Couchsurfing Horror Stories And 7 Tips To Avoid Them
Couchsurfing Horror Stories And 7 Tips To Avoid Them
Last Updated on January 12, 2022
This is not a click-bait article. I have plenty of reasons why you SHOULD couchsurf, but these are my legitimate thoughts and some reasons why you SHOULDN’T couchsurf. After hearing a few horror stories from other travelers, I started asking people I met if they had any stories to share. And indeed quite a few did. Some where funny, some were weird, but mostly harmless, but a few definitely confirmed some of my own feelings on the whole thing.
I know a lot of us are feeling the wanderlust now, and hosting couch surfers is a great way to meet with other travelers and have those random conversations you have at a hostel. When it goes well, it is a phenomenal way to travel with an experience that you can’t really find in a hostel or hotel.
I’ve done it a few times with some great experiences, but for those that have never experienced this and might be interested when things open up again, give this a read.
What is Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing is a pretty cool concept that allows travelers to meet up and stay with locals around the world. It’s like a free Airbnb before Airbnb came along. It’s a pretty amazing way to see a place through the eyes of someone living there and a great way to save money on the road. But here are some good reasons why it might not be for you.
It’s Requires Planning…And Sometimes That Falls Through
If you are the type of traveler who likes to keep his schedule flexible, it might be difficult to plan ahead far enough to make Couchsurfing work. Hosts typically requests at least a week’s notice at a minimum. For well-reviewed hosts, it could be even further ahead, assuming they are still available.
My friends who host often (and have get reviews), get so many requests, that it’s hard to choose from who they want to host. Sometimes they get requests from people so far out that they don’t even know if they can host that point in time.
Tip #1: You can’t just show up and expect a place to sleep. Plan ahead and it may not seem like just going with the flow, but do some due diligence and try to chat with your host beforehand if you can.
Watch Out For The Flakes
And then there are the occasional hosts that flake. One of my good friends texted me one time at 10 pm asking if I could book him a hostel because his Couchsurfing host never showed up to their meeting spot and he had no data. He never heard back from the host after that. This wasn’t that big of a deal.
A Dutch girl I met in the London told me her host asked to meet up with her first for coffee, which seemed fair enough. When they met, he told her that “she didn’t look like her picture” and changed his mind about hosting. He said it “wasn’t a good idea”. She didn’t need any explanation, because she was already planning to walk away anyway.
It’s Not Just A Free Bed
Couchsurfing doesn’t cost anything, but it’s not just a place for you to sleep. Hosting is about building relationships with other travelers. People do it for different reasons, but it’s a give and take thing.
This might just be your time, your stories, or your experiences. If you aren’t prepared to do this, then just pay the $10 or $15 for a dorm bed.
I think it’s a disservice to the host if you treat them as just free accommodation. There are a lot of good hosts out there that do this because it’s a way to return the hospitality they’ve received on the road. But don’t take advantage of this.
TIP #2: Look for a host that you would want to potentially want to have conversations and hang out with while in the city. Don’t look for just any host who will offer accommodation.
I’ve personally hosted many times over, albeit not on the site. I’ve offered a couch to people I’ve met on my travels and I’ve hosted people who were friends of friends. It’s a great way to break up my routine while I’m at home, show off my city, and even check out some places I don’t bother to check out when I’m at home.
Though you are no obligated to do anything, part of what makes Couchsurfing special is the interaction. So, I don’t recommend showing up and expecting to be able to have the same kind of in and out freedom that you might have if you were at a hotel or hostel.
You might need to work with the host’s schedule as well. Some hosts will be pretty relaxed and just tell you to make yourself and home and give you a key. But not all.
There Are Some Shady Hosts
The site does its best to look out for your safety. You can chat with your hosts beforehand to get to know each other. You have a chance to read their references. They have a chance to read your references. Bad people are warned against or banned. But that measure only goes so far.
The site claims over a 99% positive incident rating. I have my doubts about this and I don’t really believe it’s that high because I’ve heard quite a few horror stories, and I know these people haven’t always reported the hosts.
The Bed Or Couch That Doesn’t Exist
The most common negative story I’ve heard (multiple times) is showing up to find that the sleeping situation isn’t what was discussed. Instead of the extra bed or couch in the living room, several girls have shown up to have the host tell “ask” them if they are comfortable with sharing the one bed in the house.
At this point you’re thinking, well you can just leave. And absolutely – you can. But sometimes, you’re in a bit of a bind because you’ve arrived into a city pretty late at night and it might be difficult to find a place last minute that’s within your budget.
So they’re thinking, I’m independent enough and I’ve shared beds with other travelers. Not as a big of a deal.
Until the host puts them in an uncomfortable position when they talk about kissing or having sex, or worse, just actually try something in the middle of the night. It happens.
