Couchsurfing (CS) is a great way to save money and meet locals while traveling. It is often the best way to find great places to dine, drink, and hang out in a foreign city. It keeps you from staying at a sleazy motel with gross beds or a packed hostel with noisy roommates (who may even steal your stuff). I couchsurf as often as I can and have never had a bad experience with it. I have made amazing friends and family with it. However, I am often asked about the safety of couch surfing. “What keeps crazy people from using the site?” “How do you know that they won’t kidnap or kill you?” “What if you don’t like them?”
These are all valid questions; with CS you are about to travel to an unfamiliar city to stay with someone who you’ve only met through their profile and a brief couch request. Couchsurfing has three main safety measures to keep killers, kidnappers, and other creeps from using the site: verification, references, and vouching. Verification is easiest to get (in my opinion). You make a donation to CS and they send a postcard to your billing address. On this postcard is a code that needs to be entered to become verified, which shows other users that your identity and location have been verified (you need an identity to get a credit card and a physical address to receive a postcard).
References are left by people have met on CS (either previously or through a CS experience). A reference contains the length of stay, the type of experience (surfing, hosting, or traveling), your comments on the user, and if the experience was positive, negative or neutral.
Vouching is most difficult to explain, and the hardest type of verification to get. When a user has three vouches (from three different users), he can in turn vouch for other people. You can only vouch for people you have met in person, and you should only vouch for people who you trust beyond all doubts to host or surf, no matter what. Initially, only the people that started the CS movement could vouch. They in turn vouched for others, and others could eventually vouch when they had received three vouches. Got it? If not here’s how CS describes it.
Couchsurfing.org is an amazing travel tool, for all ages and types of travelers. Go to their site, check it out, sign up, and find some members in your town to talk with if you don’t believe me.