Step-by-step guide on how to use Couchsurfing safely as a solo female traveler. Everything you need to know about hosting, surfing, making new friends, and saving money.
Couchsurfing is an online platform that connects people from all over the world through hospitality and cultural exchanges. Couchsurfing can help you save money on accommodation but that’s the least amazing thing about it.
As a solo female traveler and host, I would say that Couchsurfing is safe as long as you know how to use it. I’ve been a member since 2010, hosting over 20 surfers, surfing with over 30 hosts, and meeting many travelers. Through CS, I have met some of my closest friends and those who I would even call my extended family.
So whether you’re new to CS or are looking to maximize your use of the platform, these are my tips on how to use Couchsurfing safely as a solo female traveler.
How does Couchsurfing work?
The Couchsurfing website was launched back in 2004 as a non-profit organization. It’s based on the idea of a sharing economy where exchanges take place without money. Whether you are hosting, surfing, or meeting other members, the primary purpose is to share your time and culture with each other.
What makes it work, is that this type of platform attracts open-minded individuals, who are passionate about traveling and getting to know others.
Is Couchsurfing safe?
One of the most common concerns that people have about Couchsurfing, is in regards to safety. The idea of staying in the home of a “stranger” or accepting one into your home can be a little daunting to some. Personally, I’ve never had a Couchsurfing experience where I felt unsafe BUT I always read references and choosing my hosts carefully.
If you’re a solo female traveler, you may prefer to stay with female hosts (as I did in Dubai) or as a host, accept women guests only. For other tips, check out Couchsurfing Safety Basics.
Is Couchsurfing free?
As of May 2020, Couchsurfing now asks members to pay $2.39/month or $14.29/year (USD) contribution to cover the costs of running the platform. The fees vary depending on the country you live in (members from developing nations may have their membership waived), whether you are an ambassador, or have purchased a lifetime verification.
Creating a Couchsurfing profile
To increase your chances of being hosted or receiving like-minded guests, the first thing that you want to do is create your profile. Take the time to fully express your beautiful personality (you are only limited by your imagination!). Add in website links, videos, jokes, and puns. I have seen some pretty humorous profiles in my time.
And if you are completely stuck on what to write, why not ask friends over beers how they would describe you.
References are a big part of Couchsurfing. These can be given by hosts, surfers, or people that know you. When you first start your profile, you may want to ask other friends on the platform to write you a personal reference. This helps potential hosts and surfers get an idea of who you are as a person.
Becoming a Couchsurfing host
Okay so now you’re all set up and ready connect with other CSers. But what if you don’t have any trips planned? No problem! If you have the time and space – consider hosting. Hosting can be the next best thing to traveling. By accepting surfers, you get to experience two great aspects of travel – different cultures and people. All without spending a cent or leaving your own home.
When I first joined Couchsurfing, I started hosting immediately and in the first two months, I received surfers from Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, and Romania. I became good friends with a couple called Max and Delia, and they ended up staying in my home city for a while, even spending Christmas with my family. In 2012, they came to visit me in New York City and then in 2016, I visited them twice in Paris.
And remember the part that I talked about saving money? Well from the times that I hosted, I have been able to visit many of those surfers in their own homes. And yes, the free accommodation thing is nice. But what is even nicer, is being welcomed to a new city by someone you already know.
Surfing as a Couchsurfing guest
When traveling to new destinations Couchsurfing is my favorite way to meet locals and to get to know more about the city. Some hosts can receive a lot of requests, especially in the bigger cities. So it is important to put in the effort when searching and sending a personalized Couchsurfing request. This will increase your chances of being accepted.
How to search for a Couchsurfing host
- Input your travel dates. These fields are optional but by including them in your search criteria, the system will remove any hosts who already have guests during the time of your visit.
- Use the search filters for host information, accommodation, and preferences. Personally, I only look for hosts who have their profile set to “Yes” (not “Maybe”) and only contact hosts who have over 80% response rate.
- Read your potential host’s profile very carefully. Are they someone that you can see yourself getting along with? Do you have interests in common?
- Check their references. Even if they don’t have negative or neutral references, it pays to read the positive references to get more of an insight into the person.
How to send a Couchsurfing request
- Include the host’s name. It sounds obvious but you wouldn’t believe how many hosts receive requests with either no name or the wrong name.
- Make it personal. Include a short introduction about yourself and why you are traveling there. Highlight why you think you and your host are a good match.
- Avoid copy and paste quests. Make multiple references to points in their profile to show that you have taken the time to read it.
Creating a public trip
Couchsurfing gives you the option to make your travel dates and destination available to hosts in that area. The benefit of this is that it can increase your chances of being hosted and is especially helpful if you are looking for a last-minute couch.
I prefer to select my potential hosts based on who I think I would have a better chance of being friends with. But I have used this option before and had a great experience Couchsurfing in Malaga.
Planning your arrival
When a host accepts your request, you’ll receive a notification that will ask you to confirm your stay. At this point, you can start chatting with your host about your arrival dates and time. Make sure that you also cancel any other pending CS requests.
As Couchsurfing is a hospitality and cultural exchange, no money or gifts are expected as part of the transaction. However, when surfing, I like to buy a bottle of wine or take my host to dinner. This is just my way of showing appreciation to them for letting me stay. You could also offer to cook a meal for them.
Meeting other Couchsurfers
Couchsurfing is more than just hosting and surfing. It is also a way to meet up with other members. In every single city that I have moved to, I used Couchsurfing to make friends. I’ve also used the platform to meet other members when traveling, even if I’m not surfing.
These are two great functions of Couchsurfing that can connect you with others.
Hangouts is an amazing concept which uses your location to find other CSers in your area who also want to meet up. The technology is a little clunky but is a lot easier to navigate once you know how to use it.
How to use Couchsurfing hangouts:
- Download the Couchsurfing app
- Go to your dashboard
- Click on the button “Hangout Now”
- Select what type of activity you want to do or type in your own
- Click on update status.
A list of available CSers will appear. You can click on “Say Hello” and they will receive a notification to accept or decline your request. You will also appear in the list and other CSers can do the same to yours. Once a connection is made and accepted, this opens up a chat so you can discuss meeting up. The notifications for the chat aren’t very obvious, so you might need to keep checking for response by clicking on “My Hangouts” then on the conversation.
One other important fact to know is that once a group chat is created, members can add other CSers to the group. For example, you may have accepted to drink tea or coffee with Anna from Brussels, but then she accepts four other CSers into the group. Group chats can get noisy and complicated to organize or they can turn out really well. I had this happen to me in Madrid and that group all went to a party together.
Events and groups
In addition to Hangouts, there are also Couchsurfing events and groups.
Events will appear on the dashboard of your app or website. The events on the app will be based on your current location, whereas the events that appear on the website may be for the next location that you have a confirmed Couchsurfing host. This is because of the location technology on your mobile.
Using the desktop version, you can also search for groups or even members in your area. I have used this, especially when moving to a new city. Groups and events can be for specific interests such as hiking, veganism, language exchange, etc. Or just for general meetups.
Whichever option you choose, these can be a great way to connect with locals or other travelers in the area.
Have you used Couchsurfing or planning to anytime soon? Tell us about it below.
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