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Safety for surfers

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Please note that you can find Couchsurfing's official "Safety for surfers" tips page here

Safety is of foremost importance - Also for the CouchSurfing community , whether you are staying at someone's home or you are a host. CouchSurfing is a community of like-minded travelers and hosts, but remain smart and cautious at all times. Below are safety recommendations for travelers. Regardless of your traveling style, gender or location, you can probably learn something from each list, so read up!



General Tips

  1. Carry with you, at all times, a pocket-sized list of emergency phone numbers for home and where you are traveling. Laminate it for longer journeys or just cover it in clear tape.
  2. Take a hard-paper copy of your passport and/or identification with you. Store it in an area separate from the originals.
  3. Leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family and/or friends at home, so you can be contacted in case of an emergency.
  4. Consider scanning all your documents (give the scans unrelated names)and storing them in your email account.
  5. If your itinerary changes along the way, notify people at home of your new routes.
  6. Purchase a traveling medical insurance package. Check that it covers body repatriation and search and rescue if you think you might need it. You don't want your family to have to sell the house in case anything happens to you.
  7. Bring a basic medical kit:
    1. headache / cough / stomach / flu medicine
    2. band-aides
    3. bandages
    4. disinfecting lotion (e.g. Neosporin)
  8. Bring two credit cards, and store them in different places. You may lose one or one of your pin numbers may not function in different countries.
  9. Ask your credit card company or bank before your trip about your traveling plans. Ask them what to do in case your pin number does not work. Ask them how to lock your credit card when it will be lost!
  10. Store small amounts of cash in different places in your luggage. If you lose some, you haven't lost all of it. Never leave your wallet or money in obvious, easy-to-grab-or-see places. Maybe you want to use a wallet-on-a-chain (that you can chain onto your belt). However, this chain is a clear sign as to where you are carrying your wallet.
  11. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Maybe it will be stolen, filled with things that will cause you trouble, or maybe it will just be misunderstood as a bomb.
  12. Never accept packages from strangers. Don't go the risk to be abused as courier for drugs or other dangerous things. There were examples in the past reported to the CouchSurfing community.
  13. Use bags that you can safely close and seal up. Don't forget all the side pockets! Buy small padlocks, close and lock all pockets safely and tightly. Sure, nobody can steal anything out of an empty side pocket, but everybody could put something inside causing you trouble later! So don't forget to lock empty side pockets!
  14. Walk firmly and strongly, even when confused about your location. If you are lost, find a café, restaurant or safe place you can enter to figure out where you are. Do not open up a map in the middle of the street or along the sidewalk!
  15. Avoid traveling alone or at night.
  16. Stay around larger groups of people. Stick to major, well-lit streets with crowds of people. Avoid dark, empty alleyways and side streets.
  17. Take a Self-Defense class! They don't cost a lot of money, and will teach you lessons you will carry with you for a long time. Many professors at universities offer them for free or at discount rates. (If you've already taken one a long time ago, take another one!! It's good to be reminded of what you have already learned!)

When leaving your own country a few tips to remember

  1. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs, especially when it comes to dressing and socializing.
  2. Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for countries you plan to visit.
  3. Know and understand the potential health risks upon traveling to another country. Some countries require or suggest a good number of vaccinations before you arrive or depart, and some of these vaccinations may take months to complete for full immunity. Plan in advance.
  4. Have small amounts of the local currency on-hand before you exit the airport, bus or train terminal.
  5. Maybe you want to register with your embassy upon arrival in a foreign country, especially if you're planning to be there for a long period of time.

