Many travelers vouch for Couchsurfing as a good way to save on lodging while experiencing the local lifestyle. But for someone who hasn’t tried it before, the idea of staying in the home of a couple of strangers can be met with much hesitation. After all, scams do happen and that’s the last thing a traveler wants to experience when he’s alone abroad.
Is Couchsurfing safe? Generally, it is. This global network has safety features such as detailed profiles and references that are required from every member, a messaging and verification system that allows hosts and Couchsurfers to check the authenticity of details on profiles, and a community support system that receives feedback from members on their Couchsurfing experience.
Despite all these precautionary measures, you’re still responsible for your personal safety on Couchsurfing. With enough diligence and a little sleuthing, you can save yourself from getting scammed.
Read on below for ways to protect yourself when looking for a place and a person to couchsurf with:
1) Be Particular with the Host’s Profile Details
One red flag to watch out for is when someone uses a picture of a celebrity, model, or cartoon character instead of his own on his profile. This can mean that a person is not being 100% truthful about his/her identity.
Some other things to be concerned about are a sketchy personal description and an image of one’s couch that looks as though it comes from a stock photo site. Trust your instincts and choose a host that appears to be the real.
A helpful tool you can use to check the credibility of one’s profile is a people search site like MyLife. It compiles everything that you need to know about a certain person, so you don’t have to spend hours on the internet digging for information.
2) Hold Off Giving Your Private Information
No matter how kind or trustworthy a prospective host appears online, you’re still dealing with a stranger. And how a person communicates with you online may be different from how he really is in real life. So be safe and limit your communication within the Hangout application of Couchsurfing until you’ve finally met your host personally.
Also refrain from giving out any personal, bank account, or passport details at this stage, unless it’s required by your host country’s local laws.
3) Ask Plenty of Questions
Just like in any relationship, you must also consider if you and your host are the right fit. Treat your conversation with your host as you would a screening process. Ask how many people lives with him and who is he living with. Ask which amenities can be used by the guests and which ones are off-limits. Ask what the living environment in their home and the surrounding area is like.
4) Be Wary of Suspicious Messages
Scams also come in the form of spam mail, so avoid responding to messages in your inbox telling you that you’ve won a contest, that a random person will be wiring you money, or that a business opportunity awaits you when you hit reply.
Be more careful if the sender tells you to keep his correspondence with you a secret. It’s most likely because he is up to no good—or worse, doing something illegal.
Couchsurfing doesn’t tolerate these types of interaction from its users, so report the incident to its Help Center immediately if any of these happens to you.
5) Pay Attention to Reviews
User reviews can be very telling of the kind of experience to expect in the home of a certain host. If a prospective host has several bad reviews or even just a hint that something went wrong during the stay of one of the guests, it’s better to just not couchsurf with him in the first place.
Couchsurfing is a lot more fun when you don’t have to worry about your safety all the time. So follow the tips above to ensure your safety, and experience the joy of building connections with people in different parts of the world who will take you in their home