Couchsurfing: How to avoid negative experiences

Joanna Horanin

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Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

I am a big fan of Couchsurfing. Whenever I travelled to new places, I tried to get a couch somewhere. I also hosted a couple of lovely people and made really good friends through it.

Couchsurfing is really popular among travellers, especially those that travel alone. It is also popular with those who want to travel, but for many reasons cannot do so (if you can’t visit the world, let the world visit you – used to be my mantra during my stay in London). It is a great site. It connects people, it allows them to visit cities and towns without spending much money, and helps against the feeling of being lonely and lost in foreign places.

This is all brilliant. However, in today’s digital world it is easy to get into trouble just because we trust other people too much. After my last negative experience with Couchsurfing in Sydney, I have been more careful and I have been following some strict rules when it comes to choosing a host, or a guest.

This is a list of things I do before choosing a host on Couchsurfing:

1. Check the references

Of course, some people are just starting and they don’t have many of them, or none at all. However, in my opinion, it is better to choose a host with at least a few references. You should read most of them and check if they are not too general. The more details the better. References are also useful when you want to know more about the host’s (or the guest’s) personality.

2. Read the profile

That’s one of the most important factors if you want to avoid bad experiences with Couchsurfing.

Don’t skim through it. Read it thoroughly. Sometimes the hosts put a ‘keyword’ they want you to use when sending a couch request. The profile gives you a lot of information. Make sure that they use their full name and not a nickname. Look through their photos. It is best if their face is clearly visible. The more photos they have, the better.

3. Check the couch information

They don’t need to include a photo of it, but it is important they include the information of where you are going to sleep. If they don’t have it then it is a good idea to send them a message and ask. I once stayed with a host that didn’t have a couch and I had to sleep with him in one bed, which was really awkward for me. He didn’t have any information about his flat on the profile, and it was my fault I hadn’t checked with him before.

4. Talk to them

Start looking for a couch a bit in advance and contact your potential hosts with some questions. If you are looking for a free accommodation and to make new friends, it is best if you make sure that you and your host have something in common. Usually it is easy to detect that from just a few emails.

5. Follow your instincts

If something tells you that you shouldn’t stay with that particular person, then don’t. It is really better to pay for your accommodation than put yourself in danger.

There is always a risk of going through a bad experience with Couchsurfing. People are different and many things can happen. This doesn’t mean, however, that Couchsurfing is a bad idea, or that you shouldn’t use it. I encourage everyone to try it out at least once. It is a great way of meeting people, making friends, seeing places you wouldn’t normally see and saving money. Just be cautious and enjoy the Couchsurfing experience.