My first experience with Couch-Surfing & Tips for Solo Travellers

Couch-surfing, I'm sure most of the young ones who likes to travel have heard of this term before. It is the new budget way to travel and of course to meet new people around the world while travelling. For me, honestly I'm using it to save money so I don't need to spend $$ on accommodation and also maybe to meet locals so I can learn different cultural experience or so. But mainly on saving money because I'm an Asian.

Now, recently, I think I've kind of stumbleupon the ugly side of Couch-surfing. Some even called it a "horror story of Couchsurfing". Frankly, I think I'm too naive as I thought that everyone on Couch-surfing are friendly and won't suggest some funny stuffs if you know what I mean. Or maybe I'm interpreting them in a wrong way. I might be biased when I'm writing my experience down, but I will be as detailed as possible so that you guys can explain or tell me that I'm looking things at the wrong way or something. Any type of insight is very appreciated so please, leave a comment about what you think. 

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My story

It was my first time using couch-surfing and I actually didn't know how the website really works. I ended up posting my Rome Trip publicly so that the other couch-surfers can see and offer to host me. In the mean time, I was also making request to three female hosts. But it turns out, all 3 of them didn't reply me. It is common for people to not reply if they don't feel uncomfortable so this is normal. Plus, I think it was kind of late for me to find accommodation because I only had like a week to find a host before my trip. It was kind of a rushed task. Then, a few hours after I post my public trip up, some people pm-ed me. Most of them said they can't host me but they offered to show me around. There is also one who even shared his blog which I think was extremely useful as he wrote many tips for travelers who are planning to walk around Rome. Then, two men offered to host me. Surprisingly, these two men only host females.  

At first, I accepted the offer from Remo, who was living quite far away from the city center. Then, Arturo offered me too, who was living nearer to the city center. You can click on their name to go to their profile and read them up. 
Remo only had a few reviews and I think he didn't understand much English because when I tried to chat with him, I was a bit confused by what he was saying. Arturo on the other hand, have a great amount of good reviews but also some negative reviews. I weigh my choice and I chose Arturo because of the location, his understanding of English language and also he has so many good reviews which I felt safer. But oh, but was I wrong.....

Okay, first up on my bad experience list. 

#1. Fake profile




So, as I mention there were a few people who pm-ed me but said they couldn't host me. This guy was the first to approach me after I post up my trip. At first we exchange messages on couch-surfing and he give me a brief intro of himself and suggested to add him on Facebook to chat. I was planning to just ignore him but I thought I'm being a bitch if I did that so fine, I added him on Facebook after considering for a day or two. I thought he would be decent because he have more friends than me on Facebook. After approving me, he send me a facebook message immediately. His replying speed was like.... lighting. Observe the chat below.


First of all, I thought he was a bit persistent on asking where I was living and where I was going. Then, I didn't know what "hook up" really means. I literally have to google the definition down so that I don't misinterpret the word. It is a very sensitive word. I mean I've never used the word before or have I heard it used on me in a question form before. 

Turns out, it has two meaning. 
  1. To hang out.
  2. To have casual sex.
Being the paranoid me as I thought the world is a very scary place, I assume it was definition #2. Seeing as he said he was "joking", I think I assume correctly. It was kind of smart of him too to use the word because he can pass off as definition #1 instead of #2 if the female is offended. -.-

I then decided to find more details about this guy on his couch surfing profile because I had to make sure, I didn't offend someone who is genuinely being polite. Turns out, this profile is a fake one. How did I know? Here's some proof.


I vaguely remember I saw only two reviews on the day he pm-ed me. Miraculously after a few days, the number of reviews rose from 2 to 7 right now.  Fishy..... And all the reviews are very recent, starting from March 2015. Okay, if you didn't dig deeper, you would think they are genuine reviews. But wait....

 

Sorry, all the reviewers have empty profiles. Conclusion, fake.

I've already reported this person but his profile is still online. I hope the admin will do something about these kind of people. 

You know, it's kind of stupid to use Couch-surfing as a platform to look for sex. I mean, there's Tinder and online dating websites. I've said this before on my Facebook but I will say it again. It's disgusting! Youngster nowadays, seriously, they can digustify and abuse any kind of social platforms even if there are platforms where they can be as dirty as they want. But no, they want to use Couch-surfing for hook-ups, brilliant. Sluts and manwhores. He was younger than me by the way. Maybe he is just in that age of "fooling around" but still.,,, Urgh. Westerners.

#2. Couch surfing alone as a female traveler/Taken advantage of

So, now, I will start telling you about my interesting and scary first experience with couch-surfing. This is going to be a long story but.. I feel I need to write out all the details to understand the situation better. For the long story short version, please look at the first image below.