Before you send a request

  1. Read each of the profiles carefully. CS prides in being a platform for meeting people and creating friendships. Do you have interests in common, hobbies, profession, outlook in life? Does this person seem like somebody you could get on with? Make sure that the hosts have written in an extensive amount of information in their profiles, to get a rough idea of what the person is like. If take the time to read you can tell a lot about somebody by the way they speak about themselves. The more information the safer.
  2. Who referenced them? Who verified them? How well do they know each other? Did everyone who stayed with them have positive experiences? How many guests have they had? Read carefully references and comments from friends. Read between lines. Look for subtleties. If a reference seems to be suspicious, send a message to the person who posted it to get more details.
  3. Pay special attention to Negative and Neutral references. To easily find Negative references you can search for the text "Negative" with the browser’s search function. The same method can be applied to find Neutral references, but then you’ll need to install the "Neutral References" script ([1]) in order to make the text “Neutral” appear along with neutral references. You may also find it useful to install the "Reference Statistics" script ([2]). It will give you a quick overview of the references present in the profile and will help you focus your attention in the most relevant ones. This is particularly interesting when the profile has lots of references.
  4. Always read the couch info. Many hosts will keep their couch availability icon on, but they still have a life and plans to go with it, so often dates they can or can not host are stated within their couch info. Also keywords you may be asked to mention in your request could be "hiding" in there, as many hosts do not like the impersonal copy-and-paste approach by potential guests. Also, you will most likely get a good idea of where you will be sleeping while there so that you know what to expect. Some hosts put up many people at the same time, some don't, some have housemates to consider too, some have too small a flat and you may have to share the same room as them....Always good to know:)
  5. Plan a bit in advance, only to allow yourself sending out requests and in case of a negative (or lack of) response you can't seek for an alternative host. Obviously 6 months or so in advance may be too long as a lot of hosts don't plan that far ahead. For others it's a good start of exchanging emails and getting to know each other before you actually get there. Either way, give yourself as much time as you feel you may need.
  6. A back-up host. In addition to your main/first choice for a host you may want to have a look for a "back-up" host. Once you have a couch arranged, you could optionally contact another host and ask them to be your back-up host, in case your couch doesn't work out. Life happens, every day, and it may well be that you arrange to surf in one person's house, and, due to unforseen circumstances, your host is unable to host you -- at the last minute. In this case a back-up host could save the day.
  7. Hostel budget. Couch surfing enables everyone to have a more inexpensive trip. Having said that, a guest is always advised to allow in their budget for at least one night at a hostel, just in case everything that can go wrong does. So, always keep an affordable hostel's details handy.
  8. "One smoker in this house" etc. casual notes on the host's profile should not be taken lightly. It may be just grandpa occasionally smoking on the attic balcony. Or it could be mom turning the living room into the dying room. You have been warned.

While couchsurfing

When you arrive

  • Ensure your host has given you all the information needed to get to their place successfully: you don't want to arrive at the building security desk, finding yourself asking the guard to buzz "Penelope Pitstop" or the like -- what might be a fun CouchSurfing member name may net help if you forgot to ask your host for a real name. Nor do you want to press the intercom, only to find your host's parents on the line, only able to ask for "Trapeze Man" or "your son" (who then hopefully there is only one of).
  • Ensure that you are comfortable with the facilities and, most importantly, your host. Leave if you are not comfortable!
  • Tell friends where you are, how long you will stay, and how to get in contact with you.
  • Maintain your back-up plans.
  • BE RESPECTFUL and aware of differences among cultures. Be sure to remain open-minded, but don't let major barriers be crossed.
  • Ask you host how you can leave (if in case the next morning you find you wish to leave early and you host is still sleeping and thus unable to unlock exit doors for you etc., or in case of fire.)

What if

  • You find the house is loaded with mosquitoes or fleas or worse? How are you going to get some sleep?
    • Did you bring repellents or some netting to drape over your head?
  • You find the TV / kids / bar next door is real loud, and it is getting late, and talking to them about it isn't working?
    • Did you remember to bring earplugs / muffs or both?
  • You have to leave the host immediately?
    • STAY CALM.
    • Get to the nearest bus/train station or transport center as quickly as possible.
    • Call the hostel in the nearer surroundings for an available bed, or search on foot!
    • Email the safety administrator (Member Dispute and Safety Team, MDST) a detailed account about what happened to you. We want to help you and keep inappropriate CouchSurfers off of the site! You can do this via the "Contact Us" link the bottom of any page of CouchSurfing.org or going directly to https://www.couchsurfing.org/contact.html and selecting "Problem with another member" as category.
    • LEAVE A DETAILED, FACTUAL, NON-DISPARAGING REFERENCE ABOUT THE HOST ON THEIR PROFILE. You may be emotional about your experience, and that's understandable, but be sure to collect yourself before posting a reference. Take a look at these tips. Admins can also help you with this.
    • IF IT'S AN EMERGENCY SITUATION, CONTACT THE LOCAL POLICE STATION! This is imperative. If a host or surfer has broken a law of any kind you must report it to the police. The only way CS can take action and remove a user from the site is if we have a police report. Contact the safety admins and ambassadors in the area for help.
  • You have complaints about your host? Your host exhibited inappropriate behavior or stole from you?
    • STAY CALM.
    • Leave a detailed, factual, non-disparaging reference about what actually happened with your experience. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! List reasons why you did not have a good experience, be truthful but refrain from becoming emotional or personally insulting in your writing. Do not slur your host, but warn others. Do not be concerned about what future hosts will think about your reference for another person. GOOD HOSTS WILL RESPECT YOU and bad hosts will avoid you. You are strengthening the integrity of the network! You are helping out future surfers who consider this host. You are doing a service for the project.
    • Contact the safety administrator (MDST, via the "Contact Us" link the bottom of any page of CouchSurfing.org or by going directly to https://www.couchsurfing.org/contact.html and selecting "Problem with another member" as category). Tell them as many details as possible about your experience. CouchSurfing will investigate and determine the best course of action.
    • In emergency situations, report the incident to the local police. Always know emergency phone numbers and where police stations are located in every city you enter. CouchSurfing can't necessarily take action if you don't file a report.

Wherever you are the easiest thing to increase your safety is: USE COMMON SENSE



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