Hello ladies! I hope you imagined that in a friendly way rather than a creepy way. Creepy is certainly not what we want, right? Unfortunately, running into not so well intentioned people is inevitable, but I want to throw some tips your way to help avoid some less than ideal personalities when it comes to couchsurfing.
I’ve met many women who say they love the idea of couchsurfing, but they’re too afraid to try it. Hearing that breaks my heart, and I wish they would give it a chance! Out of the 19 times I’ve surfed and hosted, only two of those have been with females. The amount of men on couchsurfing vastly outnumbers the amount of women which can cause reservations for most ladies.
It definitely takes a little time before you’re at the point where you’re confident enough to jump in the car for a two week road trip with strangers, but hopefully, this will give you the confidence to take that first step.
Note: Because I’ve only hosted twice, I’m going to write this from a surfing standpoint. However, the similar ideas can still be applied to a hosting perspective.
Dipping Your Toe In
There are two great ways to take a peek into the couchsurfing community: Events and Hangouts. Start with events – it’s better to start in a group and chisel your way down. Most major cities have weekly or monthly meet-ups which are great. If you don’t see one – organize one!
My first couchsurfing experience was in New Orleans. I couldn’t find a host but I still wanted to meet people, so I created an event. Around eight people showed up! It was certainly more than I expected considering I had just joined couchsurfing and had little profile and no references.
Once you’ve attended a few events, you’ll start to see a trend. The majority of people on couchsurfing just genuinely love sharing culture and travel experiences!
As you start to feel comfortable with events, give hangouts a try! This one is a little trickier because not as many people use it, but it can still lead to some unexpected adventures. I’ll be honest here – the hangouts feature is the area of couchsurfing where you’ll find the most amount of guys on the site just looking for a hookup – but luckily it’s usually pretty obvious by the status they have.
This is the only feature that has led me to a negative experience from couchsurfing.
After I tell you my story, we’ll use my situation as an example and break down what happened. A real incident will better help convey how you can avoid similar occurrences by knowing what to look for, even if it isn’t the most pleasant to read about.
The Unwelcomed Couchsurfing Encounter
I was on hangouts in Nuremberg, looking for either a friendly face or a host. There weren’t very many people online, but one person did end up sending me a request to hangout. This guy had over 50 positive references, so I accepted and we met up later that night at a coffee place. By the time he showed up, it was closing, so he suggested a bar to go to.
We ended up in a small, dimly lit hole in the wall with little traffic. We took our seats at one of the two tables in the bar and started chatting. He seemed alright, albeit a little pretentious. I honestly don’t remember much about him, but throughout the night, he was over-confident and consistently buying me drinks without me asking for them.
Already a bad sign!
What really tipped me off though, was his reaction to the owners dog who was wandering around the bar. It wandered up to me and I pet it enthusiastically. First, he told me to not touch the dog, because dogs are filthy creatures. I tried to laugh it off, but he started getting more insistent, and even grabbed my wrists to stop me from touching the friendly pupper. I was too taken aback to be upset or stand my ground. He then demanded that I go to the bathroom and wash my hands after petting the dog.
I should have left right then and there but I’m terrible at being assertive. I wasn’t enjoying myself, the guy was a prick, and I had already accepted the fact that I wouldn’t have a place to stay that night. But being polite first nature to the point where it’s ingrained in me. A situation like this had never happened to me, so in the moment, I had no idea how else to respond.
As the night went on, he was throwing back drinks and everything just continued going downhill. He started getting touchy, first just putting his arm around me for a second, then eventually leaving it there despite my trying to shrug it off.
Now and then, I kept trying to drop hints that I wasn’t interested and referencing that I had a boyfriend back home at the time. It would only merit remarks like “Oh really? Where is he? He lets you travel by yourself?” I tell you man, I didn’t realize what he was saying at the time, but sometimes it still boils my blood to think about.
The arm around the shoulder eventually turned into him forcefully pulling me into his chest now and then, and grabbing the back of my neck. I finally had enough. I started signaling that I had to go, and for whatever reason, this encouraged him to order me another drink. On the plus side, all that did was make him waste his money on a drink that I didn’t touch.
