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Couchsurfing Review: 5 Years of Experience & Best Safety Tips!

By Daisy Li
Couchsurfing reviews are helpful if you aren’t too sure whether the platform is for you. After 5 years, my Couchsurfing experience has been vast. Here, I will elaborate on what is Couchsurfing and provide a review of the Couchsurfing app and some safety tips 🙂

This Couchsurfing review will speak on my personal experience and some tips to help you if you are just starting out!

Traveling on a budget is often thought to be limiting. It is true that less money might mean shabbier accommodation and unappetizing food, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Of course, where money falls short, you become more flexible. And as a 20-something solo traveler, my flexibility often allows me the opportunity to explore and experience things that may be deemed unfit for a 20-something solo traveler, especially for a girl.

Especially coming from my parents.

But since I am a #soulsearchingrebelliousmillennialgenerationx-after90s kid, I do so anyway.

This is where Couchsurfing comes in.


As a long-time surfer, I will review the Couchsurfing app, talk about Couchsurfing pros and cons, and touch on whether Couchsurfing is safe throughout my years using the platform.

Couchsurfing Review: What is Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing is a platform that provides members the opportunity to host guests, stay at other’s houses, and meet travelers at various events. It’s free to join the site, but there are a few paid features granted to verified members (A one-time payment of USD 60)

Couchsurfing Verified Membership Features:

  • Verify government issued ID
  • Priority Customer Support
  • Unlimited Messaging (It’s 10/week for non-verified members)

Is Couchsurfing Verification worth it?

First of all, having a verified profile does not mean hosts will suddenly begin to offer their couch to you. Most hosts look at your level of activity on the platform, your requests, your profile, and reviews.  I don’t have a verified account and haven’t had trouble getting a host in the past.

However, if you are doing a longer trip and need to message more than 10 people/ week while on the road, then Couchsurfing verification may work for you. There are definitely hosts who only accept verified Couchsurfing members as well.

Tip: For every person you host, you receive three months of verified membership for free.

Doesn’t sound like your thing or looking for alternatives to Couchsurfing? Check out a list of other budget accommodation options.

Couchsurfing Reviews: Why Couchsurfing?

Having used Couchsurfing throughout most of my trips, I believe that the platform really helps me travel like a local. Most hosts happily showed me around their city and gave me advice on transportation, food, or must-visits within the country. Couchsurfing has not only given me a better understanding of the culture in the destination country but has also enriched my trips in the most unexpected ways.

In the past couple of years, I’ve slept in teepees, bungalows, apartments, beach houses, and cave rooms, on floors, couches, and unwashed mattresses. I was hosted by lawyers, professors, hippiesbikers and many more. Because of strangers I’ve met,  I’ve witnessed hot air balloons in Cappadocia for free, rode a motorcycle up into the Himalayasslurped fresh oysters by the harbor of Santa Barbara and got free entrance to Disney, amongst a number of other events and places. Because of my experiences (the good and the bad), I understand how important it is to give a comprehensive couchsurfing review for those looking to give it a try.

 

 

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Never reject the invitation to a stranger’s wedding 🙏🏼

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Now, I’m not a Couchsurfing ambassador by any means, but I may perhaps preach it on the daily. So a post on the pros and cons of Couchsurfing might be biased coming from me, but I will try to keep it neutral.

Couchsurfing Review: Pros & Cons

The Couchsurfing Experience

Pro: Amazing Local Experiences

Why would you travel to a city as a tourist, and only visit places often seen on social media and Google, when you can enjoy the hidden gems that a local can show you? I’ve been shown so many “secret spots” that a generic tour bus or a travel advice page doesn’t know. Since I travel solo a lot, Couchsurfing became a great way for me to meet people, make friends, and stay connected to locals throughout my trip and beyond. This has always been one of my favorite things about Couchsurfing!

Con: Too Many Experiences & No Personal Space

Then again, hosts may be so inclined to show you all the hidden gems that you’d be too tired for all the must-sees. The majority of Couchsurfing hosts are really flexible. No one is going to drag you to places and demand you to do stuff with them, but I want to candid in this Couchsurfing review and say that I’ve also had some extremely nice and eager hosts who didn’t really understand that I’d prefer a little time to myself once in a while.

Vibes & Connections when Couchsurfing

Pro: Good Vibes & Quick Connections

A common characteristic I’ve noticed in most couch surfers is that they are extremely open minded. Hosts and surfers tend to be open to new ideas, engaging conversations, the exchange of perspectives and so on and so forth. Both travelers and local hosts are interested in YOU. Most couch surfers place a lot of emphasis on dialogue, sharing experiences, and having some sort of cultural exchange. The best part is that these exchanges often forgo the small talk in day-to-day conversations.

In addition, Couchsurfing is in itself a sharing economy-type platform. Most users want to help others for little in return. I’ve made so many great friends that I still talk to today!

Con: Bad Vibes & Awkward Hangouts

It is a given that not everyone will click. You may be the most sociable, approachable, optimistic soul and there will still be people criticizing you for talking too much, being naive, and acting stupid. While the majority of couchsurfers are open-minded and welcoming, I’ve had a few awkward experiences. This one time, my host and I just did not hit it off. We didn’t listen to the same music, cared about different things, enjoyed different topics and just couldn’t make good conversation. We literally stared at each other in silence for three days straight, not knowing what to say.

