I can vividly remember the first time I’d heard of Couchsurfing: it was 2011 and I was in a hostel dorm in Queenstown, New Zealand, chatting with a British girl who had just Couchsurfed her way around California. “It was amazing“, she gushed. I’ll admit her description of sleeping on strangers’ couches for free sounded a bit bizarre at first, but all other aspects sounded great: being able to meet and connect with like-minded people, and experiencing a destination from a local’s perspective – I was intrigued. I made a mental note to research more about Couchsurfing when I returned home.
Fast-forward 4 years, and I was planning a very last-minute trip to Budapest. I had 5 days in the city, and I was determined to meet locals and to do more than just scratch the surface of the city. Couchsurfing would help make this happen, I thought.
I’m not completely naive; I’ve read about how Couchsurfing is apparently a great hook-up app, and I’d heard of solo female travellers who’ve had strange experiences using the site. But I’m not the type of person to let one or two negative instances influence my decision; surely it would be easy to find genuine people on Couchsurfing who were merely looking to meet travellers and share local knowledge of their hometowns.. right?
After searching for hours and messaging multiple hosts, I had an offer from a guy with 3o-odd positive references who lived fairly close to the city centre, and who seemed to share similar likes and interests. And he was, for the most part, a great host: he offered to meet me at the metro station and walked me to his flat when I arrived. He gave me a map and spare keys, and told me to chill at his place or explore the city and come back whenever I please while he went to work for a few hours. Over the course of my stay, he made an effort to get to know me and spend time with me, he recommended good restaurants, and introduced me to some amazing ruin bars. There was one little thing that negatively affected my stay, but I’ll expand on that later..
My host was chain smoker. And by chain smoker I mean unless he was sleeping, he had a cigarette in his hand. As a non-smoker, the constant barrage of smoke in his flat and at every bar, restaurant, and attraction we visited started to drive me to the brink of insanity. This was a foolish oversight on my part, since smoking preferences are listed on Couchsurfing profiles – but I’ll never make this mistake again.
Along with messaging a few hosts, I also posted a public message asking if any locals or travellers wanted to meet up or offer any recommendations for restaurants, bars, etc. I received multiple replies from people offering to host me, and a few other messages offering to meet up for a drink – all from guys. Now, I’m sure there were some genuine, friendly, and well-intentioned people amongst those who messaged me – there was at least one: an older gentleman who offered to give free tours to Couchsurfers because he genuinely enjoyed it and wanted to practise his English – and this is exactly the type of person I was hoping to meet. But there were also messages like this:
And then there was the time my host decided to stop mid-sentence and tell me that he liked me one night at the bar. And that he’d love if we could live in the same city. And how he was searching for a job in Malta and he was sure it would be so easy for me to move there. And how he was now thinking of using a free flight credit to fly to Scotland (where I currently live) because he’s always wanted to visit Iceland and there might be direct flights from Glasgow. And how he’d love for me to sleep in his bed with him so he could “hug me.”
Should I have told him to get a grip and stop making things incredibly weird for the both of us since I was completely uninterested? Probably. But I’m more of an awkwardly-change-the-subject-and-avoid-eye-contact-until-the-situation-passes type of person.
Would I Couchsurf again? Definitely. But I’ll be sure to read reviews even more thoroughly, message only non-smokers, and maybe devise a plan of escape incase my host decides to, you know, ask me to move to Malta with him or something…
Have you had any strange Couchsurfing encounters? Do people still use Couchsurfing to Couchsurf, or am I just ignorant to the fact that it’s basically become a new version of Tinder?
This is why I’ve never couchsurfed! I don’t know if I’m just a terrible searcher, but everybody I seem to find is not interested in hosting a traveler just for the couch. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I do think it’s super important to share the good, the bad, AND the awkward. I still want to give couchsurfing a go…but how to make it 1000% known that I am not looking for anything more??
I’m not quite sure! I guess some people are pretty straightforward – like the guy who said I could sleep in his bed with him, ha! But otherwise, I think it’s just a matter of reading reviews thoroughly.. or just try to stay with females maybe?! Good luck with your future Couchsurfing attempts!
