CouchSurfing.com has become a go-to staple aimed at free accommodation literally anywhere, worldwide, especially for budget and solo travelers. Just as with any brilliant idea, CouchSurfing International, Inc. was born from necessity. The idea for such a website began as the brain child of Casey Fenton in 1999, when he found himself exploring Iceland after deboarding a cheap flight from Boston, Massachusetts. Stranded with no lodging, Fenton hacked a university database and sent out a mass email to students, asking for a place to lay his head. Fast forward to the launching of said website in June 2004.
Couchsurfing.com was a technical hospitality service first and foremost. Owned and operated entirely by volunteers, the initial launch became a near failure due to eventual issues in coding crashes caused by high volume traffic. In 2011, the idea was up and running smoothly as a for-profit organization. CouchSurfing is currently available in over 100,000 cities internationally and has over 7 million members.
The crowdfunded site represents itself as a global community where travelers from all areas can connect to hosts during a journey and do exactly as the title of the business suggests – couch surf for free. This is an appealing option for budget travelers especially, and picture-perfect for backpackers worldwide. The website, which also has a mobile app for iOS and Android, found uses beyond pure accommodation.
While initially developed purely for loading and homestays, CouchSurfing also has an option for hangouts. For those wishing to “Travel Like a Local,” the app has an option for users to show their availability and either create their own hangout or join other traveler(s) hangouts. There is a chat option, to get familiar with those you will be socializing beforehand. Events such as underground raves, meetups at local museums, or even the available arts and craft nights are only a few of the examples CouSurfing users can get involved with while traveling and meeting new faces. Couchsurfing.com also has a section to read about their safety regulations, as well as the fine details one should always familiarize themselves with before joining any service. Especially one where solo travelers will rely on strangers for accommodations. Those using this service should pay particular attention to the references sections and rules for reporting sketchy hosts. Men and women alike need to take careful care when choosing what couch he or she will be crashing for any period of time. While CouchSurfing serves a purpose and can be a desirable and worthy option, the knowledge that not everyone has the best intentions should be stated and should stand to reason that even a regulated company such as CouchSurfing may perhaps play host to creeps, scumbags, and criminals. That is not to point the finger, but merely to say anything can happen, folks.
Recently, stories of women and men finding themselves in unwanted sexual situations is finally gaining a deserved spotlight. This is especially evident in the wake of today’s Harvey Weinstein rape charge arrest that hit news headlines everywhere.
What does Harvey Weinstein have to do with CouchSurfing? Nothing. However, the news bares mentioning more than once, and also serves as a semi segue into a related story that directly deals with CouchSurfing.com.
Kayla, whose real name will not be mentioned, is a frequent visitor to a members only social media group filled with solo female travelers. The group is an amazing way to share photos and experiences, make or express plans, ask questions, network, and even share warnings with others. One such recent warning was posted to the group and has since been removed due to unforeseen reasons on behalf of the admin. Removed but not irrelevant, and therefore begs to be shared with anyone out there. Kayla has been traveling solo for nearly a decade now and does not wish to deter or instill anxiety in other women who wish to also travel alone. In fact, despite Kayla’s isolated incident, she is just as determined. Her desire to share a negative experience comes from a place of encouragement and a desire to inform. In a time when woman and men are speaking openly and standing up for themselves against unwanted encounters, Kayla’s story begs being told, spreading awareness to solo travelers of any gender. Perhaps the incident will inspire an innovation, by means of competition to the prevailing app Kayla typically uses on a penny pincher’s traveling budget. Have you guessed what app that is? CouchSurfing.com, of course.
During her stay in the States, Kayla innocently found accommodation with a host on CouchSurfing. She intended to stay multiple nights, but fled after only a brief period during the first. As she tells it, everything seemed peachy until the man hosting the individual sized air mattress scooted a blanket of his own close to her and began undressing without warning. She has reported him to CouchSurfing and expressed regret in not researching his references beforehand.
Misunderstanding or ill intentions? Since no other details have been disclosed of this specific occurrence, we cannot state a side either way.
Members operating CouchSurfing say this is not a dating site or app. Users around the world beg to differ. Just do a quick google of CouchSurfing, and one can find copious forum posts, entire blogs, YouTube channels, and news articles discussing the useful nature of CouchSurfing for providing hookups.
One such host, Mark Chinosome, even has a book on Amazon titled How to hook up with Couchsurfer girls: a simple guide to sleeping with travelers from around the world. Allegations of being raped by a CouchSurfer host have been made public and viewable online with The Vagenda Magazine.
If you are traveling alone, be safe, be smart, and have a blast! Solo travel should in no way be feared or discouraged. However, traveling alone obviously requires special attention to safely. Expressly when it involves your accommodations. Prevention will always come first! Issues can happen, despite efforts, but deterring is still important.
Be sure to:
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Research the area you will be travelling
- Research any strangers you may be staying with
- Schedule arrival during daytime hours
- Get traveler’s insurance
- Register with your government, especially if you’re travelling abroad
- Frequently let someone know where you are
- Have a plan
- Trust your gut feeling
- Blend in as best as possible
- Keep your belongings close to you
- Take care not to misplace any of your documents
Find even more safety tips on Solotravelerworld.com.
Travelers not keen on the idea of crashing a stranger’s sofa may prefer the AirBnB option that allows for more privacy. CouchSurfing competes with AirBnB. AirBnB does not dabble in free accommodation, but instead exists as an online marketplace where hosts make extra income by renting out anything from shared rooms to entire homes on a nightly basis, and bookers escape the outrageous costs of hotel taxes and fine print charges. While the operations of both companies are remarkable different, they share a commonality amongst budget travelers. The Airbnb wagon is a far preferred method of travel accommodations by many users, though many also swear by CouchSurfing.
It’s all a matter of personal preference, and either can potentially be a more affordable option for those who have planned and researched accordingly.
By: Content Writer, Alisha McKinney
You have friends all over the world, you just have not met them yet.
Couchsurfing is the best way to stay with incredible locals, make lifelong travel buddies or host travelers who come to your city. More than 12 million travel enthusiasts use Couchsurfing in more than 230,000 cities worldwide.
Use the Couchsurfing app to plan and manage the itinerary of your trip and take it with you.
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