Sometimes, certain behaviors may be a tick off. One of my hosts told me that he had a surfer who never cleaned up after herself. She left unwashed dishes and clothes around his place and treated the apartment like a hotel. Thankfully, most surfers I’ve encountered aren’t like this!

Is Couchsurfing Safe?

Pro: Easy to use Safety Mechanisms

It’s not a thorough couchsurfing review without talking about its safety. Although Couchsurfing may not be the safest method of accommodation, there are ways of verification. One’s Couchsurfing profile should be complete and engaging. But most importantly, they should have a ton of good reviews.

Tips for Couchsurfing Safety:

  • For solo female travelers, stay with other women or families. Do this by using the keyword tab under filter and typing “family”. You can change preferences for the gender and age of the host in the said filter area.
  • Make sure they have a complete profile and lots of good reviews.
  • Read what others say about this person.
  • After the confirmation of a stay, make sure that they keep good communication with you. Whether it be fast responses, witty responses or long responses, hosts and surfers should always keep you up to date on the planned agenda. (I’ve had hosts who forgot that I’d be visiting).
  • Of course, if the dialogue is inappropriate and makes you uncomfortable, drop it like it’s hooot not happening, duh.

After backpacking solo on and off for years, here are my best solo female travel tips!

Con: Lack of Safety Measures

So is Couchsurfing safe? Despite profiles and Couchsurfing reviews being helpful, they will not guarantee your safety. Profiles can be made up, as can reviews. A problem with Couchsurfing is that people rarely post bad reviews since they fear being retaliated with some bizarre story. I mean after all, who can verify the validity of either side?

Traveling alone as a girl may be even more terrifying. I’ve definitely heard of Couchsurfing bad experiences where hosts act inappropriately toward their surfers. A friend told me that she had to leave in the middle of the night because of a concern for her safety! And she wasn’t the only one who has experienced such worries. I’ve been in similar situations as well.

Staying with someone you don’t know and lacking the physical ability to defend yourself is definitely worrisome. Take precaution, do research and be mentally prepared for any scenario. And always trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, geeeeeeeet out!

Is Couchsurfing Free?

Pro: Money Saver

Couchsurfing was free (as of 2020, you have to pay US 14 a year for your membership). For a budget traveler like myself, free accommodation is really helpful. Of course, as a surfer, it is always considerate if you can get a small Thank You Gift for your host, or grab some groceries/a drink if your stay is long.

20 Budget Travel Hacks for your Next Trip!

Con: Don’t expect a 5 star hotel!

Couchsurfing is free. Free may mean sleeping in tents, on dirty beds, on smelly couches and so on. Most of the places I’ve stayed at have been absolutely amazing—big beds, clean sheets, sometimes even a full room! But don’t expect to find yourself to be at a 5-star hotel, and never treat hosts as if they are there to serve you. Of course, Couchsurfing is not for everyone and it’s completely understandable to forgo this route altogether. For those that try or have tried, do let me know how was your Couchsurfing experience!

If Couchsurfing isn’t really your thing, check out a list of other budget accommodation options.

A Review of the Couchsurfing App and Tips for Getting Hosted!

The Couchsurfing app is easy to use. Much like its web platform, the app is interactive and allows you to edit profiles and send requests.

Once you open up the Couchsurfing app, there are 5 tabs in the bottom.

  1. The Dashboard tab shows ‘Hangouts’ nearby (I will explain this feature below), the events in the area, your friend requests, upcoming trips, and events that you are attending.
  2. The Hangout feature will be discussed below.
  3. The Search tab allows you to look for hosts in a certain area and members by name.
  4. The Inbox shows all the messages you’ve sent and received from other members.
  5. The Profile tab is where you can edit your profile.

Some tips for getting hosted: 

  • Make sure you have a complete profile
  • Have some reviews-you can do this by attending CS meetups and events in your local city and making friends
  • Read your potential host’s profile!! I’ve noticed that some hosts would have hidden keywords on their profile that they’d like you to mention in your requests
  • Personalize your request! Don’t mass send-even if you do, make it specific to the individual you are sending it do, changing a few lines based on their profile would do!
  • Stay polite, even if they don’t accept, it’s ok!


Below are various ways that one can try out the CouchSurfing culture before taking on the lifestyle.

Couchsurfing Alternatives

Couchsurfing Meetups

Couchsurfing meetups are common in big cities. From weekly gatherings to monthly bar nights, a lot of cities are extremely active when it comes to meeting fellow travelers. These get together are generally attended by local CSers and tourists from afar, and is a great way to get a sense of the CouchSurfing culture. Of course, meetups usually come with incredible experiences that will further fuel your love for traveling.

Couchsurfing Events

Like meetups, active CS cities usually have tons of events throughout the week. Whether it be a house party or a group tour of downtown L.A, there is an endless number of opportunities to meet other travelers and discover the city. You can also bring a friend or two to share the experience (and prevent potential calamities).

