The very origin of the name of the practice, the idea appeared in 1999. Initially founded as an NGO until 2011, the Couchsurfing platform then became a for profit company. The platform experienced a great growth during its first years by allowing people to be hosted free of charge but some security concerns appeared afterwards. Let's see the advantages and disadvantages of using the platform today.
Couchsurfing is THE platform to find accommodation easily and anywhere in the world. Hyper developed, with millions of members (hosts and travelers) around the world Couchsurfing is known by many people. Whether you are going to Iceland, Australia, Canada or Argentina you will find a host. And with all these members spread around the world I am sure you will find what you are looking for!
You now have a great desire to go couchsurfing. The idea is good but which platform is the most suitable?
It's up to you to decide after reading the disadvantages of Couchsurfing.
You now have to pay to use the platform
Originally free, the platform experienced financial problems due to the COVID health crisis and is now asking for a participation of $2.39 per month or $14.29. Without this contribution, you no longer even have access to your account.
Not very expensive, you may say, but the platform, which was meant to be free and operated on a donation basis, has nevertheless decided to turn to its users once again instead of asking for help from its shareholders... A solution that has been well criticized by users who might leave the platform, especially since there are now many alternative platforms.
Another huge concern about the couchsurfing platform is the bad publicity it receives about its abusive users or indecent hosts. This is a very serious problem for a platform that offers to sleep at the home of a host and ends up with a woman who is being abused by him or her.
This could have been avoided if the profile verification process was available for everybody, but unfortunately it isn’t. Because of this, many women have been assaulted or harassed by their hosts, as Sylvie can prove. For my part, I find it a bit difficult to trust my host after that but that doesn't mean that there are only people with bad intentions!
Using the platform to promote their website/business
You can find everything on the platform. Indeed, as the profiles are not verified, some take advantage of it to promote their business through their account. Sometimes they don't even offer to host someone but put forward a service such as a bike ride under their wise advice and of course you will have to pay for it.
This is a waste of time for users, who may take false joy in the announcement of a host in the city they have chosen, which will then be a fake account. Because of this, the platform has received a lot of criticism regarding its authenticity.
A mixed review for Couchsurfing with a big advantage but still some drawbacks to take into account. Ready to discover alternatives to this platform? Tighten up your belts to your couches and let's go surfing!
Another couchsurfing platform created in 2007. Be Welcome allows you to meet people during your trip, to be hosted for free and easily and of course encourages sharing. The free platform relies on donations from volunteers for the maintenance costs of the site. So why should you choose it over the others?
A lot of details can be filled in
Be Welcome allows you to do very precise research on our future host. You will be able to select the gender of your host, whether he or she smokes or not, the language spoken, the age and a whole lot of other information. Well, if Olivia has a snake as a pet you will only know it on arrival but at least you will have chosen a non-smoking host.
Big advantage of the platform: it is free of charge. Both as a guest and as a traveller. Indeed, the platform works thanks to donations made by the community, so there is no need to pay a penny during your trip. Huge benefits for small budgets.
I will now let you discover the drawbacks of Be Welcome.
A small platform
Despite being a free, small platform, Be Welcome has fewer guests and travellers than other platforms (notably Couchsurfing). If you are planning to go to Zimbabwe, not sure if you will find a lot of hosts available. Especially if your selection criteria are high. At the limit, you can always choose your destination according to the available hosts.
But as a host if nobody sends you an accommodation request, the platform will soon become useless to you, won't it? You arrived at Be Welcome with the desire to share your favourite spots in the city, in the end you have no one coming to visit you.
Like Couchsurfing, the platform is also not secure. There have certainly not been as many cases of aggression on Be Welcome but we can't know 100% if the person hosting us is a person we can trust.
The platform does have a tab on security, such as tips on how to find trustworthy hosts and even a team that deals with security queries. However, no one checks the member profiles and if something happens to you, you can only report to their team after your stay.
In short, Be Welcome is free, attractive, but it's a bit inactive on the community side which has been stagnant since a few years now and above all it's not very safe.
After this second couchsurfing platform let's see what other alternatives are available.
Platform launched in 2019, the website is dedicated to women planning to travel alone and be hosted by other women. Promoting an authentic stay and helping women's emancipation through travel, SisterHome now has 1,750 verified hostesses. Let's discover what it actually offers:
A safe community: Verified profile
SisterHome is a safe couchsurfing platform. The profile of each hostess is carefully checked thanks to a very unique system, both manually and automatically. Telephone interviews are conducted to ensure the intentions and profile of the person you stay with as a traveller. There, for the time being, you will know whether your hostess will have an unusual pet or not!
On top of that, the team follows up on exchanges between travelers and hostesses and is always there in case of last minute cancellations to help you find solutions.
That said, the platform does not look for the host for you either, it is up to you to compare profiles and make your own choice.
