Is it Really Safe to CouchSurf?

The Low-Down on CouchSurfing Safety

Many people who find out that I travel using Couchsurfing ask me, "Is CouchSurfing safe?" This is not surprising, given that CouchSurfing is based on trusting total strangers to give you a couch or bed for the night, or allowing CouchSurfers into your home. I have traveled for several years on CouchSurfing and while not totally without risk, CouchSurfing is safe.

First of all, to tell you why I think it is safe to CouchSurf, I need to explain Couchsurfing. is a website that allows people to fill out a profile describing themselves, their interests, and other personal details with an emphasis on travel. CouchSurfing is designed to allow people traveling in different parts of the world to contact each other and arrange for to stay, for free, at another CouchSurfer's house. I am a huge fan of this idea, not just because it saves a lot of money traveling the world on a budget, but because it is a great way to make new connections with people, learn about different cultures, try new foods, see new places, and generally have a more authentic travel experience than you would as a regular tourist. In fact, CouchSurfing's motto is "Changing the world, one couch at a time!"

Is Couchsurfing Safe? The Facts:

Is CouchSurfing Safe? Couchsurfing Safety

If you know all this and are simply wondering "Is CouchSurfing safe?" you need only look at the numbers that are collected on the statistics page of the CouchSurfing website. There have been, as of this writing in December 2011, nearly 650,000,000 positive experiences on the site. Translating this into a percentage of positive CouchSurfing experiences comes out to about 99.6% That's a high percentage of people on the site who have found that Couchsurfing is safe, and not only safe, but fun! Compare this number to driving a car, where nearly one percent of the US is injured each year! I have stayed at CouchSurfers' houses for over 150 nights so far and have found CouchSurfing to be safe. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have yet to have an experience on CouchSurfing that is less than wonderful.

CouchSurfing Safety System

Maybe the simple statistics haven't convinced you that CouchSurfing is safe. Hopefully Couchsurfing's safety procedures will help! In this day and age we are able to look at review of everything from car dealers to doctors, and CouchSurfing is no different. In fact, the CouchSurfing review, verification and voucher system is one of the things that makes CouchSurfing safe. CouchSurfing's safety system is comprised of three levels of security. 
The first level, Verification, is a token donation to the (good to support it anyway) so that the credit card confirms your identity. To make CouchSurfing safer, the site sends you a postcard at your listed address with a code to enter on your account in order to verify you actually live there. 
The second tool used to make sure CouchSurfing is safe is reviews. When you "surf" with or host another CouchSurfer, both members will leave a short review on the other's profile. In addition to writing their thoughts on the other person, they are required to select if the experience was "Positive, Neutral, or Negative." As I mentioned before, Couchsurfing is safe enough that 99.6% of reviews are positive! 
These reviews cannot be deleted, and negative reviews show up in bright red, so anyone who gets one is less likely to be able to use the website. Additionally, negative reviews do not necessarily indicate that the person thought the CouchSurfing experience was unsafe. Most negative review were left because a host forgot to show up and someone was stranded without a place to stay. 
The final step in proving that a CouchSurfer is safe to surf with or host is called "Vouching." The way the vouch system works is a few trusted individuals known personally to the CouchSurfing were given the power to vouch for other CouchSurfers, in effect staking their reputation on the guarantee that that person was safe to CouchSurf with. When a person accumulates three vouches, they are then allowed to vouch for others. In this way, a strong web of trust works its way through the community making CouchSurfing a safer activity. As you participate in Couchsurfing, your reviews of members will help make the system even safer for everyone.

Making Sure CouchSurfing is Safe For You:

Now that I have convinced you that CouchSurfing is safe to use, a few words of caution. All the CouchSurfing safety procedures the site has put in place don't work unless you use them! Make sure you thoroughly read reviews that others have left on potential hosts or surfers. You can easily click to see if they have any negative or even neutral reviews, and maybe think twice about asking them to stay. If you are really nervous about whether CouchSurfing is safe, you could try only searching for CouchSurfers that have been vouched for. Just like going on a blind date or hiring a new employee, you should make sure you do your research on who you are dealing with, don't just message the first person you see. If you feel something is off, you should always be comfortable leaving a host’s house if the situation is making you nervous. Always have a backup plan such as a local hostel in case the worst should occur. This is not always due to bad intentions of the host. I once got into Madrid at two in the morning to find I had nowhere to go because my host’s father had to have emergency surgery. Hopefully in a situation like this you have packed light for your world travels and can adjust and find a new solution. In any case it's always a good idea to tell a friend where you are. Just use your common sense and you will quickly find that CouchSurfing is safe, cheap, and fun!