couchsurfing’s not sketchy!

So two weeks ago I hosted a couple of backpackers for the first time. As beginner couchsurfers, we were all nervous as hell, but I’ve found that couchsurfing is less sketchy than you think.

I’ve heard that there are some sketchy male couchsurfer hosts who are known for hosting only hot chicks. But for the most part, this isn’t the case at all. The real-life couchsurfing community is pretty vibrant— they even hold social events in cities where they have large numbers– and the online social network is structured in such a way that makes it easy to identify the more legit hosts and surfers.

For one thing, there are levels of certification on the site that one can attain by, among other things, adding a legitimate bank account or getting other established couchsurfers to vouch for their legitimacy. The testimonials are similar in principle to the LinkedIn network’s, in that other people can leave reviews of you on your profile about your personality and hospitality, etc.

For another, it’s fairly easy to spot the sketchier people— for example, if you’re contacted by a thirty five year old man from an Eastern European country who has “I like talk to cute young Asian girls” as one of his interests, and you’re a twenty year old Asian female who specifically mentioned a preference for hosting female and same-age couchsurfers in her profile, you can probably guess 1) what this guy has in mind and 2) that he’s a dumbass.

In July I was contacted by a dude from New Jersey who just embarked on a Europe backpacking trip with his girlfriend and wanted to crash in Paris for a night or two. He explained their situation and said that they were fairly laid-back (yeah, I warned them about the seventh-floor walk-up with no key and the shower in the kitchen and everything, and they still wanted to do it…). I took a good look at his profile and saw that his profile picture was of him in a “Semester at Sea” shirt, grinning in front of Angkor Wat.

I okayed the deal– I’d listed a preference for females, and he only had a basic level of certification, but his message, profile and pictures were consistent in voice and writing style (for example, he claimed to go to the University of Pittsburgh, and the Semester at Sea program originated in UPitt). What sealed the deal was that he was traveling with his girlfriend— if an American college guy is traveling with his girlfriend, he’s probably not gonna pull any shit with other chicks. (I found out later that they checked my profile out too– apparently, the part where I say point-blank that “I’m afraid of being stalked by or accidentally hosting and/or being hosted by sketchy guys” is what made the girl feel more at ease with the idea.)

They turned out to be pretty cool. Though we were all first-time couchsurfers and they had to bang on a lot of doors on my floor late at night to find me because their phone was whack, it was a fun two nights, filled with wine, cheese, tons of walking, and a crash course in French manners. (The guy waxed political sometimes, but hey, I’d rather talk for hours about serious shit with my couchsurfers than wake up one day and find out that they skipped town and nicked my wallet in the process. Seriously, there are worse things in life than hosting a philosophe. Or a tool!)

Before my flatmate comes back, I might host maybe one or two more girls if I hear from them again. A dude from the U of Arizona was supposed to show up last week, but I have no idea what happened to him. There were a ton of other requests, but I screen quite carefully, plus the lengthy list of problems with my apartment scared most of them off, and I need a week’s warning simply because I don’t use the Internet that often anymore.

(Fortunately, I’ve found a library near my apartment with WiFi so I no longer have to buy bottled Evian at McDonald’s all the time! City-sponsored weefee is amazing.)

Sorry for the gap between posts! I think my next post will be more on how to have fun in Paris when you’re piss poor, because I found tons more free things to do after I did the “how to survive summer in Paris” post.

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What?

This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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