My Exploitative and Awkward Couchsurfing Stories

Ryan Shannon

Is exploitation the price I paid?

Creepy Experiences

Most people genuinely enjoy helping travelers see the world, but there are many that will take advantage of your situation as a Couchsurfer.

The notes of these two experiences with Couchsurfing weren’t exactly the same as the first in Rome, which I wrote about here:

Here are the deets.

The Miami Beach Wanker

I tried Couchsurfing again when I landed in Miami during high season, when all hostels were full in South Beach. I did get some offers, especially around the Mid Beach and Bal Harbor areas of Miami Beach, which are gorgeous, but not where the action is in South Beach (my 19-year-old self wouldn’t stay just anywhere, apparently!)

As usual, I got plenty of offers…this time, from nudists. Almost all the Couchsurfing offers were from creepy dudes that explicitly stated they are “nudists” and that nudity is required. One profile even announced that you are required to sleep in the bed with them and that they ‘wank’ every night, which is just as hilarious as it is creepy.

I’m a live-and-let-live person, but this is the moment Couchsurfing became unattractive to me. If you’re a genuine nudist — that’s fine. You do you. If you use nudism as an excuse to exploit young travelers, that’s not fine. That’s exploitation. It’s especially wrong when you expect Couchsurfers to sleep in the same bed as you (while jacking off in bed next to you, apparently).

That’s obviously not a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, some of my old co-workers came to the rescue and let me crash with them.

The London Stickler

I once stayed with a host in London who was located in a stunning (and huge!) central flat. After our first brief interaction, I could tell he was a bit of a control freak and, at the expense of my comfort, commented excessively on my appearance.

The host described the zipped backpack I left on the guest bed as a ‘refugee camp’ — within the first 30 minutes of being there. He later became irate when I left the closet door cracked instead of fully closed, and would text me relentlessly throughout the day, followed by chains of question marks. I didn’t have service and couldn’t always connect to WiFi.

This guy was nuts.

Taking a turn for the worse, I showed him my website and freelance work online on his computer. As I did this, I noticed his sugar baby and escort tabs were left open. It became clear that he uses Couchsurfing as a way to exploit young guys, treating them like trophies to be strolled alongside in the city for an ego boost.

The following morning, I left at 9:01 am to explore the city (rather than 9:00 sharp) and I was scolded.

In the end, for the last few days after the texts every 10 minutes and his extremely controlling nature, I made a friend and ended up staying away for the last two nights. The strange thing is, before coming, the host seemed fine.

In fact, he had over 300 reviews, with only about 10 being negative.

In retrospect, I should have probably read between the lines. Even the positive reviews hinted that the guy was very strict and slightly creepy.

Would I Use Couchsurfing Again?

Yes, in a heartbeat. But things are different now. The London experience taught me to be more cautious and to directly ask what the rules of the house are. Rather than erratically traveling without a solid plan, I:

  • Make it clear that I will not tolerate harassment on my profile
  • Read through host reviews more closely
  • Form a backup plan by ensuring there are hostels or Airbnbs available
  • Vet hosts more thoroughly
  • Avoid hosts who give off creepy vibes

There are definitely exploiters on the app who take advantage of travelers in exchange for accommodation. But then, there are those (who make the majority — I hope) who host travelers out of kindness and compassion.

My stay in London wasn’t the norm. In fact, I have used Couchsuring several times since then and have had pleasant experiences each time.

In Conclusion

If you feel comfortable and trust yourself to vet hosts, create a Couchsurfing profile. Be selective and cautious of who you stay with. Check their pictures, read the reviews hosts leave for guests, and vice-versa. Examine their profile carefully. Don’t just glance at it and skim the details and reviews. Read it.

As I said, most hosts are the types that want to help out the travel community, so put a little effort into it and your reward will be 10-fold. You’ll get free accommodation, a tour guide, and potentially make a lifelong friend. Couchsurfing isn’t a crashpad, however.

Couchsurfing is all about the experience — connecting with strangers-turned-friends around the world.

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Digital nomad, I/O psychology student, entrepreneur. Visited nearly 30 countries. Author of 5 books on freelancing, travel, mental health.

Bellingham, WA
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