After I accepted his offer, we chatted and we even befriended on Facebook. We then moved to Whatsapp. I was quite overwhelmed because he was very warm, too warm perhaps. I think he was flirting with me too because he was overusing the kissing and flower emoticons and he kept saying "I like you". This freaks me out actually, because I don't usually get that from anyone especially a stranger. LOL. Even with my boyfriend, he doesn't send me kissing emoticons for like once every hour or keep saying "I like you" before we were officially together. And this stranger... has the audacity to talk to me that way. I tried to be nice and understanding, so I ignored it and reply as nice as I could, trying very hard not to send any "signals" which he may misinterpreted. I don't want to piss him off either as I don't want to lose my couch. *cry laugh* Cheapskate.
I also posted the "fake couch-surfing" issue on my facebook too. He noticed it and he asked me what happened. I told him about issue No. 1 and then I also told him not to misunderstand my intentions too since he was sending so many kissing emoticons. I told him I was uncomfortable with him saying "he likes me" too much, it kind of freaks me out. BUT after that, he sent me his selfies. Not only one, but a few okay. He also demanded me to send my pictures to him which of course I told him I don't want to, because I don't feel comfortable sending personal pictures of me to a stranger whom I only start to chat with for like a day and I only send them to my boyfriend or my family ONLY. He was persistent and said it was okay for me to send them to him, I declined again and told him he can see me when we meet, so there is no need for pictures. Plus he had gone through my profile pictures in Facebook so I didn't think it was necessary to sent him any for identifying purpose.

The day arrived, I traveled to Rome. He offered to fetch me from the station after his work which I think was really nice of him. Before I met him, I was mentally prepared for the two air kisses on the cheek but I was not prepared for what he was doing. When we met, he gave me a full on kiss on my cheeks, like his mouth directly to my cheeks. My mistake, I did not research how Italians greet each other. It is still pretty vague to me as of now, as I read two kisses are done to friends (which I have no idea what kind of kisses that is, but I assume air kisses as the normal one) and for normal friends, it's just handshakes. Okay, I'll let it slide. He's an old man. Maybe I'll pretend to be his grandchildren or something.

Back to his home, he offered to cook dinner for both of us. He was living alone and has a pet dog. His house was full with pictures of himself and also his daughters (which I only knew on the second night when the other girl were asking him questions about the photos). I met his dog, a very attention-thirsty dog. I thought his fur was kind of annoying , because he was shedding all over the place. I was covered with his fur since I step into his house. Okay, Joey, don't be rude, it's his house and his dog, so just be grateful that he offered you a place to stay. You're a complete stranger to him but he let you sleep on his couch. Be grateful. We didn't have much to talk as I don't know what to say and I have less things to share with him. He was talking something really deep and I didn't understand most of it, some philosophy or something. He even told me he didn't like people treating his home as a BB inn. I wonder what he meant by that? He demands more from his couch-sufers? In terms of what?

Then things went really weird after dinner. At random moments, he keep touching my face and touching my nose. I didn't jerk away from him, he was too fast and I didn't saw that coming and I don't want to be rude. So, I just let it slide off... again. I just laughed it off awkwardly and I didn't object his actions. I realize this was my fault because I let him on and I should have stop him sooner. He then began to become more brave. When I was sitting crossed leg, he poked my feet sheepishly. I laughed it off again. Then, he decided to ask me for a photo shoot. He took pictures of me, it was so obvious that I look very uncomfortable in the pictures. He said I look awkward and ask me to try to relax so he could take good photos of me. I tried my best, to look normal and less afraid. I masked it with a laugh and I said I'll be more comfortable with the dog. Things went even weirder, I don't even know why I agreed to that. I played with the dog while he took pictures of me randomly. When the dog decided he had enough and just went away, Arturo ask me to lie down on the floor to get "better pictures". I was like.... wtf? I said I don't want to, it's weird, and laughed. He insisted. Okay, don't wanna be rude to this old man, lie down loh. So awkward, I just start laughing and sit back up and told him I can't do it. That moment, I regret my actions even more. Because I should have just be stern and told him I don't want to.

