My oldest sister is going to try Couchsurfing for the first time next month in Germany (Yay!), and we have had a brief chat about it. Since some friends have asked me how CS is like and what do I do to ensure safety, I guess I will share my approach here.
The kind of experience depends on what you want. I have been hosted for 12 times: one couch and 11 private rooms, have hung out with CSers three other times and have never done sexsurfing. All in all it has been a great experience, making friends with local people and learning about their cultures. I am still in touch with a few of them and their friends.
As for safety, I think it comes down to using your common sense. Being a single female traveler, these are things I pay attention to when looking for a host:
– Read thoroughly the user’s profile in order to get a sense of what kind of person he/she is.
– You may want to choose someone with compatible interests, but this is not one of my criteria. I had only 2 hosts who I found boring thus far =P
– Read as much references as I can so that I know what kind of experience to expect: just hang out for a few drinks, cooking together at home, outdoor activities, day trip etc. etc.
– There is an unwritten rule that when users didn’t have a good experience, they would rather not leave any reference than a negative one, unless it’s something very serious like violations. So, I’d select a host with more than four to five positive references.
– I avoid any host who any real negative comment. I said “real” because sometimes people left good comments while saying they would not stay with this host again. I suppose they took the question literally?
– I avoid male hosts who mention that they can offer massage.
– I avoid male hosts who share bed.
– I avoid male hosts with positive references from only/almost only females users.
– I avoid male hosts with positive references from only/almost only males users (and usually one or two negatives from females).
After sending request and getting an approval from the host, I would not confirm right away. Talk to the host about logistic or something, and you’d get a sense of how it’s interacting with this person. Is he/she very warm and welcoming, or a little more air-head?
I had two not-so-good experiences to date, but both times I sensed something when I was making arrangements with the hosts before my arrival. I chose not to think of the negatives; now I have learned to trust my instincts.
In short, I would recommend Couchsurfing if you like meeting new people, especially locals, and are not picky about the location and cleanliness of the accommodation.