Tip #3: Have a backup plan for accommodation. It might be as simple as just have the address and number for a couple of hostels nearby. You don’t want to ever feel stuck and have to choose between a rock and hard place.
These same friends have either had to leave in the middle of the night or stopped the host, and stayed in feeling uncomfortable until morning.
Another friend was offered the bed, while the host slept on the couch. He insisted. Until he quietly crawled into “her” bed at 2 am. She luckily woke up and he told her that his back was hurting and the bed was big enough for both of them.
She got up to go to the couch, but he kept insisting that the bed was more comfortable and it was big enough for both of them. He kept telling her that she would make him feel bad if she slept on the really uncomfortable couch. She went to the couch and left in the morning. Luckily, without further incidents.
Maybe he was being genuine, or maybe he was just trying to guilt-trip her into staying in the bed with him. Who knows, but no one should have to guess or feel uncomfortable like that.
The Hosts That Is Too Personal
Another common bad experience and horror story that I’ve heard from other travelers is something a little more innocent, but still annoying – the lonely, tactless host.
I definitely get asked some personal questions when I travel, mostly from people who are curious or just come from a different culture. Still, sometimes it’s a bit much.
A few people have told me stories about their hosts that would ask questions that were too personal and a little creepy, like, “what types of guys/girls they like sleeping with” or “if they’ve ever kissed a stranger?” Cue eye roll.
Tip #4: Don’t feel bad about setting boundaries. You might feel like the host is doing you a favor, but there should never be a feeling of obligation.
One host ask if they wanted to watch some porn together.
Another kept insisting they take some MDMA and just have a good time…at home.
I can’t forget the one about the host who kept randomly telling my friend, while they were out having lunch, and then later at the house that he hadn’t had sex in years and he thinks it’s time to start again. Say it once and maybe it’s weird. Say it twice and you either have no short term memory or you’d trying to imply something.
The Host That Smells
Let me say that this story is not about a person who doesn’t use deodorant. A friend of mine from Germany was Couchsurfing around Japan. He had done across several cities and had really good experiences. In fact, his experiences and the high cost of traveling in Japan almost had me booking a last minute flight to Tokyo to do a story about Couchsurfing in Japan (I ended up going to Mongolia).
After a month of traveling around Japan, he was back in Tokyo and wanted to stay with a different host than the first time. He regretted the decision purely based on the man’s hygiene. It wasn’t just that he had a strong odor, the whole place had a decaying smell from what he told me. Like “rotten fish soaked in beer that is sour”.
Tip #5: Manage your expectations. Photos can only give you an idea of where you might sleep.
It was a small studio so he had a mat on the ground (which was fine) to sleep pretty close to the guy, but there was no ventilation at all and despite the language barrier, he was able to ask the host to open the small window – that did not help at all. He felt bad for doing it, but just went out for the entire time and came back just to get his bag to leave.
I told him he should have just gone to a Japanese onsen and stayed overnight there (which by the way is a great way to relax and save on a night’s worth of accommodation in Tokyo).
Why Do These Hosts Exist?
So these not so great hosts, they usually lay low, stay pretty anonymous and offer their place up when other options are not available. People desperate enough or overly trusting will take their chances, even without any reviews. I don’t presume to know everyone’s thought process, but I can see how a place to sleep is better than no place to sleep.
I haven’t heard any violent stories, but definitely know of a few more incidents that have made my friends feel uncomfortable enough to never use Couchsurfing again. And that’s not what traveling or Couchsurfing should be about.
You Can Only Vet Someone So Much
The best practice for Couchsurfing is to have a few conversations prior to arriving. Check their profile, reviews and perhaps snoop around a bit on their social media profiles.
You can also meet up with someone first when you arrive and change your mind if you feel uncomfortable.
Tip #6: Meet your host first. It might be an extra step, but I don’t think most hosts would take offense. The safety and experience thing is a two-way street. Have a coffee and hang out with the intention of staying if everything is good. If things are weird, kindly thank them and take a pass.
The thing is, there’s only so much you can do beforehand. People can come off friendly at first and even for a while, but you are in their private space. And anything can happen. And sometimes they do.
Don’t Ruin It For Others
Horror stories exist, but for the most part, Couchsurfing is a great thing. It’s built on trust and sharing. If the idea of having to find plan ahead, spend time strangers instead of doing your own thing, and not knowing exactly what your sleeping accommodations will be, scare you, perhaps reconsider this whole thing.
TIP #7: Report you host if you’ve had a bad experience. Be as objective and descriptive as possible, but give others a chance to decide for themselves. Your silence just means someone else might have to go through a similar experience.
It’s not for everyone, so if it’s not for you, let it be. Stick with a hostel or get an Airbnb. I
If this hasn’t turned you off, go check out their website.