Here comes the weirdest part. Then we sat on the sofa, watching tv, suddenly he pulled me in with his arm around my shoulder and ask me to sleep on his shoulder. Surprised, I didn't lie on his shoulder of course. I told him it's not normal for me and I don't even do that to my brother. I prefer not to do that I told him. He then grab my feet and start massaging them. I jerk my legs from his hands but he grabbed them and told me to relax. He said he is a doctor and study about the human anatomy too so he knows how to massage people. I was so stiff, he can tell also, he keep asking me to relax. SO DAMN AWKWARD LAH WEH. Some more ask me if I want to go out or not, to the park at 10.30pm. I said okay because I don't want to be rude but then later, I told him I was tired and I just fake my sleep when he was massaging my feet. Hoping he would stop if I fell asleep. He did, eventually. But actually, I couldn't sleep the whole time, because I was afraid he might do something funny to me. After an hour or so, I dozed off and he went to his bedroom. Then I woke up to check my phone, he heard me and came out of his room then ask me to get up so he can open the sofa to become a bed for me. I was really blur that time. After we finished setting up the bed, suddenly he grabbed my face with both of his hand and then kiss me on my forehead and my cheeks and said goodnight. OKAY, TOO WARM. TOO WARM. Cilaka, take advantage of me while I was half-awake. This ah pek really something.

Then the next morning, I prepared myself to go out. And another weird thing happen. This set me off, and freaked me out the most. Ignoring the fact that he was in his underwear (at least he covered them with a blanket but he was walking around with them even when he have a guest in his house), he whatsapp me and asked me to go into his room..... I was in the living room. Okay fine, went in. Then he was really nice, he explained to me how to get to the Vatican City and gave me his house key. Then, when it was all over. He grab my face again, kiss my forehead and then... he pulled my face up and I know, he was going for the mouth this time. NO MORE, I will not let it slide off anymore! Not even for an old man! I tried to pull my face away from him and using my hands to push him but he grabbed my face tightly. I told him "Sorry, this is too much!". I don't know why I apologize, it's stupid, but I'm so used to saying "sorry" for no reason. Then he say okay, and laugh it off. But keep touching my face again.

I was pretty freaked out by then. I felt pretty stupid, why was I there. And I was even asking him if he want to go out with me, just to be nice but in my heart, I was praying he would say no. In the end, he say no, he wants to chill at home. Thank goodness! After I walked out, I felt really unsafe and uncomfortable. I didn't even enjoy my day because I was worrying about this issue. I even find a cafe for me to get wi-fi to call my boyfriend and told him everything. I even cried when I told him. Obviously I was terrified but I was holding it in. I even consulted Megan, my diving instructor who was an Italian. I asked her if this is normal, maybe it was an Italian culture, but turns out, it was not normal. She said I should tell him straight that I have a boyfriend and I don't like to be involved like that. Which I already told him I have a bf. I told Chia Ling too, and she gave me some really good advice. The best thing I can do that time was to be stern and strict on how I was to be treated. If I don't like being touched, I should stop him and not let things slide off. He did not respect me either because every time he tried to touch me and do something, he did not ask for my permission. He keep catching me off guard and touching me randomly and suddenly every time. That was my mistake. I let him on and he took advantage of me. I was also afraid that he might kick me out but in truth, I could have just booked a hostel and sleep there. It's not like I can't afford it. I don't know what I was thinking, being afraid of saving myself. I was really stupid.

I went back at around 7pm, because he said he had a plan or something. He also told me that there are two more girls who's coming to couchsurf the day before, but they did not reply him so I ended up sleeping alone for the first night. Luckily, they came on my second night there. Then, Arturo stop everything. No touching and kissing when the two girls were together with me. He did not even do that to the other girls too. I was relieved and I felt safer. The two girls were extremely friendly and I was really really glad they came. I felt like I was being rescued. He also cooked dinner again for all of us. He also asked us if we want to go out that night, it was very late too. The two girls (Tato and Ani) declined politely and said they were very tired because they were with their backpacks the whole day and they need rest. We can see that he was not really happy with our answers. We said "maybe tomorrow" but on the next day, we were out till 11pm because we had to wait really long for dinner and it was raining, so it was pretty hard to walk back and the public transportation was so confusing. When we went back, it turns out he whatsapp all of us, asking where we were. All of us didn't have internet so we only received them when we arrived at his house (connecting to his house's wifi). Suddenly he reply that "He need to talk to us". Okay, we knew it, he is going to kick us out but we hoped that it wasn't that night because it was raining and it was already 12am. Luckily he didn't, and yes, he told us he couldn't host us anymore  because he had to go to his mother's suddenly and ask us if we can find another place to stay. It's his house, of course we have to oblige no matter what. It's not like I want to stay there anyway, I was afraid of him. He then lock himself in the room without talking much.

It was kind of funny, because he was contradicting himself. On the first night I was there, he did tell me that he was not going to be around his house on weekends but he never told me that I can't sleep in his house when he was away. But that was when I was alone with him. I even assumed he was okay with me staying there without his presence because he didn't say anything about not being able to host me. Hah. So, I thought he is kicking us out because he couldn't take advantage of me anymore and he thought we were treating his house like an inn because we refused to go out with him late at night. That is what I think.

