Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I'll Never CouchSurf Again...

I’ll just start with saying that I debated on writing this… It’s not an experience that I’d like to re-hash & I certainly do not wish for anyone at home to be worried for me, especially those like my Mum. Ultimately though, I ended up deciding that others being aware of the ‘other side’ of CouchSurfing will be worth it in the end. Onto Oslo…


It was about two months until our upcoming trip to Oslo, Norway. Our being my American friend who I met in Dublin & myself. We had booked the trip spur of the moment, much like I do everything & began CouchSurfing that very night. We knew that Oslo happened to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe & so were determined to find accommodation that wouldn't interfere with our budgets. CouchSurfing seemed like the perfect option. In exchange for gifts & cooking a few meals, we would have a place to stay & would be able to see Oslo like a local, my favourite type of travel.

After sending a few requests to members, we soon realized that Oslo was quite a popular city for CouchSurfing & many residents were already swamped. This lead to mistake number one… We accepted a request from someone who invited us. Now, of course, most members are genuine & reply to your open request with honest intentions… Most. So the chatting began. We talked to our host for a few weeks before deciding on our conclusion, that we would stay with him in Oslo & he would take us up to his Dad’s cabin to go cross country skiing. If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Just to mention, he did have references (though they all ended up being fake). Nothing on his FaceBook profile alarmed us, he had an average number of friends, he was into adventure sports & he even owned a company who we of course checked out, which was based around selling protection devices (ie. pepper spray & rape alarms… Aka the perfect alibi). We were pretty stoked to meet him & Oslo.

Frogner Park

We arrived in Oslo on a Friday morning & made it to his house with the help of his hand drawn maps. Specifically in his instructions, he told us to not ring the flat beside him… It was his brother’s. We thought maybe it was just because he would be sleeping, so thought nothing of it. In my forgetful nature, I rung his brother’s, no surprise there. We were let into the building & upon knocking on his brother’s, we were met with a confused & somewhat concerned face on the other side. Apologies ensued & we stepped into our hosts flat shortly after, thinking nothing of it. Even when our host received a questioning phone call from his brother minutes later, we just assumed we had woken him up & again, apologized. Little did we know that his brother actually had had no idea we were even coming... & knowing his brother's past, had every right to be questioning. In casual conversation we had found out that our host's apartment was paid for by his parent's & he seemed utterly annoyed that the location chosen was beside his brother.

We settled in for maybe 15 minutes before embarking out to Frogner Park (otherwise known as the naked park), which was literally in sight of our host’s place. Everything seemed fine, we had a few laughs & he seemed friendly enough, though slightly awkward. Gut instinct told me something was off, though I didn’t know it at the time… & so I contacted my Norwegian friend living in Oslo to see what he was up to that night. He invited us over & I invited our host to come along. My trusting nature was telling me that although our host might be weird, it could be a cultural difference & I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, but leave the deciphering up to my Norwegian friend. When it became clear later that night that our host was trying to push our bottle of Irish whiskey on us, both my American friend & I stopped drinking. We informed our host that we’d be staying at our friend’s for a few more hours & to leave without us. He seemed okay with this, but then proceeded to continuously text our friend over the next few hours. Did we mention that our friend happened to have two Norwegian cops over for drinks that same night? Thank f!@#, is all I have to say for that.

Royal Palace

Immediately after our host left, our Norwegian friend told us he had something to tell us & pulled out his iPhone. He proceeded to pull up article after Norwegian article of news reports involving our host… The jist being that he was charged with taking nude photography of underaged, unwilling girls, with the worst of it involving two victims who ended up hospitalized with knife wounds when they resisted his attempts. All reports stated to immediately contact the police if he even remotely attempted to contact you. Our Norwegian friend had known that the name sounded familiar & this was because of the fact that he had been all over the news just years prior.


Everything added up… We then recalled the nude photograph above his bed who he had stated was just an ‘old friend’... We remembered the security cameras in his living room, each directly & strategically placed to face each couch, where we would be sleeping. At the time of seeing them, we idiotically & naivly assumed they were there because of his vast collection of expensive equipment in the apartment. Did I mention that we could not see the Norwegian articles? Because they did not come up in Irish Google search results. The fact that he was CouchSurfing & preying on foreigners was the smartest thing he ever could’ve tried.

Had to add some humour into this at some point...

At this point we began to, well, freak out. All of our belongings were at his apartment… We now had nowehere to stay for the next four nights. We were in a foreign country, knowing almost no-one, not even speaking the language & with limited funds. Freak out is probably an understatement as to what we were feeling in that moment to be honest. We did settle down though & ended up deciding on the plan to go to his first thing in the morning, with the company of our two new found police men escorts. Needless to stay, we came out of this entire situation unscathed, though with zero sleep & possibly a few tears.

A this point we still have police reports to complete & ended up sleeping at different places literally each night of our trip, not knowing each day if we would even have somewhere to stay that night. Lugging our backpacks made me thankful as hell that I for once in my life packed light for a trip. Yet another lesson to be learned from all of this, am I right?!… Also, I learned to always, always, always have a backup plan, as obvious as this is to most, it wasn't to us. Oh & backup cash. Ridiculously & embarrassingly enough, I left my credit card at home in Dublin because I was determined to stay on budget. Silly, SILLY mistake that I will never make again, even if I thought it was clever at the time. Luckily though, my American friend turned out to be one of the best friends I ever could have made.

Yoga at the Opera House... Much needed de-stressing.

