I recently decided to forgo my plans to couch surf for the next six months while I bounce around Europe. I have received multiple offers in a few of my locations but, unfortunately, these offers are only from male hosts. Instead, I will look for reasonably priced accommodations on Airbnb as I’ve used it before with great success, and research hotel, hostel, or camping situations in every city I’ll visit. (If you want to try Airbnb let me know, as we can both receive a discount if I refer you!)
I’ve couch surfed ‘officially’ using Couchsurfing.com once, just for two nights while I visited London back in March 2015. The experience, while unpleasant, taught me a great deal about why I should reconsider crashing with a person I’ve never met before. I wrote this piece afterward.
I spent two nights as a couch surfer in London instead of renting a flat or room on Airbnb. For those of you not familiar with the concept of couch surfing, here’s an example of how it works: let’s say you need to attend a conference in Barcelona next weekend, and let’s suppose you have a friend who lives there. You ask her if you’d be able to crash at her place for a few days. Not only do you get to spend time with your good friend (if she isn’t too busy with work herself) but you also get a comfy place to sleep at no cost to you. This is called couch surfing, even if you aren’t technically sleeping (aka surfing) on a couch.
If you’re visiting a city for the very first time, however, you might not know anyone living there. This is where Couchsurfing.com comes in. This site connects like-minded people from all over the world–-the type of people who have an interest in couch surfing themselves and those interested in hosting fellow couch surfers.
Couchsurfing.com is sort of like Facebook: everyone has a profile page where you upload photos, describe your personality, your likes and dislikes, what you hope to gain from couch surfing…etc. When looking for a host, you view their profile pages and examine their reviews. Reviews are left by people who’ve couch surfed at the host’s residence and can be positive or negative, with an explanation and perhaps a counter-argument by the host herself.
When searching for a host, reading reviews is only one variable you should consider. Depending on how complete her profile page is, which is also something you should look for in itself, you will know if she lives with flatmates, whether you’ll be sleeping in a guest room or a shared room, if her identity on Couchsurfing.com matches up with a credit card, if her account is linked to her Facebook account…I basically have a checklist that I go through before I decide whether it’s safe to spend the night at a host’s residence or not.
Also, you have the option of requesting to be hosted by certain people you select, or you can post a public trip/couch request and let hosts approach you. I tried the second option as it seemed more logical since hosts could reach out to me if they happened to be free during the dates I requested.
I received a few offers from hosts for my London couch request. One prospective host seemed like a good match: he had 8-9 positive reviews (some from women) and only 1 negative review (because of miscommunication about arrival time/dates). Most importantly, he also lived with flatmates. We had a few brief text conversations, and I decided to accept his hosting invitation and give it a try.
Truth be told I was a little bummed that my first couch surfing experience would be with a man. Sure, he had positive references and lived with flatmates, but I couldn’t get over the awkwardness of spending two nights at a flat with a male host I’ve never met before.
The first night I arrived at his flat and discovered he had prepared an all-vegan dinner for me. I was surprised by how nice this was, but I figured it might just be a cultural difference in hospitality that I’m just not used to an American (he was Turkish). At least one flatmate was home (a woman) and I got to meet her, so I was less nervous. He took my bags and placed them in a room around the corner from the kitchen. I followed him in and saw a bed, a computer desk, small couch and assumed that would be my room for the night since he put my stuff in there.
We continued on with dinner and had a glass of wine. At this point, my friend texted me just to check in, so I happily and truthfully informed her that all was well: my host was friendly and an amazing cook, so far so good! My host and I continued to chat about traveling and couch surfing. I mentioned that this was my first time couch surfing and he was a bit surprised.
Instead of trying to put me at ease, he started to explain how risky couch surfing can be for both parties involved. On my end, as the guest, I’m at risk because I don’t know my hosts, and no amount of online sleuthing can guarantee my host isn’t a creep. Sure, similar risks apply when you meet people in person, but you have more time to get to know them and to determine if they are in fact a creep or not, and you also have other ways to verify his/her identity. He also explained that he’s at risk when offering to host couch surfers. I could very well be a con artist, I might irreparably damage his flat, steal from him, etc.
Are we seriously talking about this right now?!
While all of this is true, I really did not want to be having this conversation with my very first host! Thanks for reminding me how RISKY it is for me to stay in your house, dude! Also, in terms of who’s more at risk, I know that I’m at much more risk as a woman with an unfamiliar man around, since no matter how trained or prepared I am, a man could easily overpower me if I’m not expecting it (and who ever expects to be attacked?) or if I’m unarmed.
So that bit of conversation was awkward moment #1.
