5 Couchsurfing Tips Solo Women Travelers Need

5 Couchsurfing Tips Solo Women Travelers Need

Are you a solo woman traveler who is thinking about Couchsurfing? First, let’s break down what Couchsurfing is.

According to Urban Dictionary, Couchsurfing is:

“What someone who can’t afford rent on their own and/or can’t find roommates quick enough does when they are “between” places.”

While yes, not having to pay is a great perk, Couchsurfing is so much more than finding a place to crash for free. It’s a site for meeting and staying with locals all over the world. This was a great way for me to meet people while traveling on a budget in Colombia. I’d only met up with one person through Couchsurfing before, in 2009. I’d I met up with a family of Chicano descent in Bakersfield, California. The father, Jesus, had found me and invited me for dinner with his family because his oldest daughter was thinking of going to Wellesley College, my alma mater. She didn’t end up going, but her younger sister did (and won the hoop rolling tradition).

Couchsurfing was one of the best choices I made while traveling in Colombia, and I was very intentional about how I used the site. Here are my Couchsurfing tips for solo women travelers (or anyone else who finds them useful) and here’s how I applied them to make wonderful friends in Cartagena, Colombia. I even stayed an extra day with them and missed out on the biggest lesbian-themed night of the Pride Festival in Bogotá (I’d queer it up in Bogotá eventually, anyway!). Follow my advice for the best experience.

1. Post on a Facebook Couchsurfing group.

Since people are more likely to be checking Facebook than Couchsurfing, most large cities have active Facebook groups. I introduced myself, said I was traveling alone, and was looking for people to meet and a place to stay for three days. Shortly enough, the group’s leader invited me to a language exchange meetup. One woman my age named Angie, who lives in Medellin and was visiting a friend in Cartagena also replied to my post. She invited me to join her and her friends at Playa Barú (La Playa Blanca), which is famous for its white, sandy beaches.

2. Post a public trip.

The Couchsurfing application lets you post the details of your trip. Do this as far in advance as possible. I did this before coming to Cartagena so that people either in or from the city would know about my trip. I even had someone from Seattle message me who was traveling to Cartagena at the same time. He wanted to get drinks, but I was more interested in meeting locals and learning Colombian slang. I was only in the country for two weeks, and wanted to immerse myself as much as possible, no matter how vulnerable I’d feel.

3. Reserve a place to stay in advance.

My biggest concern as a solo woman traveler while Couchsurfing in Colombia is definitely safety. I had reserved an Airbnb apartment for three days, but since I hadn’t yet bought my flight out from Cartagena to Bogota, I was open to staying longer. I also felt safer having a place to stay and being able to feel someone’s energy out before crashing with them.

As a solo woman traveler, it’s better to have a backup plan, even if it’s an $8 dorm room in a hostel when you can’t Couchsurf. If you’re not feeling someone, you have the right to discontinue seeing them and to put your safety first. Or, it’s nice to have a backup plan if your host cancels on you at the last minute.

4. Use your phone.

When you don’t know anyone in the area, it’s not as easy as it would be to let your friends know your whereabouts. I should have given my Airbnb host, Libi, a heads up that I was going outside of the city and with whom. I didn’t even have a working phone in Colombia, since I didn’t even bother buying a chip to put in my phone, but in retrospect, I should have. I merely relied on phone booths in the street.

After my taxi-related sexual assault later in Bogotá, I would buy a smartphone in Panama so that I could use Uber and other apps to hold my drivers more accountable. Check out this video I made with my trusted taxi driver, Hugo, in Managua, where he helps me explain why it’s important to have a taxi’s number on speed dial!

5. Travel safely yet vulnerably.

If I had been nervous about not being liked, then I wouldn’t have met up with anyone. I knew that if I didn’t hit it off with someone, that I could choose to no longer meet up with them. It’s that simple. After having lived in Nicaragua for two years, I’ve become a much more open and patient person. I’m also an introvert who judges a situation, a conversation, and people carefully before jumping in. To some, I may come across as quiet. Around others, I’m a non-stop giggler.

I’ve also become used to being an outsider so that I’m used to being uncomfortable. Growing from discomfort makes me excited about travel. The discomfort teaches me that I have preconceived notions about a place, just as I did about Medellin and Cartagena. These notions are both positive and negative, but traveling helps me break down where this notions come from in the first place, deconstruct them, and rebuild them for myself.

Above all, share your culture and ask questions about your hosts’. Ask them about their slang, their music, their customs, their passions, their food, and anything else you’d like to know as long as you’re respectful. Treating your hosts to thank them is always a good idea, whether you’re buying drinks or writing them thoughtful thank you note (or blog post dedicated to them!).

