Couchsurfing. It's not for everyone.
I really love the idea of Couchsurfing: people offering their couches or spare bedrooms to budget travelers and in turn learning about people from other places. Yeah, in theory it sounds great, and I'm sure it started off that way... but Couchsurfing has taken a turn for the creepy, and a lot of men seem to think that Couchsurfing is a form of traveler's Tinder.
There's an option on the site to post a "public trip" requesting a couch in the city you intend to visit. I do not recommend doing this. This past week I posted two of these: one for Madrid and one of Valencia, and 90% of the responses I got were flirtatious messages laden with winky-faces from dudes with zero reviews. Even the guys with several positive reviews can't necessarily be trusted and here's why: one negative review on your account deters potential hosts and/or travelers. Therefore, if you want to continue using Couchsurfing, you are basically forced to write positive reviews. Writing a negative review on someone means they are going to retaliate and do the same to your account. So, if you're a female and you feel that your host is saying some uncomfortable, suggestive things, but not outright trying to grope you, you start to question whether you're overreacting and just write a quick review thanking them for their couch and move on.
Some red flags are when the reviews are very brief and say something along the lines of "I stayed with John Doe for one night and then something came up the next day and I had to leave. The couch was comfortable. Thanks for letting me stay with you John!"
I have stayed with Couchsurfing hosts several times and met up with a few Couchsurfers visiting Barcelona seemingly looking to hang out with people who know the area. Honestly, it has only gone well one time, and that was this past week when I stayed with Jorge in Madrid (he was really cool). Here is what happened on other occasions:
- Guy I stayed with in Barcelona when I first arrived offered to show me around the city because I was new and didn't know anyone. He got angry with me for "standing him up" when I got lost and was 15 minutes late to our "date" that I was completely unaware was a date.
- Solo-traveling guy visiting Barcelona sent me a message saying he wanted to meet up with someone who knew of some fun places to go. I met up with him, showed him a few bars, then went home later in the evening. The next morning he shows up unexpectedly at my hostel with a rose and tries to kiss me. Kind of a shame when you think you're making friends, but they have other intentions.
- Another solo traveling guy wanted to meet some people. I invited him out with myself and some hostel guests one evening, and everyone seemed to be having fun. At the end of the night, the hostel guests went to a club and I was tired so I wanted to head home. The guy walked me to the metro station and I did the whole, "Goodbye! Nice to meet you! Have a good night!" thing, and then he asks me to come back to his hotel with him. I kindly said thanks, but no thanks. He then stands in front of me and begs, "Please. Please come to my hotel with me. I have champagne. Please."
I know that maybe I have just had bad luck and that there are real, legit people on Couchsurfing who actually just want to meet up and make friends. But then I get messages like this:
And this other guy, who HAS a couch, but only lets surfers sleep in his bed with him. This guy has 30 positive reviews, and 1 negative from a girl explaining the creepy sleeping situation. THIS MAKES ME QUESTION WHO IS WRITING THESE POSITIVE REVIEWS because surely most women using Couchsurfing for travel accomodation wouldn't agree to something like this, correct me if I'm wrong:
Also, I've had instances where hosts want to spend all day every day with me when I'm surfing with them. Now, this is completely a personal preference, but I'm a very independent traveler and I prefer to go off on my own most of the time (or with the friends I'm traveling with). DON'T GET ME WRONG, I love meeting new people and making new friends from other cities and countries -- I mean, that's WHY I live abroad and work in hostels -- but I need space, especially from people I don't know very well. I don't know if this is just a me thing, or an American thing, or an INFP personality (Myers-Briggs) thing, but I need time to just sit and eat or read or write or take photos without feeling like I have to talk with someone the whole time. When I'm staying in a stranger's home and they want to hang with me all day, there's pressure to be present and interact with them the whole time because they are doing me a favor by allowing me to stay with them. Like I said, completely a personal preference.
So, what I'm trying to say is just be wary. This has just been my experience, and I'm curious about what other women think of Couchsurfing and if it's been positive. I think I'm done with it for the time being. I'd rather cough up $10 a night for a hostel.
I've gotten backlash for this post about how I "should be flattered" and that I should take the advances "as a compliment", that some men are "just being friendly".
It's not the literal messages, it's the connotation. Couchsurfing is not a platform for hitting on women. It's the same controversy around being flirtatious in a professional environment -- wrong time and place. Women (or anyone, for that matter) intending to sleep at someone's house in a foreign country need(s) to feel safe and comfortable. It's become the norm for women to have to dismiss sexual advances and to ignore their discomfort because "boys will be boys" and that we just need to learn to deal and "brush it off" rather than men needing to have respect and self control. This is unfortunately the world we live in, and if I can use my experience and my voice to prevent another female from being caught in an uncomfortable situation -- ESPECIALLY in an unfamiliar place -- I absolutely will.
I have lots of friends who have had great experiences with Couchsurfing and that's great. Like I said, I love the idea of Couchsurfing, and when it's used the way it's intended, then HELL yeah! For me, it's no longer worth the risk of having to ease out of another awkward situation. It sucks that some people ruin it for everyone.