I moved past signaling and straight up told him I was leaving. For his final stunt, he forced me into a goodbye hug, and tried to coerce me to kiss him. I successfully dodged his oncoming face, so he instead started kissing my neck. I managed to shove him off and bolted out the door.
I walked through the empty streets feeling disgusted and suddenly very isolated. Being alone is not an issue for me, but this was something entirely different.
To top the night off, all of the hostels were fully booked (there aren’t many in Nuremberg) but luckily the train station was safe enough for me to bunk up for the night. Fortunately, the next day swiftly restored my faith in humans, but that’s another story.
The whole thing was a terrible experience, but an experience nonetheless. I feel very blessed that nothing further happened, and there was definitely a lesson to be learned from it. Of course, I am not at fault for his actions, but upon further dissection of his profile, I could have evaded him entirely.
So how could this have been avoided? Let’s break everything down.
As you can see, there’s not a lot there. And thus, you have your first red flag! Even though he has been a verified member for 7 years, there is very little information. Additionally, his name is set to a string of letters of the alphabet.He likes drinking, dancing, and receiving massages. Two of these three involve close contact with another person. Of course, on their own, there’s nothing wrong with them! But these are what he places the emphasis on which can serve as a clue.
I mean come on – who DOESN’T enjoy a good massage?!
For the sake of privacy, I can’t share any further screenshots, but I’ll do my best to describe the rest.
For photos, he only has two. One of them, his face is obscured by wearing a helmet, and the other one he’s wearing sunglasses by himself. I typically prefer people with a decent amount of photos that share a peek into their life. You can get a pretty good idea of their personality by what types of events they participate in, who they surround themselves with, and what expression they have.
Do they look like they’re having fun?
Does the situation seem forced?
Are the people around them comfortable?
Is it a guy who has pictures of just him with women?
It’s all a snippet of their life. If they have nothing or very little, they either don’t take a lot of pictures, or they’re potentially hiding something.
This section was completely blank so a screenshot would serve no purpose. In general, the obvious clue here is when the preferred gender is set to female. That’s often what I check first, and I leave the profile if it’s not set to “Any.” In this particular example, there’s just nothing to go off of, which isn’t entirely unusual.
Nearly all of his references were from women. Not just that, but I noticed looking again that a lot of them stayed with him accompanied by their female friends. This guy just wants his house filled with ladies. Even though 99% of the references were positive, it’s not a good sign.
Take note as well about how the references are written. Do they seem flirty? It’s no bother to me if people want to consensually hook up with other people on couchsurfing, but if that’s not what you’re looking for, cutesy references with lots of smiley faces could potentially be indication to stay away.
Any of these things as a standalone isn’t really enough to make a judgment about someone, but when there’s a handful of each flag staring up at you from the computer screen, you’re better off navigating away.
Give it a chance!
Personally, I’ve always put myself pretty out there with couchsurfing. The first time I ever surfed, my host had no references and he replied to my public trip. I almost declined immediately, but we ended up talking a lot before my stay and he gave off a very friendly and welcoming vibe. It was such a great weekend that I’ve been back to visit multiple times!
There have also been two occasions that I had to share a bed with a surfer.
Once in Vancouver, I met an angel of a human, Ariel, at a travel meet-up. I ended up staying at her house for the next two nights in her spare room, along with another surfer from the meet-up, Max from the Global Convoy. Ariel warned us ahead of time that if we both wanted to stay, we would have to share a bed. The three of us had been talking for hours already that night and I knew it would be no problem.
And it wasn’t!
Couchsurfing in Kyiv, my host told me ahead of time I would have to share a his bed the first night or sleep on the floor because he had another group of couchsurfers. The fact that he was up front about it ahead of time, as well as provided me with an alternative, made me comfortable about the situation. And again, no funny business ensued.
When meeting your host, always meet in public first if it makes you feel more comfortable. If you’re unsure of someone, only request to stay for one night – if you click well, it should be fairly easy to ask to stay another night or two. In this case, be sure you have a backup plan in case they can’t! Always be sure to send the address of the place you’re staying back to a family member or trusted friend.
Starting out I thought I could just rely on references, and even then I didn’t really look too deeply into the context of them all being women. It’s important to weigh the profile in its entirety! Despite the one bad egg I encountered, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend couchsurfing to anyone.