And now for awkward moment #2: in this same conversation I mentioned how I turned down a request from another male host because he had zero references and I couldn’t verify anything about him. This is common sense to me. My host then replies, “what, was he not cute?” … And I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. I nervously tried to laugh it off…no dude, I’m not accepting hosts based on how cute they are. and no, that is not why I accepted you as a host. The purpose of couch surfing is to have a free place to sleep, not for dating or hooking up! FYI: This is actually a violation of couchsurfing.com’s policies. If someone asks you out or tries to go on a date with you via the site, you can report them!
Let me set the stage for awkward moment #3. After dinner, I showered and got ready for bed. At this point, we were both hanging out in the computer room (where I assumed I would be sleeping). As I busied myself on my phone, I noticed that he was changing into his pajamas…okay, so MAYBE he doesn’t care about changing in front of another person, okay, well he was on the other side of the room….okay, so MAYBE it’s just another cultural difference? Even if all that was true, it was still weird to do that in front of a guest, especially a guest of the opposite sex. I brushed that off hoping the awkwardness would subside.
And now for the most awkward moment of this whole experience. It was around 2am and we both agreed it was time for bed. I waited for him to leave or at least show me where I’d be sleeping, and he asked me, “what side do you want?”
My heart sank. No way is he referring to the bed…I didn’t say anything at first, then managed to utter, “no way…” I can’t remember what he said next, but he didn’t give any sign that he was joking. I remember nervously explaining that I move around in my sleep, so I wouldn’t want to share a bed with anyone. After what seemed like an eternity, he said, “I’m just kidding, I have an air mattress for you.”
As a man hosting a woman, that is something you definitely can’t joke about. I swear I felt like I was trapped in a bad dream, no way could this be happening to me with my very first host…and it did not get any better! He set up the air mattress in the same room. Now I learned that this was HIS room. The other bedrooms upstairs were for his flatmates. Under normal circumstances sleeping in that room (on the air mattress next to his bed) wouldn’t have worried me, since because of how the flat was designed (without a living room), I could only have slept in the kitchen. Quite frankly I would have much preferred to sleep in the kitchen, on the floor!
As you might guess I hardly slept that night. I was so anxious and weirded out. I didn’t expect anything to happen but with all the awkward shit I just experienced, there was no way I could get a good night’s sleep in this dude’s bedroom, right next to his bed.
Early the next morning I woke up before he did and got ready as fast as I could. I high-tailed it out of there and made my way to my friend’s flat. I didn’t explain any of this to her because I didn’t want her to worry.
As the day went on I started to dread returning to my host’s flat. I just wanted to avoid as much awkwardness as possible. He had planned on making dinner again but I also wanted to avoid that. I stayed with my friend as late as I could, then sadly returned to my host.
He was much quieter that night. We barely exchanged a few sentences. I don’t know if I was just imagining the awkwardness between us or not, but the vibes were completely different from the first night. I slept more soundly that night because I knew tomorrow morning my ass would be out of there at the crack of dawn…
I woke up very early, much earlier than I needed to, gathered my things and booked it to the tube station, contemplating the whole experience and wondering if I’d ever try couch surfing again…
One problem I have with couch surfing is the general anxiety I feel when I’m a guest in someone’s home. I get some anxiety even when staying at my sister’s home. It takes me a day or two to figure things out, to relax, before I feel almost completely comfortable as a guest. This anxiety is further exacerbated when I’m spending time in a home with a host I’ve never met before, and more so when the host is a man.
I could see myself maybe couch surfing with a female host for 3-4 days since that’s enough time for me to adjust and to settle…but couch surfing for only a night might be too stressful for me.
If I try couch surfing again, which I’m pretty sure I need to do since I don’t want to completely write it off because of one weird experience (I can learn from it instead), my game plan will be as follows:
- Only accept female hosts.
- Try spending a night. If I do this a few times and still am plagued with strong anxiety, try spending 3-4 nights with one host.
- In addition to my regular online-sleuthing methods, I will meet my prospective host for coffee or a quick meal before deciding to spend time at her place. I will have a back-up plan if I decide to not stay with my prospective host after this meeting.
While I only have this one experience to support my next statement, I do wonder how many men are willing to host women couch surfers with the hopes they would get to sleep with them…and again, this is technically a violation of couchsurfing.com’s policies and you can report them, but if you, as an adult woman, choose to hook up with a guy you meet on couchsurfing.com, you obviously are not going to report him since you are both adults and you both wanted that to happen. I just wonder if that’s what most male hosts want…just the opportunity that a couch surfer might want to hook up on a whim.
I don’t want to assume every man on couchsurfing.com has bad intentions, but the fact is that I’m a woman traveling alone. People offering to host me know this because that’s why I’m looking for a host in the first place. I would feel much better staying in a hostel because other people will be around 24/7.
I’m disappointed that I can’t fully trust strangers, especially men, but that’s how I feel. Some men are creeps and I can’t control that.
Have you couch surfed before?
For solo women couch surfers, were you ever hosted by a man?
How did it go?