  • Before you meet your prospective host, make sure their profile is complete with a full name, detailed description about them, and has clear pictures. 
  • It’s safer to stay with hosts with references, it will give you a peek into other people’s experiences with that particular host. 
  • It’s advisable for Women travelers to preferably book stays with female hosts or families. While this is by no means guaranteed, and also seems a little discriminatory, statistically, this is seen to be the safest option
  • Ask the host questions, anything that would help you get a better sense of who they are?
  • Also, make sure to understand the level of privacy a host is willing to offer you. This information is available in the My Home section on a member’s profile. 

Open Communication Is The Key

  • Get to know potential hosts or surfers through a messaging system, without sharing your contact details. Do not share contact details till you have met your host or surfer.  Instead of giving out your phone number and email address, users are usually encouraged to communicate via the social network
  • Make sure to communicate with your friends and family upon your arrival at the accommodation. Always have a backup accommodation to ensure you have options, in case the Couchsurf location isn’t ideal. 
  • Have an open conversation and ask tons of questions, this will also help you be at ease when you actually meet your potential host or surfer. Few questions you can ask;
    • How many people live in the accommodation?
    • Are guests allowed to use the kitchen?
    • How many Surfers have they hosted and if they have surfed and how many times? 
    • Are there safety precautions you will need to take in the neighborhood or surrounding areas?
couch surfing
Source: newyorker.com

While You Are At The Accommodation

  • When you meet your host, spend some time getting to know them. See if you are comfortable and if everything is as described on the website. If you feel like something is not right, trust your instincts and do what you need to make yourself comfortable. 
  • Ask your host if there are any house rules and make sure you follow them. These would mostly be related to noise in the accommodation or if there are different schedules, the access to the accommodation in the absence of your host. 
  • During uncomfortable situations, it’s best to address the host or the surfer in a polite manner and come up with a resolution together. 
  • Take care of yourself when you are out exploring, do not leave your well-being in the hand of your hosts. 
  • Make sure you are careful with the host’s property and don’t damage anything. Also do not have people over if your host is against it, not even in their absence. 
  • Make sure you have the emergency numbers of the place you are visiting and if you are ever in a situation where you feel unsafe, threatened, or are in immediate danger call the police or emergency services right away. 

Additional Safe Travel Tips

There are other things in addition to your accommodation that factor in for your travel to be safe. A traveler needs to consider theft of their belongings, identity theft from passports, repercussions of losing their phone or laptop, making sure you have access to your money, and any documents that you mind need. So ensure you are careful in these areas as well to have a safe and fulfilling trip.  Have you Couchsurfed before? How was your experience let us know in the comments below? 

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