A quick Internet scan of Couchsurfing experiences will tell you that “surfing” is hit or miss, and when the misses come, they miss hard. Stories of sexual advances by both hosts and guests are not uncommon and host/surfer communication lapses are fairly standard. On the other hand, many hosts and guests post about excellent experiences. So how safe is couchsurfing? Those who have seen the good, bad and very ugly all stress the importance of research in assuring a safe Couchsurfing experience.
Is couchsurfing safe? Scouting out your guests or hosts is the definitive key to navigating the surfing world safely. But how do you do that? Start with the profiles and references. Read descriptions carefully and don’t be afraid to judge pictures if something in them causes concern – even if you can’t quite put a finger on it. Couchsurfing is not the place to test your new pledge to be more open-minded! Stick with your comfort zone. Read references with a critical eye. Why did a guest have such a great experience? Were they looking for the same thing I’m looking for? Think about who is writing a reference and why.
Aside from thorough research, there are a few basic safety rules to keep in mind. Chief among them: have a backup plan. If things are looking shaky with your host, have a nearby hotel in mind. Secondly, clarify ahead of time where people will sleep. If you’re a guest who needs a private room, make that clear. If you’re a host and your guests will have to share a room, don’t let them find out when they arrive! Be clear on this. And finally, draw clear sexual barriers. Staying in someone’s house can give people the wrong idea, so leave no doubt.
So is couchsurfing totally safe? No. Does it become much safer with research and communication? Absolutely.