My time in Ghana is drawing to a close, which means it’s time for me to hit the road again. This means endless hours on Workaway and Couch Surfing, planning my stay in Paris and sending countless messages beginning with “Bonjour!” and ending with “A bientot!” the only two phrases I know to use in an email. To be honest, the search for hosts can be amusing and extremely overwhelming.
For instance, you might read descriptions like this, “About Me: Human being, perhaps.” Perhaps? What other options are there? Or, you might even find your future spouse, with eye catchers like this one, “About Me: “Nice. Pleasant. Cultured. Well brought up. Like cooking. Would be an excellent husband.” I think this one confused Couch Surfing for OK Cupid.
My friend Elisavet and I, hanging out with our amazing host in Ecuador.
With thousands of hosts willing to let weary travelers sleep on their couch, sometimes it’s hard to choose where to stay. Especially if you’re a solo female traveler. Especially since the majority of hosts tend to be men. It can be intimidating to invite yourself to stay in a stranger’s home, even more so if you’re doing so alone. You might be wondering how to stay safe while couch surfing, or if it’s even possible.
I’ve encountered women who simply refuse to couch surf, or refuse to accept male hosts. When I tell them I’ve couch surfed alone in Ecuador, Morocco, France, Mexico, Spain etc., primarily staying with men, they get ghostly and wide-eyed. Clearly, I must be out of my mind.
In a way, I can understand their fear.
The potential for “stranger danger” is drilled into us from a young age, we’re trained not to trust men we don’t know. We’re expected to always assume the worst in people, unless proven otherwise. There is risk associated with trusting strangers. While the risk may not be as great as rape or robbery (seriously, what kind of lame serial killer or rapist would sign up on Couch Surfing to lure in its victims? Not a smart move.), there is the risk of having an uncomfortable or awkward time. There’s the risk of being approached or asked for sex. The risk is minimal, but it’s enough to deter many solo female travelers from experiencing the joys and benefits of couch surfing.
In all of my couch surfing experience, hosting and being hosted all over the world (again, 98% of the time by men), I’ve never had an uncomfortable or regrettable experience. I’ve never been asked for sex or been disrespected or taken advantage of in any way (and I didn’t even have to wear a bag over my head!).
My sister and I stayed with a house full of boys in Mexico City, and had an absolute blast.
Mexico City, 2013
So, have I just been incredibly lucky not to encounter any douche bags along the way? How do I ensure the host I’m staying with won’t be a creeper? With so many people using couch surfing as a hook-up app, how can I ensure they have the right motive for hosting me?
It’s simple. It’s the quick and intuitive process of elimination. Let me share what I know.
The first thing you should look at when browsing through profiles, is their picture.
Are they taking a shirtless selfie in front of the bathroom mirror? Are they smiling, or with friends? Do they look natural and at ease with themselves? I know this is like judging a book by its cover, but it’s not as shallow as it may sound. If something about their photo strikes you as odd, or makes you feel uncomfortable, no need to click on the rest of their profile, no matter how many references they may have.
Next, look to see if they have any references.
If the number is zero, it’s a no-go for me. I understand a lot of people are new to couch surfing and haven’t had enough time to build up references within the community, but they should have at least asked a few friends to vouch for them. When my sister first joined, I wrote her a reference. This is perfectly acceptable. Not having even one reference? Not acceptable.
If they do have a few references, check to see if any of them are from other females. Give a quick read through to see what they’ve said. If other girls felt comfortable and had a good time around this host, it’s likely they’re trustworthy.
If you feel good about their profile picture, and they have at least one reference (even better if they’ve been verified or vouched for, but not a deal breaker if they’re not), go ahead and click on their full profile. Take a look at their couch description. A big red flag for me is if they have “Female” listed under their preferred gender. If you’re truly into couch surfing for the cultural exchange, why should you limit it to only one gender? This player is probably looking for a hook-up.
Next, look where it says “shared sleeping surface.” Will you have your own bedroom or space on the couch? If the answer is no, consider whether you really want to be sharing the same bedroom/bed with someone you don’t know. Maybe you’re totally chillaxed and this wouldn’t bother you. It would bother me, and makes me wonder if this host has potential boundary issues.
If there are no red flags, go ahead and read the rest of their profile. How often do they mention partying and drinking? Not that I’m opposed to these things, but it does show where their priorities might lie.
Do you share any common interests? What’s their philosophy on life? How well traveled are they? It’s important to scan these things to get a feel for what kind of a person they might be. Again, it’s only a first impression, but first impressions matter and can mean the difference between a great couch surfing experience or an awkwardly unpleasant one.
If you like everything you see and read, go ahead and send them a message. Tell them what you might have in common and see how they respond. If the correspondence seems natural and puts you at ease, great job! You’ve found yourself a potential host.
I ended up staying with this adorable French family for several days after a host responded to my emergency couch request. It has been one of my favorite couch surfing experiences so far!
Magesc, France 2013
The important thing to remember here is to listen to your intuition. This is the best advice I can give any solo female traveler. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, leave. Get yourself outta there. If you feel certain lines are being crossed, say so. Use clear communication to establish what you’re comfortable with, and what you’re not. Keep your head up and keep your cool.
Again, I’ve never been welcomed with anything but respect and hospitality during my travels. These tips and gentle reminders are just to put your fears at ease so you can start having your own kick ass time. Don’t listen to the fear mongering out there–the world is full of good, generous, and open-hearted people. Give them a chance to show you their corner of the world and you won’t regret it!
Have you couch surfed as a solo female? What was your experience? I’d love to hear your story! Leave a comment below.Google+