How I Learned Couchsurfing Safety Rules the Hard Way

April 8, 2013
How I Learned Couchsurfing Safety Rules the Hard Way


How I Learned Couchsurfing Safety Rules the Hard Way

My first Couchsurfing experience didn’t go well. I was naïve, stupid and didn’t listen to my instincts.

To begin, a brief explanation: Couchsurfing is a site where you can connect with people all over the world to a) get free accommodation by staying at their place or b) to meet up with people in general for a day/afternoon/whenever, in almost any place across the world.

It all sounded so simple, so perfect. I’d only heard rave reviews from others about this set-up: stories of lifelong friends and beer swigging and wonderful adventures. At the time, I was living in a tiny town in the middle of former-Eastern Germany, and eager (okay, desperate) to meet some new people. So, I logged on.

I never thought I’d be the girl who put myself in danger, but I did.

I didn’t quite end up with lifelong friends and beer swigging and wonderful adventures, but I did end up meeting a guy in my town. He sounded nice enough online and via text. At least, until he suggested meeting “in the dark tunnel next to the train station.”  Slight alarm bells here, but I agreed–waiting just outside the tunnel, I hasten to add, peering in.

To cut a very long story short: despite his dubious choice in meeting points, Tunnel Guy seemed fine, and we struck up a short friendship. We went for drinks; he introduced me to his girlfriend; we all occasionally went out. I should have been happy with my new friends, but…I don’t know. I just never felt quite comfortable in their presence. He occasionally said pretty inappropriate things about me, and his girlfriend always smiled like it was totally normal, so I let it all slide.

Then one day, they invited me to a party in Berlin.

Do you ever get that feeling that something isn’t quite right, and the hairs on the back of your neck start standing up for no apparent reason, and you just want to flee? That is female intuition, folks, and it was happening right here, right now. And I ignored it, and agreed to go.

And all the while I had Tunnel Guy attempting to grope me on the streets, in the midst of reconciling with girlfriend and swigging his whisky.

Fast-forward a few hours later, and I ended up stranded in Berlin, in the midst of a crazy domestic argument. I stood by in horror as both Tunnel Guy and his girlfriend got hideously drunk and started screaming at each other, to the extent that we weren’t even allowed into the party.

Think bottles smashing, everyone crying and police being called. I had no accommodation (fairly ironic, considering), no intention of wandering Berlin streets alone, and had nowhere to go until the first train at 6am. I was stuck. And all the while I had Tunnel Guy attempting to grope me on the streets, in the midst of reconciling with girlfriend and swigging his whisky.

Not exactly lifelong friendships and wonderful adventures.

Needless to say, I logged off my Couchsurfing account, vowing never to return. And I didn’t, for nearly a year. I couldn’t believe how I’d ignored my instincts, and got myself into such a stupid–and potentially dangerous–situation. What would my mother say?

Fast-forward again, and I’m now living in Italy. It’s here that I decided to try Couchsurfing again, with–I’m pleased to say–much more successful results. I’ve met some wonderful people, some of whom I’ve met several times. And these people really have broadened my travel experience in Italy, just as I was always told. I’ve been invited to dinners, been given authentic tours around cities and been shown hidden gems–including possibly the best ice cream place in the world. And I’ve made some really lovely friends.

If you don’t like a situation, or feel comfortable in a person’s presence, leave. Don’t be afraid of being rude.

What made this time so different?

Being a little wiser, and following those all-important instincts. I met these people on my terms, in busy places in the broad daylight. I made contingency plans, in case I wanted to leave. Additionally, I made sure I felt comfortable in these people’s company, and made sure I was happy with the plans. To be blunt, I did everything I didn’t do the first time around.

I never thought I’d be the girl who put myself in danger, but I did. We all know what to do and what not to do when it comes to safety. But sometimes it’s easy to get complacent when traveling, especially when you’re feeling lonely, or have so many other people telling you what to do (or what site to use). No matter what you do, or what anyone else says, it’s important to listen to that little voice saying “This isn’t right.”

I’ve seen the positive and negatives from meeting people through Couchsurfing. It can be a great experience, I can now affirm. BUT, the best ice cream place in town isn’t more important than your safety. Take heed and listen to your instincts! Or, failing that, your mother. Here are some tips to get you started:

How I Learned Couchsurfing Safety Rules the Hard Way

1. A person’s profile can give you lots of useful information.

Check out their references; on Couchsurfing, you can leave positive or negative feedback about your experience. Reading about others’ experiences can help you make a more informed decision.

2. Let someone know where you are going.

Give a friend your number, the address of where you are staying and how long you are planning to stay. Have a back-up plan, or a back-up place to stay, if possible–even just the name of a nearby hotel.

3. If you’re nervous, try out the Couchsurfing MeetUp groups, as opposed to meeting with one person.

This gives you better odds of meeting people you’ll click with, and is generally a much more informal atmosphere.

4. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Don’t follow my first time–follow your instincts. If you don’t like a situation, or feel comfortable in a person’s presence, leave. Don’t be afraid of being rude. Your safety as a solo female traveler is number one, and you have every right to leave, at any point. If you don’t want to stay somewhere, don’t.

Play it right, and with Couchsurfing you can meet friendly travelers and see unique perspectives of places during your travels. Just be safe, be sure and remember: no good comes from meeting strangers in dark tunnels.

Your safety is the most important thing.


How I Learned Couchsurfing Safety Rules the Hard Way

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How to Choose Between Hostels, Airbnb and Couchsurfing
5 Tips for First-time Couchsurfers

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About Alex Pendleton

Alex Pendleton loves writing, exploring, baking and strong coffee. She has a permanent case of wanderlust, and is currently back in the UK planning her next adventure. She has traveled extensively, studied in the Czech Republic and worked in Germany and Italy.

6 thoughts on “How I Learned Couchsurfing Safety Rules the Hard Way

  1. The Wanderlust Rose
    April 27, 2020

    I’m sorry to hear you had such an uncomfortable experience. I’ve used the app about a dozen times and had mostly wonderful experiences. There was one time in Frankfurt where I was on my way to meet a host and Couchsurfing sent me a message saying his account had been deactivated and I never found out why. I assume I dodged a bullet with that one!

  2. Al
    February 3, 2014

    Couchsurfing is still great but there is 10% men being a problem on the site. In Dubai for example, if a woman is raped, she would be jailed for this. It is like in Pakistan where 80% of the women jailed are jailed because having being raped. The same law applies. Every time I try nicely to inform women about this, as I surfed not knowing, and took stupid risks, the men on the site, mostly from Pakistan, always delete my comments. And the thing is the safety team seems to always be on their side, saying no women rights activism. In fact it was so obvious the last letter I received from the safety team from a certain Caytee, that I started to have doubt about this Caytee being a woman and being based in United States. As we all know a lot of companies locate their on line services in India. And in India, a lot of workers are from Pakistan as well. So I thought but would it be possible Caytee would be a Pakistanese man, based in India? And if yes, so is it legal from Couchsurfing to pretend to have a safety team run by women in United States when it is in fact men based in India? Which would explain the lack of banner and information in Dubai and the will to not inform women about their rights.

    • Brazilian Dude
      September 25, 2015

      I Tottaly agree with you(sorry for my broken english)if you wanna couchsurfing
      trust twice,when people that tell that that guy or that girl is safe ranking…
      i dont recommend you visit a country without the real knowlegment about that country,my tip:if you are rich,american,or middle class,have money,dont spend your time in third world shitty and unsafe places,with uknown people,my experience by Brazil,Rio and São Paulo,for example is not the”Real”Brazil,those crappy cities does not represents the entire Brazil,and your gringo tv always are showing the Poor side of town,and Brazil have beautiful and natural places that you MUST go with sorta safe Tour Agency,specially on North Eastern shore,Bahia(Salvador city),Espirito Santo,and,Southern States,and inner states such Minas Gerais(specially the city of Belo Horizonte),KNOW a important stuff:the people s profile and the lack of culture that average population have,Brazil is a bad example of lack of education,but in reverse,we have a tight spirit to help the other people in difficult situation,a strong study where you are coming,the city map,and the culture habits,non sorta of stereotypical ones,but beyond that,like where the english teatchers,english schools adresses,your embassy,hospitals,so and so,hotels,places that you can”scape”from some “couchsurfer red alert”,my experience was Japan,when i went to Japan,BEFORE i have learned a lot of about that people,their culture,,the good and the bad things,places to go,places to not go,education,mi tip is Check the Ranking on Couchsurf Places,and dont fell”alone”during the trip,protect yourself

  3. Wendy feltus
    October 15, 2013

    Hilarious thank you for sharing… It’s nice to know rules because it’s nice to meet people while travelling

  4. May 16, 2013

    Nice article! The author is correct; common sense and instinct come into play when using Couchsurfing (CS). I’ve personally found the global CS community to be fantastic and made wonderful, lasting friendships through the site.

    I’ll add that there are usually Couchsurfing “Ambassadors” in major cities. They’re likely to be trustworthy and can hopefully give you the “scoop” if you have a question about a particular CSer or the community in general.

    The other thing is that some users are “verified,” which means that they’ve provided a few further details, such as payment method and address, to confirm they’re “real people.” I personally don’t find this to make any guarantees about the nature of the person, just as I don’t find a CS Ambassador to necessarily be 100% trustworthy, but if you use these tools, and all the ones in the article, you can usually make an informed decision.

    All that said, CS could, at least, be a great way to get information about a new place you’re visiting or even living in. At most, if you take a few calculated risks and meet up with some CSers in safe, public settings, you’ll create relationships that will last a lifetime.

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