I know, it's his right. He can kick us out whenever he wants because it is his house. We have no right to complain that. This experience was very weird for me. I was actually happy when I was kicked out because I don't have to deal with this man and his feelings anymore. I never want to experience that again. Ever. I know I am also at fault because I was careless and was not careful enough and also, I wasn't stern enough, he thought I was joking when I said I was uncomfortable. I should have researched more first and not assume anything. No more couch-surfing alone at some weird guy's house who only host females for some reason.

I also left a review for him. I did this after I'm sure I'm out of Rome. To my defense, I did not show any negativity in front of him, so he did not know what was coming. This came as a shock to him I guess.

His couchsurfing profile: https://www.couchsurfing.com/people/arturo.darezzo
For those who are lazy to read all of the above, below is the tl;dr version.



And after my review, I guess he was shocked by my review and he was so mad, he kind of threatened me...

Messages sent to my Couch Surfing profile





He even whatsapp me and said I'm not honest, tried to threaten me with my pictures he took and said "He was joking". Oh right, just a harmful joke. Oh, touching me and kissing me, it's just a joke. No harm done. Oh, almost kissing my mouth, hahaha, a joke. Hehe, haha. Yeah, very funny. OF COURSE NOBODY EVER ADMITS THEY ARE MOLESTING SOMEONE

No. Not funny. It's creepy. And he knows it. Else, why did he apologize? And telling me that if I don't delete my review, he will post the pictures up. Wow, really? Post it up. Here, I'll help you. I'm even posting them up on my blog. And let me tell you, why I was looking so happy. He asked me to be comfortable and ask me to smile more, because in the other pictures, I look like shit and my face showing I was very scared and not comfortable. He showed it to me and yes, I agree. I do look like I was super afraid. Apparently, he decided to omit that picture off. The second picture, is the one he took when he asked me to lie down. As I don't want to be rude, fine, I lied down. Instead of posing like a prostitute, I decided to laugh it off and I'm even using my hands to cover up the shame of me doing what he asked. I lied down for like 10 secs and I can't take it anymore. If I don't explain myself I think you all will think I did it happily. In truth, I didn't. I just didn't know how to decline him and I'm just entertaining him. Main point, I don't want to be rude to my host, so I was being nice. Indirectly, I was being forced to do that. Now, I know, why he want to take pictures of me laughing happily because he wants to threaten me with them and show other people that I'm actually very happy when I was with him and my review is fake. 

**Update on 20 April**
He uploaded the pictures into his google album and post the link with his review of me in Couchsurfing. Why am I not surprised? I'm tired of this shit, I just want to move on and ignore him. That's what I'm going to do after publishing this post. I've been saving this post in my draft since I came back from Rome, and now after publishing my Rome trip post, I can finally post this up.
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You know what? I will not be bullied and be afraid of you. If you want to post them up, please do. Why would I fake my review if I don't like my stay there? What would I gain from that? Nothing! He assumed I was pissed off because he can't host me for my last two nights. Come on, I was uncomfortable whenever I'm alone with him. If it's not for the other two girls, I wouldn't even be there anymore. I already plan to find hostel to stay if the girls did not stay there too. I was more than happy to sleep at a hostel rather than being alone with him. Honestly, I booked a female dorm after I was kicked out and I was happier than ever because I felt so comfortable. I don't have to worry about men molesting me and taking advantage of me because I was travelling alone. I don't want other female travelers to fell for his trap too. 



So what, you have 46 positive reviews? That doesn't mean you didn't try to take advantage of me. Most of the comments were using the term "we", so I think most of them were not travelling alone, therefore they were safe and he did not do something funny to them. I've also found this Vietnamese girl's comment of him. I guess she don't want to be rude, therefore the neutral review. As you can see, she said he showed more intimacy than usual for a host and a guest. She also thought that maybe it's just Italian hospitality. She was also in my shoes and I bet she was alone too. I don't know if she went through the same thing as me but she did not explain exactly what he did and like what I first thought, just let it slide.

Maybe many might pity him and felt like they owe him for providing a roof for them so they did not post a negative review for him. Sorry, not me. I'm very unlucky to be his victim, he is also unlucky because I've decided to leave him a negative review. You know what I think, when someone knows they did something wrong, they will want to show to people that they are harmless and act pitiful so that people don't blame them for what they did or do. This is what I thought. He wants me to think it's a joke so that I don't write bad things about what he did to me.