Possibility to travel with your child under 12 years old
SisterHome advocates the journey of the solo female traveller, but they understand that as a woman going solo you may find yourself unable to travel because you have to take care of your child. That is why the platform is available to all solo female travellers with a child under 12 years old.
Beyond this age they are considered more like teenagers and are more likely to stay alone for a few days. It is then up to you to make sure that Sophie will agree to welcome you and your child (she is generally happy to welcome you both).
Dedicated to women
The site is dedicated to women only. Why create a safe couchsurfing solution for solo female travelers? Because unfortunately still today too many women refuse to travel alone for fear of the person with whom they will be accommodated. Being hosted by a woman can be reassuring for them. All the more so as the women who are registered with SisterHome are often fervent about the emancipation of women through travel and are happy to help many of them take the plunge.
Website only dedicated to women who travel alone (no, I'm not going crazy, it's an advantage as well as a disadvantage).
Being a women-only couchsurfing site also has its drawbacks. Indeed, men are not allowed to travel with this platform (bad luck gentlemen) but female hosts living with a man or more are of course accepted on the platform.
The other principle of the platform is to encourage women to travel alone and this is why it does not accept requests from women wishing to travel accompanied (except for their children under 12 years old). The stay is much more authentic on a solo trip and the hosts do not necessarily have room for two travellers.
Price to pay for travel
And your security comes at a cost. To travel you have to pay 119€ for a pass that will allow you to send as many requests as you want over a year or 79€ for the same thing for two months only. A certain cost, which however ensures that you won't find yourself face to face with Jean-Michel, 45 years old, fan of tuning (and girls) when you were expecting to meet Celine, 24 years old, fond of horse riding... Yes, it can happen (hey Couchsurfing 😉).
Mainly developed in French-speaking countries
Although it would seem that SisterHome is developing internationally, it is for the moment mostly developed in French-speaking countries. A disadvantage for French people who wish to go abroad but an opportunity to discover France in more depth.
In the end, SisterHome is not bad, especially in terms of security. Of course, there is a cost to pay but isn't it useful in the end? After the platform is only dedicated to women for once we have something just for us why deprive us of it?
Host a sister is a Facebook group that connects women who want to travel with other women who want to host them. Created in May 2019, the group currently has more than 118,000 members. Let's see what the Sisters have in store for us.
Many "sisters" throughout the world
First advantage: the number of members. The group is only active on Facebook and yet has a large number of members around the world. With its 118,000 "sisters" mainly based in the United States, you will find someone to host you during your next stay.
Quick return thanks to Facebook
A second advantage for the group is that they are present on Facebook. So of course this can be a disadvantage (and we'll see why right afterwards) but it's also an advantage. When you are on Facebook you can see who is logged in or the last login of the users. It's a bit intrusive, yes, but it allows travellers to see if their potential host has connected recently or not and to anticipate and find a new "sister" if she doesn't answer anymore.Visibility on the person's profile
Another benefit of being on Facebook is that you can see user profiles. This does not guarantee that the profile is true and that you can trust the person, but it at least gives you an insight into who you are communicating with or visiting.
Not bad for a Facebook group, huh? That said, there are also some drawbacks.
The first disadvantage is that the group does not have a website. Why is this a problem? Well apart from accepting profiles entering the group or not, Host a sister has no visual on profiles, exchanges or who travels to whom. In terms of security it's not safe... As a host or traveller you can never be 100% sure who you are hosting or who you will be staying with.
Identity visible to everyone
Another disadvantage with the group being on Facebook is that all members have access to your profile. Personally sharing my identity with everyone and giving them access to my photos and personal info doesn't appeal to me very much.
As you will have understood, the concept of Host a sister is based on a good initiative but here again, security is a bit of a problem...
5W or Women Welcome Women WorldWide meaning women who welcome other women internationally. A non-profit company created in 1984, the platform has a large number of members from all over the world. Let's discover its advantages and disadvantages.
Free of charge
The platform is free for both hostesses and travellers, which allows everyone to access it and (one might think) facilitates the growth of the community.
Every year, 5W offers numerous gatherings for its members around the world. This allows each one to meet other women who also travel, to share their experiences and to spend a convivial moment. Sometimes even to find friends and potential future hostesses.
5W has a large number of members, most of whom are women, of course, mostly from English-speaking countries. Thus, you will find more than 500 women ready to host and share with you in Australia alone.
After the advantages come the disadvantages, because nothing is ever all nice and pretty, right?
An inactive platform
In spite of its rather large number of members, the platform is not very active and doesn't really encourage couchsurfing anymore. The community is inactive and the site is not very intuitive. The fact that it is a non-profit organisation doesn't help much in engaging the community either. Since its inception, the platform has not grown very fast and is increasingly stagnant, not very encouraging for female travellers.
As you may have noticed, at 5W and the heart is in it, but at the level of community involvement there is a certain decline.
This was a presentation of some ways to practice couchsurfing but there are many others more or less used and again with their differences such as: Hospitality.org, Servas International, The Salt Route, …