In the events’ page, many people also post rideshare offers and trip agendas. Having looked up my hometown Toronto’s rather crammed listing of events, I noticed things ranging from religious gatherings to birthday parties. Trust me when I say there is something for everyone.

CS Hangouts

Couchsurfing’s “Hangouts” feature is only a couple of years’ old. When you list yourself as available to hang out, others in the area will be notified. Messages will be exchanged and times will be set up, but all in all, it is just a fast way of meeting local travelers who want to, well, hang out.

While traveling solo in Mexico, I decided to try out the Hangouts app. There, I found Melanie, a girl from the U.S who was traveling in a similar route as me. We ended up going to a few places together and still maintain contact!

Fun in the Sun, Mexico

My Couchsurfing Experience

As noted, I’ve been couchsurfing for quite a long time. In the past 5 years, I’ve stayed with over 70 families across the world. There were a few incidents here and there that made me second guess my choices. However, the majority of my experiences have been amazing. For me, the meaning of couchsurfing is simple-it is a shared cultural learning opportunity unlike many others you will come across. I truly have learned so much history, culture, political perspectives, food, and so on and so forth from so many.

This Couchsurfing review can’t go without a few experiences in detail:

 

 

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Do all Chinese people look alike because of Hiroshima? ⠀ ⠀ This question lingers on my mind, a truth that co-exist with these photos on the gram 🙃⠀ ⠀ Traveling is privileged, but it isn’t always easy.⠀ ⠀ Especially for a solo budget traveler. Add onto that a gender and race factor, and here I am, contemplating how best to word stories that are far less than wholesome.⠀ ⠀ *I’m not talking about my cracked skull or many accidents because they are at least, kind of funny 🤓*⠀ ⠀ I’m talking straight #metoo moments, racial prejudices and the like. I’m talking about that one time I left a village in the middle of the night because of an aggressive host, or a ‘friend’ telling me that he could get it from me if he really wanted to, because insinuating rape was apparently a good tactic to get laid 😐. Oh, how can I forget the money? The range of financial offers, the boosting of businesses and wealth, so blatantly, so matter of factly. Or when I found out that someone who acted like an older sister, was basically trying to pimp my roommate and I out. 🤢⠀ ⠀ And the stares and the “ni haos”, or, ah, the countless “you don’t look Canadians” that has me rolling on an identity crisis. Or that one time, while hosting a wedding in India, when the family questioned my presence, as it cheapened the event. 🤷🏻‍♀️⠀ ⠀ So being asked with genuine curiosity whether our black hair and slanted eyes are caused by radiation has me surprised that I can still get offended 😒⠀ ⠀ I talk about this so much, yet only realized recently how important it is to share these ugly bits as much as I do the hearty stuff. ⠀ ⠀ Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the biggest advocate for #traveling, esp solo traveling, as it is the most eye opening gift you can give yourself. I’m still the biggest advocate for meeting strangers, because damn, the majority of people are simply amazing, kind.⠀ ⠀ But as I get older, I am made more aware of the situations I get into, the words I put forward, and most importantly, my limits and triggers. ⠀ ⠀ Leaving 2019 with more honesty and a reminder that nothing is perfect (and that’s ok). We are always learning, growing, becoming.⠀ ⠀ Thank god I got thick skin tho #2020 thicker skin

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Nothing else explains my bad couchsurfing experiences more so than the caption I had for this photo. Only some were specific to Couchsurfing, but I guess you get the point:) Thank god they were rare incidents, though it definitely taught my to be extra careful when choosing a host!

All in all, I will continue couchsurfing for years to come. But I also know that one day, I will outgrow this method of travel for something a bit more straightforward, more conventional 🙂

I hope this Couchsurfing review has been helpful! Do let me know if you gave it a try and how your experience went!


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4 Comments

Matthew July 15, 2020 - 7:48 am

Daisy Li. As Canada’s Official Couchsurfing Ambassador for the entire country… I cannot thank you enough for this article. It gives an even and balanced perspective on a community for which I love very much. I have had my own good and bad experiences (both hosting, and surfing, even a bad hangout once I had in Vienna), so I’m so glad you kept your explanations real and to the point.

Feel free to contact me at my CS profile if you’d like to have a more direct input on the CS community as a whole. This offer also goes out to anyone with questions pertaining to any aspect of couchsurfing as well. (It’s one of the responsibilities of all CS Ambassadors to assist, support, and help any member of couchsurfing in any realistic way that they can)

https://www.couchsurfing.com/people/matthew-ruth

I will always strive to help others and continue to have this community improve in a positive and healthy manor.

Safe Travels and Stay Healthy

Reply
Daisy Li July 19, 2020 - 10:09 pm

Thank you Matthew. Great hearing from you and I’m glad you found this balanced 🙂 I will definitely be updating my experience along the way, and will be reaching out to you. Cheers!

Reply
Fabrice December 29, 2019 - 6:19 am

Thank you for this review. I just discovered couchsurfing and trying to find out if it suits my needs. Best, Fabrice

Reply
Daisy Li December 31, 2019 - 6:53 pm

Hope you have a great time!

Reply

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