Now, I've learnt my lesson. I will not act nice anymore if they make me feel uncomfortable. This was my first time having this problem, that's why I didn't know how to deal with it. I realize I did many wrong things and I did not try to protect myself more than I should. I was constantly feeling afraid and also felt like I should not be rude to him although he took advantage of me. I was confused and very unstable, I was not thinking clearly on what I should do. I would like to thank my friends who listened to me and offered me advice because seriously, my mind was going haywire and I did not know what kind of approach I should use to stop him. I hope the others will learn from my mistake.

**Update on 16 June**
After two months, he decided to edit his review of me. Read for yourself what he wrote. I do not want to comment that much anymore. I think my readers would know what kind of person he is by reading his own words. So much for respect.
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#3. Inappropriate suggestions from hosts

I don't have any pictures to prove this. Although, I have received some inappropriate message with mixed meanings. I deleted the person's number and deleted my short chat with him, because it's disgusting.

Remember I said something about Remo, who offered to host me before Arturo? Yeah, after we were kicked out, me and the two other girls were asking other couch-surfers for help. I was ready to book a place for myself actually but Tato and Ani don't want to, so I decided to ask for the three of us. I contacted Remo again and asked if it is okay to host 3 person this time instead of one.
This is what he replied to me... and I was... like.. wtf..

Remo: So, one of you will be sleeping with me on my bed right? *wink & tongue out smiley face*

I showed the chat message to Tato and asked her if this is normal and did this happen to her before in Couch-Surfing. She said yes, and advice me to just ignore him. I declined him politely and deleted his number forever. He even replied me to inform him if we changed our mind. I'm not sure if he is trying to be funny or just joking around. But for me, at that point, that is not a joke. That is an inappropriate joke actually.

I booked myself a bed in a female hostel dorm the next morning, because I kept worrying about my accommodation. I have to know I have a place to stay else I will keep worrying and wouldn't be able to enjoy my day. I didn't want any more surprises so I thought it was the best to choose a female only dorm. I felt perfectly safe there.
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So, to sum things up, some heads up and advice for other (solo or not) female travelers.

*Update! (4 May 2015)
I've heard stories from a friend of mine about strangers making advances on solo male travellers too. Apparently, the guy traveller was offered a place to stay from an old man because he was spotted waiting at some place alone at night. When he arrived at his house, the host decided to get naked. Luckily, he escaped by faking a few calls. Nowadays, people use kindness to shroud their real intentions.
So, please be careful. Even though you might not suspect that much, but the world is very sick. You'll never know it until it happens to you.

Lesson learnt / Tips for solo female travelers:

  1. Read their profiles. Read the reviews. Make sure the reviewers are genuine!
  2. Research about the cultures so you know what to expect from them. Ask your friends who are from that country if you can! It is better to ask the locals rather than read them up on the internet. 
  3. Ask as many questions as you want to your host. You have your rights to do so.
  4. State your limitations first and be stern about it. Make your intentions clear!
  5. If you feel uncomfortable, bail out.
  6. Couch-surf with another friend, not alone. 
  7. Find a female host or a host with a family.
  8. Trust your feelings. Don't put yourself in a situation that you know you will regret. 
  9. Have a Plan B. Be prepared in a worst case scenario. At least do some research about which hostel you can take if you end up outside. Best take female only dorms.

5 comments:

  1. I think you should ask google to remove your pictures.
    BTW, next time you go to Italy just send me a message, I have many RELIABLE friends that can host you...even in Rome :-)

    I'm glad nothing serious happened, but girls, be careful out there... the world is full of assholes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll try to do that. :) And that's really nice of you Alessio! I'm glad I have friends who cares and really, thank you very much for your concern! I AM really lucky, I don't want to imagine what would have happen if I met a worse host. Sigh.

      Delete
  2. Couchsurfing has become a place where people kind of expect an exchange of 'something' for a free stay. After all, who would want to let people stay for free? Stay away from Couchsurfing. You can try AirBNB if you want to get local experience and save on accommodation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess it's easy to approach ppl when they try to seem "nice", and this has become a kind of "weapon" for these people I guess. Yeah, I think I'll stick to BnB next time I'm travelling alone. No more surprises. Thanks for the advice!

      Delete
  3. Great to read some surfer who is not scared about leaving a bad reference. Many girls I met on CS simply never do that, even when things worse than the ones that happened to you occur to them. I hope this bad experience will not be your last couchsurfing experience. The bad couchsurfers are just a minority, that unluckily is really active :(
    Among tips you gave to surfers I would add: contact some of the previous guest of your host, and ask them how did they feel about them. Solo traveling is great, and doing it with couchsurfing is simply the best, when everything works well. And if you choose your host carefully everything will turn out great.

    ReplyDelete