Hey folks, throughout this post I will detail some of the lifesaving tips I use whenever I am traveling, I also use many of them during my day to day though the contexts may vary, there objectives are still the same—to keep me safe. I will describe 3 ways to increase your safety regardless of if you are traveling with other people or whether you’re traveling alone. Remember the rule here is “your safety” so these tips should in theory also apply to other people you are with if you want them to.
Let’s get straight into it!
#1 Research your host
Several years ago, I started hosting people from all over the world via CouchSurfing (“CS”) to get to know about their cultures, to make more international friends/ connections and to take advantage of CS’s original objective– find accommodation for free with locals. A lot has changed since then though, many people today consider CS a has been because it died during the Covid-19 Pandemic. During the start of the pandemic the CS platform started charging a subscription fee to use their platform even though they make millions of dollars through advertisements and because they vouched to never charge a fee for using their platform.
I’ve since stopped using CS while traveling but I also do slightly miss using it to meet locals. Having said all of that, over the years of using CS I’ve learned ways to diminish the risk of meeting someone who was dangerous, weird, or a cunning homeless person who would use the app under the guise as a traveler/tourist (it may seem funny/odd but its true; once, while living in NY, I’ve gotten a bizarre request from a local who was homeless, I denied his request).
I’ve learned to thoroughly inspect my potential host and surfers’ profile! I would look for photos (I preferred to see a minimum of 3 different photos of the person; the photos would give me clues as to what the person does and how they might be in real life. For instance, I would think: do they seem happy? Do they take pictures from one angle, etc. What environment(s) do they take photos at (i.e. bars, parties, museums)? Do they smile? Do they take pictures with other people or were all their photos taken alone? All of these would tell more about the person.
Secondly, I would analyze their feedback’s. Feedback’s would be given by both the hosts and surfers. I would first read the reviews left by past surfers of a host and then I would also read the host’s reviews given to a surfer. If I saw anything suspicious or questionable, like a male host who only hosted female surfers, I would not request to stay with that host because he might be clandestinely be hooking up with his surfers (click here to read more about it).
If I saw other questionable reviews like a surfer leaving a host a negative or a neutral review, I would analyze the surfers’ feedback to interpret if it was out of pettiness or if it was because of an intentional act by the host.
Thirdly, I would analyze the hosts/surfers’ profile for clues as to how they described or didn’t describe themselves. For me this is one of the most crucial research elements. If I saw a potential host that I’d like to meet up with, but they did not have any words describing themselves on their profiles or had only one picture, I’d be cautious and would not send them a request.
It has something to do with mental maturity, transparency, and elements that shows that someone is “normal”, “stable mentally” because they can adequately communicate via text/ orally and so on. For instance, if I saw a potential host who was a female that had several pictures of her being around people and also a good mix of photos of her alone; she had dozens of positive reviews from both female and male surfers but her profile had little to no words describing herself, I would be cautious. But I have never seen a female host/ surfer who did not describe themselves adequately on their profile, so it is quite uncommon. Especially if she is an American.
It is more common to see males who do not adequately describe themselves because they lack the capacity to type out their feelings and their thoughts or many of them choose not to do so because it’s too challenging. So to tie it to the female host who did not describe herself, I would be cautious but may still send her a request but if it was a male host, I’d avoid sending him a request.
#2 build rapport with your host/surfer before you host them.
I learned this hack overtime as well. In my early days of using CS, I would meet up with surfers the day they would come to stay with me, sometimes within an hour in advance, lol. Most of the times, it went well but there have been maybe 3 instances when I wished I would’ve had more rapport with the person to screen whether the person would be a “good fit” to my personality, schedule, etc., and also to determine beforehand if they were honest and trustworthy.
It’s simple to build rapport with some people, I would try to initiate small conversations with them weeks before they would come to stay with me/ I would stay with them. First, I’d ask them for their WhatsApp # or their phone number. From there I would occasionally message them asking them general stuff like “how is *insert country name*?” or “how are you?” and over time many of the surfers/ host would engage and follow up with me. But I have had some hosts/surfers who weren’t responsive but even that has its nuances like cultural, age differences, or having a busy schedule etc. In those instances, I would take it with a grain of salt and per circumstances.
#3 Ask your hosts questions
As you might see now, all 3 of these tips involve –BASIC COMMUNICATIONS. I am someone who usually has lots of questions and I process a lot of information all the time, but you can save and prevent yourself from experiencing many awkward/ creepy, or dangerous situations by asking questions.
Similarly to #2 while I would try to build rapport with the host/surfer once I met them face to face I would re-ask them some of those same questions I had asked them before in another context to verify whether the information they’ve previously said were true. It isn’t calculated, it would be organic.
For instance, I would walk to the train station to meet up with many of my surfers and while we would walk back to my apartment I would ask them about their trip, adventures, etc to break the ice and most surfers would be open to me because I was also being vulnerable with them. Most people like talking about themselves, try to ask basic open-ended questions and just listen to the person talk, this too will give you lots of clues about the persons intentions, objectives, etc.
In another scenario, if I had agreed to host a surfer/ to meet with a host and we had been texting consistently for a while but once we met up face to face the person’s demeanor was the complete opposite of how they described themselves. I would ask less questions and observe them more to try to interpret whether the reserved/ anti-social characteristic(s) is out of language barriers, shyness, or intentional secrecy. There are so many nuances especially when it comes to meeting foreigners or people in general, lol! So, observe them and read their body languages for additional clues.
Sorry if I’m going too deep into these but to me, they’ve all become second nature. As I mentioned in the introduction, should you choose to use some of these tips to help you travel safer you can. And you can also use them in other aspects of your life for instance like if you’re in the social scene or are dating. Consider asking those important questions at the start to save you headaches and so you don’t waste your time on someone who doesn’t meet your expectations.
In summary, it will give you more peace of mind and clarity when you do your due diligence by researching your host/ place you’re going to visit before you travel there. Secondly, try to build rapport with your host(s) prior to you meeting them face to face. Thirdly, ask as many questions as possible again for your peace of mind and for your safety.
I hope these 3 tips will help each of you travel with more reassurance.
Traveling can bring so much fulfillment into your life plus the indescribable memories you will develop.
Until next time.