Top tips for a solo female Couchsurfer
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked if I'd seen the movie "Taken" after I told them I was going to Couchsurf across Europe for 4-months by myself, then I would have... maybe $20 (which is sadly only about 16 Euros)... But still, people have a really negative connotation towards girls staying with strangers. I understand this completely, but if you use the tools that the Couchsurfing app provides, and always use your common sense and gut instinct, then you will be fine. These are my top tips for having a safe and happy time while Couchsurfing:
Become okay with most of the hosts being guys
This just seems to be a fact in every city I've Couchsurfed in so far, but it certainly wasn't a problem. While this can be a bit daunting, I honestly had no issues with any of the guys I stayed with. I was in a relationship while I was traveling, so I wasn't interested in any funny business, and I didn't feel like that was what any of the male hosts were intending on when I stayed with them either. All I encountered was genuine kindness and generosity. I am a very positive person that chooses to see the best in people, but I really enjoyed my stay with each of my male hosts and I didn't feel threatened or uncomfortable. Obviously everyone is different though, so approach this on a case-by-case basis.
Make sure your Couchsurfing profile is open and honest
For example, I was in a relationship and I am a vegetarian, so I put those two things in the "About Me" section of my profile so that there wasn't a shock when I arrived and they were expecting something else. I found this was much easier. If you have any allergies or if you're wanting to party, or if you have certain dietary requirements, pop all that in your profile so your hosts can get a feel for what kind of guest you will be.
Be respectful of your host's home
I'm lucky in that I don't really party, I don't drink or smoke, and I have genuinely wanted to get to know my host and show my gratitude for their hospitality by being a nice guest. But I think it is so important to be mindful not to be messy, loud, rude, waste all their resources, etc, while you're staying with them FOR FREE. If you know that you're a real party animal, or you intend on bringing people back to your accommodation with you, then I don't think it is right that you would Couchsurf with a stranger, unless you let them know that first and they're in agreeance. I also think that if you're only staying for one night and you won't have any time to spend with your host at all, it is better to just book a hostel.
always read the reviews
... But don't take them as gospel. Some of the strangest accounts I've seen (including nudists, porn stars, people who take party drugs, etc) have had heaps of positive reviews, but I know I definitely wouldn't be comfortable in those situations, especially by myself. On the other hand, when I've taken the chance to stay with people that haven't had many reviews yet, I've had some of my favourite Couchsurfing experiences. At the end of the day, everyone is so different, so what works for you may not work for the next person. But always take your time to read the reviews and make sure you're aware of what you're getting yourself into and what other guest's experiences have been like.
Always checks the "my home" section to make sure you're not missing anything important.
There have been great looking profiles with lots of awesome reviews, then when I check the specifics, I find that there is only one double bed in the house and you have to share the bed with the male host... Even on a less serious note, it also usually states things like whether the host allows smoking in the house, whether you'll get your own private room or a blow-up mattress on the ground, roommate info, and some people even put secret code words in there that you have to include in your request when sending it through in order for them to read it. This is a very important section that is easy to overlook.
look out for 'verified' accounts
The Couchsurfing app has an option that allows you to pay to 'verify' yourself, meaning that you are definitely the person you say you are on your profile. You also get more opportunities to submit applications to hosts to see if they want to host you, etc. I paid to verify my account, as i wanted people to know I was a real person, as I hadn't Couchsurfed before. If you're a bit dubious on the whole idea of Couchsurfing, maybe stick to verified accounts with lots of reviews, so you are ensured the best possibility of that person being legitimate and a good, safe host.
VERIFY YOUR ACCOUNT AND GET REVIEWS
I paid for my account to be verified, as hosts also want to make sure that you're a real person before accepting you into their home. As I had never couchsurfed or hosted before, I also got some friends that had Couchsurfing profiles to leave me personal reviews, which helped when hosts were looking at my profile.
Some hosts expect gifts, some don't, so it's another personal detail that's a case by case basis. I saw some hosts that expected bottles of specific alcohol, or a souvenir from your own country, etc. I generally made it a rule to arrive with my own breakfast food, and provide something for them. This might include arriving with some chocolate or a treat from the previous city I was in, or taking them out to dinner, or paying for groceries if we went shopping. If they absolutely insisted that you don't contribute in that way, then I would at least try to leave them with as much of everything as there was when I arrived, so if I used a lot of tea or something, I would buy a replacement.
BE SELF SUFFICIENT
I felt more comfortable knowing that I was pretty self sufficient and I didn't have to rely on my hosts for food, bedding, toiletries etc. So I always carry essential items with me (I'll be posting a full packing list soon, so keep an eye out for that!). For me, that included a cotton sleeping bag insert, a neck pillow (so I had all my bedding if needed); tea bags (green tea is easiest so you don't need milk); toothpaste and body wash; my own towel; breakfast foods (jam, bread, peanut butter, etc), so I didn't feel like I was raiding their cupboards. I found this made me feel a lot more relaxed in their home, knowing that I wasn't using all of their resources.
Double check your host's profile before arriving
Sometimes when I was trying to find a place to stay, I applied to a lot of different hosts (after checking their profiles to see if they'd be appropriate). So when someone actually accepted me, I often got a bit confused about who they were, what they did for work, etc. I had a bit of an embarrassing moment when I got my poor host's information all wrong and it made me feel a bit silly, so I made a habit of checking their profile before I arrived, so it was fresh in my mind. I found having this basic information found it so much easier to get the conversation flowing, as essentially you are meeting a stranger, so it's nice to know if you have some things in common or something that you're interested in finding out about them.
Have data/credit on your phone
This is really vital for your safety. If things go wrong and you need to get out, it is really important that you can book a taxi/uber; book new accommodation; call the police; whatever you need to do. This is really important. Don't just rely on wifi.
Trust your guT
This is by far the most important rule. Despite what every other tip here states, if you feel uncomfortable with the person for whatever reason, LISTEN to yourself.
Remember: you can always leave at any time with no notice at all
While I feel you should always try and be courteous and grateful towards your host, there are some times when it is better to just leave and book yourself in somewhere else. I always figured that even if my Couchsurfing host didn't work out, then I'd have to pay to stay in a hostel, which I would have had to do anyway. There is no loss. I thankfully only had to leave a host's place once, simply because his place was about 30mins by bus out of the city of San Sebastian, Spain, and we didn't have any languages in common. I had to communicate with him exclusively through google translate and I found that quite uncomfortable, so I politely excused myself and booked a hostel.
I hope you enjoyed these tips and they help you from couch to couch. What are your top tips for Couchsurfing?