I hope my Couchsurfing tips for solo women travelers inspired you to use this option on your next trip. Do you have any other tips? Share in the comments!

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I’m Wanderful’s Social Media Intern!

Last Monday, I came back from my three-week solo travel trip through Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica to a Wanderful email account! Wanderful is an international membership community of independent, adventurous, globally minded women who travel. They have over 20 chapters around the world, and every year, they organize the Women in Travel Summit.

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I joined Wanderful as a blogging cohort member over a year ago and am now their social media intern. Initially, I debated applying to the internship because I didn’t think I was qualified. Then I thought of how bought in I am to Wanderful’s mission of empowering women travelers, and of how much I’ve promoted the site because I believe in it. “Would a man be so hesitant to apply?” I told myself. So, I applied and got the position.

Wanderful exists because we still need spaces for women to feel empowered enough to believe in themselves, whether it’s to apply for their dream job or to take on traveling to a new place.

I Think I was Sexually Assaulted

I Think I was Sexually Assaulted

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault/Assault.

The “I think” is why I’m writing about sexual assault.

On July 4th, around 1:30 a.m., I was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver on my way home on Pride Night in Bogotá. This post is not to scare people from visiting Bogotá. This could’ve happened anywhere, and every day I feel a pull to return to this city because of its vibrant street art, its organized chaos, and its communities or artists and activists. I can’t wait to write about how inspired I felt there, and I won’t let this incident erase that sense of freedom.

I’m writing this post is because, since this happened, of all of the times that I said “I think I was sexually assaulted” instead of saying “I was sexually assaulted.” It took me two weeks to report the incident to my safety and security officer, and when I did, he said, “Yes, that was definitely a sexual assault.” In no way did he blame me for the incident or for waiting so long to report it. He has been 100% supportive.

When I’d pictured what a sexual assault looked like, I imagine either A. a rape or B. someone running up and grabbing a woman’s boobs or crotch. Both of these things do happen and should never happen. Ever. However, everything else to me is grey area, and it shouldn’t be. That night, a taxi driver invaded my personal space without my consent, grabbed me, and tried to kiss me. I told him to stop, and he did.

Once I got home, I felt shocked and unsafe in ways that I’d felt after I was assaulted at knife point on a run on November 30th, 2015. Only this time, I felt disgusting. I was shaking and crying because I’d been violated in ways I never have before. I immediately felt the shame that our patriarchal society wants me to feel. That it was “my fault” and that it could have been prevented.

Well, guess what. A person should be able to go out at night and to ride in taxis without the fear of sexual assault. What happened, happened, and blaming me, the victim, won’t do anything to fix it. So before you blame the victim, check yourself and know that if you do, your actions are the reason why so many women never come forward and admit what happened to them. After the incident I bought a smartphone and I used apps like Uber to hold my drivers more accountable.

After talking with other women about what happened, they’ve revealed to me that they realized they’ve also been sexually assaulted and never thought to report it because of they don’t feel comfortable doing so, and because of the “I think” piece that trivializes the assault in the first place.

I have the privilege of talking about what happened to me without fear of social repercussions, so that’s why I’m doing this. I also have access to free counseling with the Peace Corps, which I’ve used throughout my service after a long-distance breakup, then after my assault, and after the Orlando shooting. It shouldn’t be a big deal for a woman to come forward and to talk about what happened. I know that reporting it won’t erase the damage, but it’s the first step in exposing what happened.

If you or someone you care about has been sexually assaulted, you are not alone. I am not alone and it’s by talking with survivors of different gender identities to know I am not alone.

I’ve talked to the Peace Corps medical officers about it and was given the option of a medical evacuation or respite leave. I am considering taking the 14-day respite leave to go home and recover in a familiar place, which is something I wish I could have done after my assault last year. Volunteers are given the option to request respite leave 30 days after they report an incident. This is a new policy that I hope volunteers are aware of in case something happens to them.

Below is the description I sent to my Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer of the sexual assault.

Continue reading “I Think I was Sexually Assaulted”

A Woman’s guide to staying fit while traveling

A Woman’s guide to staying fit while traveling

Maintaining a fitness routine abroad is challenging.

First, you’re probably tempted to try all of the dumplings, tiramisu, and margaritas while you travel. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate when traveling, since it’s not every day that you eat freshly baked, flaky croissants.

Safety is another challenge. As a woman running outside, I’m always on guard. I run because I love feeling fit, present, and accomplished. Even though I was assaulted on a run abroad, I still run. My attacker thought I had an iPhone, but I didn’t have anything of value; I wore headphones to deter street harassers. In trying to avoid emotional violence, I encountered physical violence instead.

