I Stayed on a Stranger’s Sofa in London

My experience of trying Couchsurfing for the first time (as a solo female traveller).

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Photo by Joyce Romero on Unsplash

“I’ve not done this before”, I said as I entered the flat of a guy living in London, whom I was meeting for the first time… ever.

This wasn’t a date or a hook-up or anything like that. This was my first time staying with a Couchsurfing host.

A lot of people have shared their opinions, worries and hesitations with me about solo travel (especially because I’m a female). Over time, I’ve slowly pushed the boundaries of my families tolerance but I now know their limit; that is staying on a stranger’s sofa.

They support me in most things but that is one thing they can’t support me on. I totally get it. But I want to explain why it’s not as bad as it sounds…

What is Couchsurfing?

Back in November, I messaged a random guy from the internet, asking if I could crash at his place for a night.

3 days later I was chatting to him on his sofa (which later that evening, would become my bed), whilst astronomy youtube videos were playing in the background (demonstrating his eclectic taste). How the hell did I end up there?

Well, that week I decided to check out Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a platform made up of travellers who want to meet other people in the world — like-minded or not. It puts on events in different cities for people to meet up, but it’s probably better known as a site where hosts offer a space for others to crash, for a night or more, for free.

I’d describe it as a cross between Facebook and Airbnb. And cultural exchange is the currency.

Why did I do it?

Honestly, when I first heard about Couchsurfing a few years ago I thought I would never do it. There is definitely a fear about that unknown of staying with someone you don’t know. Before I met my host, I was definitely feeling an even more visceral fear about whether this would be the way I’d die.

However, my perspective changed when I met a fellow backpacker on arrival to Manila (the Philippines) last year. This guy had been travelling non-stop for a year and he shared his amazing stories of hospitality and cultural experiences with me, whilst we explored the bustling streets of the Philippine capital city.

A few months later, I had been landlocked back home and I recalled these stories so I decided to sign up for Couchsurfing. I filled out my profile and then left it. Another few months passed and on organising a trip to London, I decided that I would give this Couchsurfing thing a go.

One of my mottos in life is to “do something that scares you”.

Back in November, I was very ready for a novel challenge — to break free from my comfortable life.

Is it safe?

As I said before, I was scared. But I was also scared last weekend when I did my CBT course (to learn to drive a moped). Both activities were scary because they were new and I feared the worst for each… if I’m honest, my worst-case thought for both was that I could be killed. And that’s why putting in place as many safety procedures as possible is the best way to go.

As kids, we are all told multiple times, “don’t talk to strangers”. But this is something that could hold us back in adulthood.

As children, we are vulnerable to manipulation and unable to fight back. As adults, we have a sensible head on our shoulders, a greater degree of sense, and a gut instinct that has built up over many years.

Maybe sleeping on a strangers sofa is taking this a step too far but there are actually many safeguarding measures that Couchsurfing puts in place in order to decrease the risk as much as possible (and it’s both the host and the guest’s prerogative to make the checks that they deem necessary);

  • Public profiles encouraging detailed descriptions
  • Feedback/reviews from both guests and hosts
  • The availability to message through the platform (it’s recommended that you don’t give your number out)
  • The option to verify your number and home address (this is the only paid part of Couchsurfing and could add an extra level of security)

Couchsurfing themselves also offer their own safety tips, which they recommend everyone reads.

In addition to this, I made sure 3 friends knew where I was going to be and what I was doing. No matter where you are in the world, it’s a good idea that someone knows where you are, especially when you’re alone.

How was my experience?

As soon as I met my host, my gut instantly relaxed. In these kinds of circumstances, gut instinct can be a powerful force.

We sat down on his sofa and we chatted about all manner of things.

He was a few years older than me and he’d had an interesting life so far. I had never met anyone before with the strength of passion for causes that he had, which intrigued me a lot.

In my hosting request, I had invited him to join me for an art evening, which he was keen to join. Unfortunately, he had the flu and was too ill to join but he gave me a key and said I could come and go as I liked.

As a thank you, I bought him some groceries, seen as he really wasn’t going to want to leave his house much until he recovered from the flu.

The next morning I left, feeling pretty happy.

I had met an interesting guy, who I genuinely would not have met in any other way. We had shared interesting conversation and I felt I gave something in return (albeit small).

I was also proud that I hadn’t given in to my fears about Couchsurfing. Rather than judging it from a distance, I tried it and I could truly see the value in such an experience.

So that’s my experience of Couchsurfing (back in November 2019). I explored it in a little more detail over on my website and also spoke about whether I’d do it again.

Have you ever tried Couchsurfing? How was your experience? If you haven’t given it a go, would you consider it?

Thanks for reading!

(Also, this is in no way sponsored by Couchsurfing, it is just my personal experience of using the service of my own volition)

I write about my curiosities and experiences. My background is in Biology (Oxford Uni) and scuba diving. Subscribe: creativelyadventurous.substack.com

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