The importance of a safe couchsurfing option for solo female travelers
Literally, couchsurfing isn’t quite striking as a word, don’t you think?
Yet, couchsurfing is now a reference in the world of tourism and for a good reason: since 2004, it allows millions of users to sleep for free at a local's home. All the host needs is a guest room or even a sofa and that's it: you can stay at his place and integrate his/ her daily life as if you were also a local resident. Like a real "navigator" who, for the lack of discovering a new continent, meets a sofa... Allowing you a complete immersion in the destination of your choice.
All Christopher Columbus has to do is behave himself: you are now ready for a thousand and one adventures at a lower cost to meet the local people.
... But here, as everywhere, there is theory and there is practice.
If the principle of couchsurfing seems brilliant, there is a dissonance between what is proposed and what happens. You will be able to surf at the locals in search of nice encounters, but beware of the less pleasant surprises. Testimonials from travellers, and often from female travellers, who have dealt with more or less well-intentioned hosts, are pouring onto the net, and for a good reason: couchsurfing is not a very safe platform for women. You can read the story of Sylvie, who went to Budapest, to understand that abuses exist and can sometimes spoil the trip.
And then, as a woman, we cannot be an explorer in the same way as men, because of the additional risks we face? This was the question that Christina, a Taiwanese woman passionate about solo travel, asked herself; a question that finally found an answer when she decided, in July 2019, to launch La Voyageuse, a safe couchsurfing platform for female solo travellers.
Since I suppose you are wondering what exactly this initiative is all about, I propose you embark with me to surf together on the principles of La Voyageuse.
1. A safe couchsurfing solution for solo female travelers: is it really necessary?
Ah, being a woman in 2020... We are lucky to be born in an era when we have the right to vote, decriminalization of abortion, access to higher education.
But we are still subject to more dangers than men, for fear of physical, sexual, moral aggressions. La Voyageuse conducted a survey and the figures speak for themselves: 81% of women consider that insecurity is a major obstacle to travelling alone.
And this feeling is justified. You never know who you're going to run into, especially when you plan where to sleep over for a night. Platforms such as couchsurfing are not yet safe enough to eliminate all risks. Christina knows it very well: she and people she has met (other solo female travellers like her) have faced several delicate situations, mainly due to the excesses of some hosts on couchsurfing who have confused the platform with a dating site.
She tells me, "I used couchsurfing a lot when I was younger and I only had great experiences, until my trip to Italy. I booked a night near Rome and I quickly realised that my host's profile was fake: he had nothing to do with what I had read about him. He didn't even live in the same city as he mentioned! I immediately felt in danger, even though he had some good comments on his profile (which later I realised a lot of them were given by his friends). He didn't seem trustworthy to me... and indeed, he started to be very insistent with me. He ended up being aggressive as I refused anything from him and he even tried to lock me in his bedroom... Luckily I managed to get away; I took the first taxi to the nearest train station to take the first train back to Rome (which was 2 hours away from his place!). I wrote a complaint to couchsurfing, but I never received any answer... And later I found out that this man had created a new profile with a different name!"
Christina was outraged to find out that this kind of bad experience happened to other solo female travellers over and over again. This is when the idea of creating a safe platform dedicated to female travellers began to plant a seed in her - an idea that was consolidated through the testimonies of traumatic experiences that her friends had unfortunately lived.
So, in response to the question you may be asking yourself, whether a safe couchsurfing solution for solo female travelers is really necessary, I agree with Christina: because it is a way to ensure the safety of solo travellers and to allow them to continue surfing without any fear for their safety.
Warning: I am not saying that all those who have used couchsurfing have been attacked and that the platform is a permanent danger. Only that there are abuses: although they are occasional, some are serious enough that it discourages some women to travel solo. Therefore, instead of letting them give up on their dream, it is necessary to provide a couchsurfing platform for women.
It’s actually quite simple: if your project presents a risk, will you abandon it or seek a solution? Christina has chosen the latter option and hopes to benefit as many women as possible: in fact, she launched La Voyageuse as soon as she moved to France. An explorer who offers a safe ship for those who, like her, want to travel freely around the world. If you're planning to set off on your own, I advise you to read our 10 tips for organising your first solo voyage.
As Christina says so well, "girls, the world is yours too!"
2. La Voyageuse: what is the solution and for whom?
I'll let Christina answer you, because she presents it much better than I do. "La Voyageuse is the first safe platform that connects solo female travellers with trusted female hosts to help them travel authentically and safely." An innovative and secure solution to help women travelling solo.
La Voyageuse is therefore a safe couchsurfing solution for women. You can sign up as a solo "Traveller" and meet many female hosts from around the world to prepare your next holiday stopovers, or as a "Host" to welcome solo female travellers at your home. Meetups and sharing experiences between inspiring women during an authentic stay... The hotel industry trembles in front of the threat of a night at a local’s home! Amélie describes more precisely the fight between these two models through a mythical boxing match.
A solution for those who want to travel independently but without the risks associated with sleepovers, a solution for those who want to meet explorers and share a moment of conviviality with them. Female travellers can thus fully immerse themselves in the destination, in safety, and the female hosts can become ambassadors for their region to highlight its beauty. It should be noted that these hosts do not earn any money: they welcome female travellers voluntarily, based on a real sense of sisterhood. Christina speaks about it with real conviction. "Our community is based on solidarity, everyone has something to offer: a talent, a story, a part of their personal life. There is a real notion of human connection: our travellers have the feeling that they are visiting a friend they have not yet met."