At this end of all of this, I just have to state how very thankful I am. I’m thankful for foreign friends looking out for me, people I’d never even met offering couches, beds & food for us the entire rest of the trip, after having heard what happened. I’m thankful for having the chance to have visited the gorgeous city of Oslo. I’m thankful that we made the very best of the rest of our time, even if we were haggard & stressed for most of the time we had. I’m thankful that my flight home landed safely, because I was f!@#ing dying to land on Irish soil… To be quite graphic, I’m thankful that my friend & I were not assaulted, raped, or hurt. I’m thankful that we learned a ridiculous amount of lessons out of the experience. Lastly, I’m thankful to be alive. It may sound dramatic, but that statement has never rung more true than it did in Oslo. Thinking about what could have happened that weekend if it wasn't for my friend's quick wit makes me sick to my stomach.

Now, after saying all of this, I honestly have nothing against CouchSurfing in the slightest. I probably should, but I don’t. I think the concept of giving something to others for nothing in return is brilliant, if flawed in its theory. I will not, however, be CouchSurfing again & I understand that this is completely personal. I would rather go on less trips, spend the money on hostels & sacrifice the chance of seeing cities as locals, if only it means that I will be safe.

My apologies for the long post, but I hope that this will provide some perspective into the other side of CouchSurfing. To disclaim, I’m not in anyway trying to deter anyone from participating, but please, PLEASE be aware of the dangers & take every measure possible to prevent something like this, or worse, from happening to you. Also… More on Oslo to come, the happy though!


13 comments:

  1. Fellow Canuck abroad here, just had to comment on how shocking that story is! I've ever tried CouchSurfing but my old housemate did, in the hosting role. The minute the guy arrived it became clear that something was wrong with him ... I came over to introduce myself and he hardly looked at me, and then just made one sexual joke after another all night, even trying to sleep in my housemate's bed! ... All the while making jokes about all of the STIs he had? Not quite serial-rapist/knife-carrying psycho scary but definitely enough to turn me off the idea completely. I'm glad you and your friend are safe and sound!
    I'm definitely with you on travelling less in favour of increased safety :)

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    1. Thank you for the comment! :) Good hearing from a fellow Canuck abroad ;) Ugh that experience would turn me off as well. Can't believe the creeps out there it's pathetic what they'll do. Glad you agree with me on that, I hope safety catches on for more travellers! x

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  2. oh goodness it broke my heart when i read this! this is the second person i have known that has come to oslo and had something weird from couchsurfing happen (although your experience could have had a completely diff outcome than hers...in a bad way). im really sorry you went through this and i wish to god i had known and i would have invited yall to stay here (im an american living in oslo). ive couchsurfed here and there over the years, but as ive gotten older, i only really meet people in the city and not stay w/ them any longer.

    anyways, im glad yall are ok and i wish you only the SAFEST of travels in the future!!! glad you involved the police and took care of business!

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    1. Oh nooo I honestly just hate hearing about any bad experiences. Honestly almost all of the other Norwegians we met seemed like the most genuine people thankfully! Aw that's ridiculously nice of you, would've loved to have met you! Wishing you the safest & best of travels as well :) I agree about from now on I think we'll just meet others in the city & spend the extra on hostels. Just not worth what could happen, plus kind of scarred! x

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  3. Just stay with women is all I can say. Couchsurfing always comes with risks especially for women.

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    1. You're completely right! Thanks for stopping by. x

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  4. Wow, that is a scary story. It sounds like you researched well in advance and he had all these positive (although fake) references which gave you assurances.

    Such a shame it was a bad experience and I can understand your apprehension with the experience in the future.

    I know many people are strong advocates of Couchsurfing but I dare say they've not had any bad experience remotely close to this.

    Couchsurfing is not for me and doesn't really appeal. I like the safety and security of an established place of accommodation and not some random stranger who offered his couch/room for a night or two.

    I'm glad things worked out in the end for you. I've only been to Norway once and found the people to be very nice. There is always a bad apple though.

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    1. Thanks for reading :) We thought we did at least! Guess you can never research well enough though...
      I completely agree with you after our experience! I'll take my own bed & knowing that I'll be safe over living like a local any day... Hopefully others can think twice about CouchSurfing in the future, I would hate for this to happen to any other fellow traveller. At least everyone else seemed nice on our trip! x

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  5. I'm so shocked and so sorry to hear that. I was also couchsurfing in Oslo last winter, but it was a good experience. Although my host was not very talkative, we still had some good time.

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    1. So glad you had a good experience Agness! It's still nice knowing that CouchSurfing is benefitting most people. x

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  6. Holy shit! I was pretty much biting my nails the whole time I read this. My hands are sweating! I'm so glad "nothing" happened to you guys. I have couchsurfed twice before and each time was with a boyfriend. I think that is probably my comfort zone as far as CS… I will never do it without a male companion. I also think that times are changing a bit… there seem to be more and more horror stories coming out of CS lately. While I think it is a great idea in theory, the wrong people have been taking advantage of it and it is becoming something it never should have become.

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    1. My hands were sweating writing it even! So glad as well. I think CouchSurfing with a boyfriend sounds like a great idea. I completely agree, I think the only way I could ever do it again would be if I had a male companion. Definitely more horror stories unfortunately... If only a good thing could remain a good thing these days. People are just sick to even think of taking advantage of it. x

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  7. Oh my gosh, it just goes to show that you really should trust your instinct at all times!


    Sorry to hear about the strange situation but I'm glad you were okay in the end as well!


    I have never used couch surfing before but was thinking of using it when I go to Valencia next month, but I will be with my boyfriend.


    It's a shame that some people have to ruin what could be a great experience for people. The couchsurfing idea is great in theory, but it just goes to show (reading both your post at the comments!) that there are weirdos who take advantage of it.

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