WOW. Just wow. I haven’t couchsurfed yet, but I’m a member and I hope to do it at least a couple times when I head to South America in the fall. It’s such a good way to get to know local spots and get some culture (and language practice). Ahhh how did you go back and stay at his house after he said he wanted to “hug” you??!
It is such a great way to get to know a destination – I visited so many spots in Budapest I never would have found on my own! But I definitely could have done without the awkwardness, ha. After the “hug me” comment I couldn’t wait to get out of his flat, but he said it on the last night of my stay, and I didn’t really sleep because I was heading to the airport at 3am!
Oh no way, TOO awkward! I would not have known how to react! I think most of the people on the site are legit, but unfortunately when you post an open request you often only get offers from the few sleazy men… When couchsurfing on my own, I tend to stay mainly with female hosts, couples, families, or in flatshares to avoid those situations. Maybe do that the next few times?
I did not know how to react in the slightest, ha! And I’ll probably avoid the open request altogether next time. Thanks for the tip – it sounds like females or couples might be a good option next time I Couchsurf!
Ewww those messages gave me the creeps. I am also very anti-smoking so I totally feel your pain on that. You deserve a medal for being able to go back to his place after he said he wanted to “hug” you. Good lord. This is why even just the thought of looking at Couchsurfing options makes me nervous.
Yeah, it was really awkward after the “hug me” comment.. I was so ready to leave his flat at that point! But maybe just try to find a female host if you do try Couchsurfing!
Oh no! I’ve never Couchsurfed before but I’ve read such great things about it. However, this is exactly the type of thing that would scare me off of ever trying it. I don’t know if I would have felt comfortable going back to his place after he said all that! Eh, at least everything turned out okay and it didn’t scare you off of the concept completely. And, because I’m oblivious to these things, I had no idea that Couchsurfing had turned into a sort of Tinder! Interesting!!
Yeah I think he was harmless, but just made things super awkward! I’ll definitely Couchsurf again – I’m sure my next experience can only be better than the last, ha! And I’m hoping it hasn’t turned into Tinder, but I saw quite a few questionable characters while searching for a host!
I was very active in CouchSurfing 2005-2007 when I lived in Europe and then NYC; I did a lot of press on them for Travel Channel, Frommer’s, etc. But with the invention of Airbnb, I kind of forgot about my old friend, CS. So it’s good to read they’re still thriving =)
(And yes, I had my share of awkward encounters, too!)
The worst of which was this: http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/2009/04/when-bad-road-trips-happen-to-good-people/
Glad I’m not the only one! And your road trip buddy in NZ sounded like a real gem – I love that he tried to walk into a restaurant barefoot, ha! Kudos to you for ditching him when you did and enjoying the rest of your trip!
I absolutely love couchsurfing! I’ve hosted some amazing people here in Melbourne and I’m catching up with all of them during my upcoming trip to Europe.
It’s my favourite way to travel and I always say even if I had an endless supply of money I would still do it because it is just such a great way to have a unique travel experience.
However my friend and I were talking about how majority of couchsurfing hosts are male- I’m not sure its a creepy thing- more than men feel safer letting strangers into their house than females would. The best tip I’ve ever learnt is to message another female who has left a reference on your hosts page- there might be something small that made them feel uncomfortable but they didn’t think it was a big enough deal to put in a reference. So you can often get a greater picture from them in a private msg.
Yeah, I also figured men probably feel safer welcoming strangers into their homes – which is totally understandable! That’s a really good tip – thank you! I can’t wait to try Couchsurfing again, and I’ll definitely keep your tip in mind!
I’ve heard that Couchsurfing is thinking of changing its business model. Given that it’s a community-driven site and is 100% based on good people hosting/being hosted/engaging, I’m not sure how this would happen exactly. But I do feel like the org is surely feeling the pressure from people moving to AirBnB or other options!
I thought I’d also read something about Couchsurfing wanting to make some changes to the site, but I’m not quite sure what they’re planning, either! It will be interesting to see what unfolds if they do change their business model.