How safe is CouchSurfing?

Visitors should be welcomed I have had the opportunity to host a couple of Europeans through the CouchSurfing experience, so, throughout this debate I’ll be talking from experience, which is the best teacher.
Ivan Mugisha & Rachel Garuka
Ivan Mugisha & Rachel Garuka

Visitors should be welcomed

I have had the opportunity to host a couple of Europeans through the CouchSurfing experience, so, throughout this debate I’ll be talking from experience, which is the best teacher.

CouchSurfing came as a social networking idea, only that this time round, it is not entirely based on computers but on human interaction.

Like its name, it’s based on providing any available space to a guest or a group of guests from overseas. It could be a couch to sleep on. Could be the floor or an extra bed, all that really matters is that someone has a roof over their head.

It’s a brilliant idea, especially for those who love traveling. Imagine being able to travel throughout the whole world without worrying about where you’ll spend your nights.

Imagine being able to travel to Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Harare, with as little money as possible but having as much fun as you can- that is the big idea behind couch surfing.

I was introduced to couch surfing by of my good friends in Uganda who through couchSurfing, has amassed thousands of contacts from anywhere in the world. These contacts are not simply “Facebook friends,” he has actually met a couple of them and is most likely to meet more.

He called me one day and asked me to host two guys from Germany; they had travelled across Europe, to many countries of Africa and in their next agenda, were traveling from Uganda to Rwanda.

I didn’t hesitate to say yes and trust me, I didn’t get disappointed. These guys were fun! They opened up a whole new window of the German culture, were down to earth and super friendly.

From that experience, they put me in the good books of the couch surfing fraternity, meaning that they can recommend me to other members who need to be hosted in Kigali- and that is the most essential tool in couchSurfing, trust.

You must trust someone before you host someone or before you are hosted; that is the easiest way of building cross cultural friendships.

Therefore, it’s not just a random hosting act- as a matter of fact, before one is hosted, they must get recommendations from someone who was hosted by the same person, and before someone hosts, they must also get recommendation from someone who hosted them before.

CouchSurfing is a global network built on finding credible people, sane people who are willing to scratch someone’s back in the hope that they will get someone to scratch theirs as well.

This has made couch surfing a safe and easy way of getting cheap accommodation, and for me, it is one of those rare opportunities that has brought me closer to understanding people regardless of where they come from.

Beginning with those two friends from Germany, I have now hosted a lady from the UK and a traveler from Spain.

There is now a sure deal for me from that experience; I now can never fail to get where to lay my head in those countries, or anywhere in the world. All I have to do is call these guys up and they can recommend me to someone in Japan, Australia, and India… anywhere you can name.

Humanity is about hospitality, trust and friendship; considering that rent is not as easy as pie these days, couch surfing is one of those hospitable capabilities that anyone can take advantage of to get closer to people from other parts of the world.

Hotel life is not that rosy as it appears on TV commercials. It is boring and lonely and apart from milking money from people, hotels are not really worth it, and that is where couching comes in.

CouchSurfing is a brand, an idea made safe by a connection of members who know each other quit well and are willing to lend a hand each time someone needs it.

@RushAfrican on Twitter

Not safe enough!

Just to be clear, according to Wikipedia, CouchSurfing is a US based corporation that offers its users hospitality exchange and social networking services. Clearer put – it’s basically moving from one friend’s house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch and generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house.

Sounds like fun right? It seems to offer everything; a free place to stay in an exotic destination, a chance to make some new, international friends. And even an impending local guide to help you really get to grips with a new location!

The growing trend was originally launched in 2003 in San Francisco (USA) and quickly spread around the world. Millions of people now log on to seek potential hosts in locations around the world, literally asking to sleep on their couch when they visit!

I’m sure it is a very exciting experience but the question is how safe is it? I mean how often do you get to invite a total stranger to your house? With all the creeps and psychos on the internet, you’d think people would be more cautious.

Most of these social networks have people pretending to be a whole bunch of stuff they are not – so much so that it is impossible to tell the good ones from the rotten ones. Maybe not everyone is a creep but you simply don’t know what to expect. One can fake a name, post pictures of a totally different person (always more attractive) and create a profile that speaks for itself.

Browsing through, a one Abdelali Nachet in Leeds (UK) was sentenced to ten years for raping a tourist from Hong Kong in his Moortown flat. Apparently the 34 year old had met the victim through the CouchSurfing website then went on to physically and sexually abuse her trust.

This might be the only incident recorded as of now but that’s not to say that something worse won’t happen in the future. So maybe I’m being a little pessimistic and also slightly unfair seeing as I’m judging something I’ve never even tried but if the episode in Leeds is any indication of what could happen, then I’ll pass.

I strongly believe that as the service grows, the site is likely to become more dangerous – if only slightly so. There are people willing to manipulate the trust of others for their own indulgence. How can you be so sure that someone else is being truthful on some social networking site? Well – you can’t.

However, it has been noted that occurrences such as the ones in Leeds are incredibly rare among the CouchSurfing fraternity. The vast majority of Surfers enjoy positive relationships with hosts, achieving the sites explicit aim of “raising collective awareness, spreading tolerance and facilitating cultural understanding.” 

I guess it is an adventure like any other with so many positive things you could reap from it. It just seems like a huge risk to me and everything I’ve been told - like life is about risks - goes through the window when I hear such things. If something were to happen, people will feel sorry for you but in all honesty what they truly want to know is what in God’s name took you to a strangers place!

I don’t understand why someone would break into another’s house and rape or murder them but at least it’s not like they are invited in! To me, couch surfing is just a cool way of welcoming into your home what you make a point to keep out every night by bolting your doors!


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