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?