Of course, the hostesses can live alone, or with several people; in a shared flat, with her family or as a couple, with or without a man. What’s important here is that all members of the same household agree to welcome a solo female traveller for one or more nights. No need to have an extra room; a mattress or even a sofa will do the trick. Similarly, the hostesses are not obliged to spend all the time with their traveller: if they are working, or if they are busy, the traveller may visit the surroundings on her own.
This is the strength of La Voyageuse: the platform brings together many different, enriching and inspiring profiles to encourage exchanges and sharing in a dynamic of benevolence and sisterhood. The "come as you are" of slow-tourism.
3. Can a company have values?
Yes, because La Voyageuse is a militant company.
The founder Christina herself is committed to the feminist causes and there is always a determined glow in her eyes when she expresses herself on the issue. "Feminism means gender equality: men and women should be equal no matter what they do... And women should be supported no matter what they decide. Unfortunately this is not always the case, we have less freedom in our choices, especially when we travel... In India for example, travelling alone as a woman is a real revolution!"
La Voyageuse is therefore a platform made by a woman, thanks to women, for women. Real human connection is at the heart of their business and it is for this reason that the company shares the great values for which they fight for every day. This community has taken the form of a company rather than an association... The most relevant choice to make.
The three key values of La Voyageuse:
Authenticity is the first.
The goal is to encourage women to meet and share a part of their lives: the experience goes beyond a simple overnight stay with the locals, it is a real connection between various and authentic profiles. Sleeping at a local’s place means being immersed in a destination that you don't always know. It's the ideal opportunity to experience the environment from the inside rather than observing it from the outside.
Safety is the second key value for the company.
Connecting women with each other, who want to travel safely or welcome a stranger into their home, requires control and reliability, which is why La Voyageuse places great emphasis on this notion. In order to offer a secure framework, La Voyageuse team has provided many methods, such as double-checking profiles and continuous monitoring of its members. This is what Maxime, La Voyageuse's web developer, is working on. Technical areas are his job: and he is very good at presenting the verification system. La Voyageuse is the only couchsurfing platform to have such a high-secure profile verification process.
Finally, what would authenticity and security be without a little bit of good will?
That's the icing on the cake: it may be delicious, but without that little extra, it would lose its appetence. Promoting immersion in the local community and a secured environment also means expecting a sorority from the members : they all respect the main values of human sharing.
Freedom, equality, fraternity; or authenticity, security, sorority. To each his own motto!
4. Is La Voyageuse a real solution to promote women's empowerment?
And is chocolate a real dessert?
That's true, that's debatable. My roommate does eat beef with a chocolate cake on his plate (yes, I can assure you), so we can say that chocolate is also an accompaniment, isn't it?
More seriously, La Voyageuse promotes mutual exchanges between women and thus allows those who want to travel alone to go where couchsurfing might discourage them by the risks involved. So yes, this platform is a tool for emancipation since it drives women to take a flight to go solo, an act of liberation as I mentioned in the 7 good reasons to travel alone.
It was Christina's wish: to offer female explorers a safe ship for authentic, risk-free journeys. Is there anything more liberating than a boat to sail around the world in complete autonomy, while minimising the risk of shipwreck? This is, in my opinion, the very definition of liberation and I think you will have no trouble granting it to me. An example will be worth a thousand words: Simone is one of the platform's passengers... And she's 73 years old! She signed up when she turned 71 to realise her dream: to travel alone. A dream that was only possible thanks to La Voyageuse, which gave her the opportunity to find the strength to empower herself, even at her age.
So yes, some people will bounce back and ask me why people talk about the importance of chocolate while turning a blind eye to pears (oops sorry gentlemen, I didn't mean (at least not intentionally) to call you a pear). Of course, just because La Voyageuse is fighting for women's emancipation, through the proposal of a safe couchsurfing platform for solo female travelers doesn't mean that men aren't also subject to risks of insecurity during their solo trip. But I have great news to tell you: it is not because we defend chocolate that we are against pears (peace and love guys).
Yes, men also face risks. Yes, it can be dangerous for a male explorer to go on an adventure and yes, there are cases of assault on solo male travellers. This is also very serious and I would never question the misfortune of certain situations. You simply have to understand that women are all the more prone to these difficulties and it is a real discouragement for some. Let's think about it for a moment: travelling is a leisure activity, an activity that is supposed to make us happy, to give us a good time... And some women refuse it for fear of the dangers. La Voyageuse simply proposes to remedy this so that everyone can have equal access to this pleasure.
La Voyageuse also offers a pass for women who are victims of domestic violence. A pass that is obviously free, which allows those who have experienced the worst to escape for a moment of intense freedom. Enough to take to the open sea far from the most desolate lands.
Violence against women is a subject that is particularly close to my heart... There were 149 unreported emergencies in 2019 in France: a serious subject that everyone should be aware of.
I hope that you will have, through your reading, understood why it is important to have a safe couchsurfing solution for solo female travelers.
If becoming an explorer used to be reserved for a few male elite, today it has become possible for anyone to prepare their backpack (if they can weigh 7kg, that's even better!) and throw themselves into adventure. Many adventurous women have decided to follow their dream and set off on their own to the destination of their choice. Thanks to nights at a local's house, they can experience an immersive discovery of this territory which attracted them so much. Why not be next? After all, thanks to La Voyageuse, you have access to many warm homes ready to welcome you for a safe and authentic stay.
Christina inspired me a lot. "Travelling solo changes one’s life in the most positive way. So if we are able to encourage women to travel solo, we are able to empower women and to eventually change the world." In fact, changing the world is only up to us.
My mother often told me: "There is no bad wind for ships without a port". So let's untie the knot and raise the sail: the sea is calling us.
13 Octobre 2020
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Whether you are an avid traveller or a first-time adventurer, all NomadSister editors are passionate about travel. They share their advice and experiences with the desire to give you wings!