There’s also the matter of just not feeling like working out while you’re traveling! Don’t feel guilty. Seek out alternatives to working out.

If you’re the rare person who looks forward to exercising on the road or you’re starting to think the advantages of being active might outweigh your holdouts, there are so many benefits! It’s a great way to clear your head. Traveling can be exhausting, but exercising gives you a boost of energy. Maintaining a fitness routine will help you relieve stress and help you get to know new people and places!

We know exercising is important, but how do female travelers maintain their fitness routines on the road? Read my Wanderful article to find out!

Featured image by Pixabay user MemoryCatcher.

Camp GLOW 2016: Learning about LGBTQ Identity

Camp GLOW 2016: Learning about LGBTQ Identity

Just when I thought the girls were too shy or tired to ask us questions during an LGBTQ workshop, one of them piped up: “So, we can ask anything?” My most memorable part of Camp GLOW for Nicaraguan girls, and of 2016, was when the girls asked me about my experience as a queer woman. The girls asked me very personal questions, including:

Q. How old were you when you realized you were gay?

Q. What was your first relationship with a woman like?

Q. What’s been the hardest part of being gay for you?

Q. How did your friends react when you were gay?

Read about how I came out to 53 girls at our LGBTQ Identity workshop during the five day girls’ camp.

Camp GLOW 2016: What Do Nicaraguan Girls Want to Learn?

Camp GLOW 2016: What Do Nicaraguan Girls Want to Learn?

We offered 9 Gender Empowerment workshops at Camp GLOW for Nicaraguan girls, and we wanted to know what the girls wanted to learn before we assumed anything. Here are just a few of the insightful, surprising questions they asked.

How can I reduce “machismo” and “feminismo” in society?

Is one’s self esteem related to their sexuality?

Why do some people still feel empty inside after reaching their goals?

Read my second Gender and Development Committee entry to find out what the girls wanted to get out of the camp!

The Serendipity of Travel: Meeting a Nicaraguan Nurse

Serendipity means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise.” In my travels, I have come across many pleasant surprises. I love the serendipitous moments that lead me to meeting new people abroad.

Even if serendipity is nothing more than chance, it has led me to meeting many fascinating Nicaraguans during my travels in this special Central American country.

One of the Nicaraguans I will never forget is Zulema, nurse who works each year at ACCESS camp, a weeklong, intensive English summer camp for Nicaraguan students. Read more about the camp on the Maywesuggest.org blog, a site by two Peace Corps Volunteers and my blogging buddies.

Each group of campers was given a state name in order to create team spirit. I was the camp counselor for 36 high schoolers in the “Virginia” Team.  I would go to bed at midnight and wake up at 5 AM in order to make sure my campers were awake. You can imagine how much coffee I needed to stay awake!

I was in charge of 36 Nicaraguan English students during ACCESS camp. Zulema was in charge of all 320 students!
I was in charge of 36 Nicaraguan English students during ACCESS camp. Zulema was in charge of all 320 students!

I went into the supply room for a quick afternoon coffee break, and I overheard Zulema encouraging a student who wasn’t feeling well to feel better. She is a nurse in charge of 320 kids at ACCESS Camp, a weeklong camp for Nicaragua’s best English students. “Sometimes, you have to pump yourself up even when you’re feeling tired. It’s all about your attitude. Sometimes I see teenagers feeling sad about the slightest thing, but then I tell them that they need to take advantage of the opportunities that they have and make the most of them. It’s important to work hard and to accept any challenge that comes your way.”

Zulema traveled six hours via bus to take care of 320 summer ACCESS campers.
Zulema traveled six hours via bus to take care of 320 summer ACCESS campers.

Zulema is a nurse from Nueva Segovia, which is the farthest department in the North. It borders Honduras. It takes her six hours on a bus to get to Managua, and the bus only makes one stop. “How did you end up working here in Managua?” I asked her. “Well, I would always go to my daughter’s ACCESS meetings dressed in white because I’m a nurse. One day, one of the ACCESS supervisors noticed this and asked me to work at the camp. This is my third camp so far!”


I didn’t expect to meet such a radiant, optimistic mother as I drank coffee from my styrofoam cup, but I’m grateful it happened.

Zulema is the Nicaraguan nurse I’ll always remember. I love the serendipitous moments that come with travel.

My "Virginia" team with the American Ambassador to Nicaragua at the ACCESS camp closing ceremony.
My “Virginia” team with the American Ambassador to Nicaragua at the ACCESS camp closing ceremony.

Is there someone memorable you’ve met by chance in your travels? Share in the comments!

This story is featured in the 2016 issue of Wanderlust Life Magazine. Subscribe here for this free wellness magazine!