Take the 2-minute tour ×
Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Are hospitality-exchange services like CouchSurfing and warmshowers.org reasonably safe to use? I mean both for hosts and for guests, and both for men and women, in first-world countries.

What precautions should I take while using such services?

Please cite sources if possible.

share|improve this question
add comment

3 Answers 3

From my experience, yes it is very safe to use hospitality exchange services all over the world as long as you check references, have a backup plan, and trust your instincts.

I've been CouchSurfing since 2007 in more than 30 countries and have only once had a less than stellar experience. I've actually had more (and worse) bad experiences staying in backpacker hostels than while CouchSurfing.

Some Tips

Check References

They're there for a reason. Everyone has to start somewhere, but these networks are so big that most people have a friend who can vouch for them already. Check second degree references to re-assure yourself that they are valid. If you're worried about being hit on by a host take a look at the sex of the people they host. Sometimes you will notice a trend of guys only hosting girls and that can be a red flag for some.

Have a Backup Plan

Things go wrong. People cancel at the last minute. You should always be prepared to find a new place to stay.

Trust Your Instincts

If you're getting uncomfortable in a situation, leave. Don't think twice about it, especially if you feel unsafe.

If you're still concerned, I recommend you travel with a friend.

share|improve this answer
3  
Excellent. +1. It sounds to me like using CouchSurfing is quite safe for men. It would be much appreciated if you could please edit your answer and mention a) women guests and b) about how many CouchSurfing hosts you've stayed at in total. (A hundred? A thousand?) Also: What were some of your bad travel experiences, both while using CouchSurfing and in general? –  unforgettableid Apr 30 '12 at 22:58
    
I'll add some more info in the areas you requested. –  johndbritton May 2 '12 at 16:21
add comment
up vote 10 down vote accepted

In his blog post "Be careful in the surf", Tom Casady, former police chief of Lincoln, Nebraska, writes about the results of a quick host search he did in his city. Among the many search results, he found a known drug dealer, a registered sex offender, and someone who had recently threatened to shoot himself and was taken in by police. He concludes:

So, if you're going to couch surf, take advantage of the free [state] resources for background checks, email some of the references, don't go it alone if you can help it, and bring your own sleeping bag: never know what's been on that couch. No need to be paranoid, though. You can't live in a cocoon, and somehow the concept of people hosting travellers in their home is appealing to a guy who [...] depended on the kindness of others to make his way for several years.

Even though Mr. Casady is a man, I bet women can also rely on his advice while staying with or hosting other women.

See also The Gift of Fear, by personal-safety expert Gavin de Becker, and its advice on informing and listening to your intuition. The book was a #1 bestseller in the US. You can get it from Amazon or your library.

share|improve this answer
    
I'm confused, you asked and answered your own question? Don't get me wrong, it's a good one to have on here, I'm just curious :) –  Mark Mayo Apr 30 '12 at 22:54
    
2  
@MarkMayo: A Washington state resident recently asked me, through a hospitality-exchange website, to host them. I did a Google search for [ washington state court records ]. After figuring out how to use the free records-retrieval system, I found out that the man was charged with assault, and after he went through a diversion program, the charge was dropped. This shook my confidence both in the man and in hospitality exchange. Former police chief Casady's advice restored my confidence, but was hard to find. So I quoted Mr. Casady here so that others can find his advice more easily. –  unforgettableid Apr 30 '12 at 23:05
1  
@MarkMayo: Also, now I can benefit from other StackExchange members sharing their answers with me too. –  unforgettableid Apr 30 '12 at 23:06
    
yes, sure it's encouraged, it's just very unusual for a brand new user to do it. Thanks for the useful question and answer tho, I hope there'll be many more like it! –  Mark Mayo Apr 30 '12 at 23:07
add comment

When i was traveling and posted on the couch surfing forums about my travel plans I was messaged by some girl(!) who was very insisted that i drop by on my way. Later she started to make moves on me. (Can't really blame her, i am often mistaken for a young George Clooney.)

However my other experiences where always good. Usually got hosted by people who live alone and just want to exchange travel stories or talk to new people, or maybe because they live in a small town where not much happens entertainment-wise. I usually cross-check the name+city, email, phone number, nick on Google or have a look at the neighborhood on street view to get an idea what sort of person and environment it is.

I would not give too much about the user reviews. This is because, if you had a bad experience with a host you would not give him a negative review, or he might give you a bad review in return and rather just don't rate the other user at all. Maybe if you work out the percentage of reviews vs. # of hosts/visits he had, it can give you a better perspective.

Fun fact: statistics suggest that you are much more likely to die because of diseases like heart disease or cancer than by unintentional injuries such as car accidents or hostile couch-surfing hosts.

So my advice would be: Go couchsurfing and be nice and respectful, but learn CPR and always wear a seat belt and suncreen :)

share|improve this answer
    
I screen, you screen, we all screen for... I'll just fix the typo. –  todofixthis May 5 '12 at 14:32
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.