Safety tips for couchsurfers
comment 1 Written by on September 7, 2008 – 3:11 pm

Safety. It’s everyone’s first thought when you mention couchsurfing. And rightly so. No one should enter into meeting “strangers” completely blindly.

However, blind panic isn’t the answer either.

A while ago I was contacted by a journalist from Sky News who was writing a piece about the safety issues of travel networking and staying at the homes of people you have met through websites.

Oddly the readers’ comments don’t seem to be visible anymore, but here’s one I made a note of at the time. “Stupidest thing I have heard of,” it began. “I am a young male and I wouldn’t risk it, especially in places like South America and most certainly not in Austria. Imagine couch surfing at the Fritzl household. There is no level of safety you can maintain when you are sound asleep in a stranger’s house.”

Now, although I totally understand people concerns, and would always advise employing caution before embarking on any face-to-face meets, this view seems extreme, close-minded and rather sad. He appears to be writing off an entire country (a nation of Fritzls) and one of the world’s biggest continents (just full of drug dealers and pickpockets, right?)

People have much more control over the risks they take through these sites than they think. After all, you could meet someone for a coffee in a public place in the middle of the day.

As I said in my first Going Local column, any sort of independent travel relies on the kindness of strangers and you often find yourself hanging out with people you don’t know, even if it’s just another backpacker in a bar.

Neither travel networking or straightforward backpacking ever 100% guarantees your safety, but I for one wouldn’t pick the alternative: staying at home.

Here are my tips for staying safe when travel networking:

· Take advantage of the sites’ own safety precautions. offers members a security grading — from 0 (ie anyone who signs up) to 3 (name and address verified by a small credit card payment) — along with the chance to be vouched for by a high-level, “trusted” member. Other sites, such as and, require users to exchange passport numbers and advise people to check identity documents when they meet. Most sites also store all email exchanges for at least a year.

· Always meet in a public place and tell people who you are meeting.

· Check references left by other travellers. Most social network profiles include testimonials from people who have previously met the person via the site.

· Attend an event in your hometown first ( has loads). Get to meet some active members and they can recommend some of hosts/guests that they know personally. This way it is more of a friend-of-a-friend situation rather than complete strangers.

· Suggest talking on the phone or via Skype or instant messenger before you meet up. Perhaps check out their MySpace, Facebook or Bebo page. If it’s your first time, tell the person. They’ll understand your nerves.

· Consider parting with a small amount of cash to use vetted contacts who have undergone police checks and provide official references, like those on or Servas.

· Don’t be afraid to pull out of a meeting if it doesn’t feel right and, above all, use common sense.

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