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Couchsurfing.org - and putting the bed bug risk into perspective...

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  1. bugration

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Mon May 31 2010 18:20:08
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    "Creating a better world, one couch at a time"...

    There was another brief topic on Couchsurfing from two years ago (the general consensus was "hotels are risky enough", "stupid", "crazy" etc), but thought I may as well start a new one to open some fresh discussion.

    Couchsurfing.org is growing massively, especially among the global backpacker and foreign students community, and were it not for the recent bed bug plague I would say it's a neat idea. There's a pretty comprehensive verification system so if you pick the right people to deal with (i.e. numerous references, fully verified identity and location etc) there seems to be very little risk of anything untoward happening - other than bed bugs of course.

    In terms of bed bug risk it does indeed seem quite ill-advised to host a large number of different guests. Although I have spoken to a so-called Couchsurfing Ambassador who by definition has hosted close to 50 different people, and he denies ever having bed bugs brought to his place, or even having seen one on his travels.

    But here's the weird thing: if you are actually staying on someone else's couch (rather than hosting them at your home), then by my reckoning your odds of encountering bed bugs are far lower when compared to staying in all but the newest hotel rooms??

    For instance, say a hotel is a year old (pretty much brand new for hotel standards), then if it was busy year-round and the average guest stay was like 3 days, then in a year there would have been over 100 guests staying there. Hence about twice the risk as staying with one of the most active of Couchsurfing hosts (obviously the vast majority of active Couchsurfing hosts have hosted far less than 50 guests...)

    And yeah, how many of you exclusively stay at hotels that are newly-built and less than a year old? More typically I guess you'd be at a hotel that's 5-15 years old. So your hotel room would have had maybe 500-1500 guests in its history, i.e. about 10 to 30 times more risky than being hosted by an extremely experienced Couchsurfer?

    As I said, Couchsurfing (and especially hosting!) remains something I naturally shy away from due to the bed bug risk. However, I'm also thinking that many Couchsurfers, if it weren't for the couch option, would just stay in a youth hostel which actually means a far greater risk of picking up bed bugs and spreading them around the world. I mean, take a hostel dorm of six beds in a hostel that was operating for say five years. That would equate to perhaps 3000 guests who have stayed in the one dorm room and potentially brought bed bugs? So like 60 times the risk of staying with the aforementioned Couchsurfing host?

    I'm certainly not trying to incite panic with regards to staying in hotels! I guess I'm just saying that sometimes what appears to be a much more risky situation for encountering bed bugs (e.g. staying on someone's couch who has already had 50 other people stay there) may actually be a lot more "safe" than other situations we perceive as less risky (e.g. staying in a nice 4-star hotel that was only opened 10 months ago)...

  2. Winston O. Buggy

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Tue Jun 1 2010 8:54:29
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    You raise some interesting points and did get me to think about it once my original "what are you nuts" reaction past. On one hand a motel may be at greater risk but their BB IQ may be higher than a some couch hosts. In addition many hotels/motels do take steps to address the matter. I once discussed profiling as a way to help them control some BB issues. Mind you these are generalizations. A traveler who is leaving home to attend an event or a single location vacation is a lower risk of introducing bed bugs than one who is traveling about with several stays in different locations or who occupationally sleep about like airline crews. The thought was to keep high risk guests on particular floors so they could be monitored or treated more frequently. Unfortunatley this is for the most part not feasible for hotels for a variety of good reasons. Again generalizing and not knowing much about couch surfing.org it would seem to be in the higher risk group of multiple stays on one trek which would heighten the BB profile. If on the other hand couch surfing.org educated its members, utilized safe travel such as keeping large clear plastic bags available and perhaps the use of box encasements and climbups among hosts the risks could be lowered which would be good for surfers and hosts alike. I have sent an e mail to couch surfing accordingly.

  3. bugration

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Tue Jun 8 2010 6:06:45
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    Hi Winston,

    That was a good idea to email Couchsurfing, have you got a response from them yet?

    This is a perfect example of how bed bugs are completely changing my outlook on certain things. I would have been happy to host people were bed bugs not a problem! But yeah, sometimes I almost feel like I shouldn't be so paranoid. Because even when taking those examples of very high-risk groups that you mentioned (like airline crews), the vast majority of them do not have bed bugs I'm sure...

  4. Winston O. Buggy

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Tue Jun 8 2010 7:12:23
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    Actually I sent them an email offering to discuss the matter gratis. I received a sort of stock reply that they were not interested in joint ventures at this time. ? In skimming their web site I saw no mention about bed bugs and thought that was not the best for as we all know denial offers no defense.

    As far as your comment, true although one may be in a high risk group for having bed bugs many do not in fact have them or get them. However their odds are increased.

  5. Eve

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Tue Jun 8 2010 15:00:09
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    I think I can understand why Couchsurfing.org would rather not publicize the risks of bed bugs. The concept depends on a large number of willing "couches" and nothing in Bugration's post would ease my fears of being the couchsurfer's host.

    Putting myself in the position of a potential couchsurfer (when I was young I hitchhiked and slept on various couches but this was the 70s), I would imagine that a lot of these folk are travelling steadily not merely to a destination. In that case, what would tend to happen is that when they found a friendly couch, of course they would take advantage of that. But if they couldn't find a couch for the night they would have to resort to a hotel or hostel (or worse). I have a hard time minimizing the risks of that to the host.

    But they (the organization) should really start to consider this issue. The "joint ventures" comment has me scratching my head though.

    Eve

  6. BronxBitten

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Tue Jun 8 2010 17:54:32
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    sigh. sometimes i wonder if it's all b/c we are just so hyperaware; cuz come on man, there HAD to have been bb's in the 70's...maybe just not the loco ones we see now that seem to be superambitious (reflection of consumerism much??!!)---but yeah---ddt or not, i suspect the chances of bb's during the 70's was probably up there just maybe--no one was so angry about it? hahah who knows. perhaps im fantasizing.

  7. bugration

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Mon Jul 19 2010 13:40:43
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    Sounds really weird but I am now seriously considering staying with someone I know from Couchsurfing rather than risk a hotel. It may seem completely counter-intuitive, but seriously the risk of me encountering bedbugs would technically be less when staying with a newish Couchsurfing host than it would be if I was staying in any hotel that's more than about two months old! And it's obviously unrealistic to only stay in hotels that opened less than two months ago...

    I mean, the Couchsurfing person I know is newish and has hosted like 5 people total - not all that different from a normal person who occasionally has people over really Compare this to a brand new hotel that only opened two months ago - each room would have hosted perhaps 20 people since it opened (assuming an average stay of three nights)! So like four times the risk when compared to the couchsurfing option...

  8. DLTBBB

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Mon Jul 19 2010 14:56:41
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    The fact that the bedbug is discouraging generosity and willingness to host and meet new people traveling, rather than forcing everyone into cookie cutter motels .. well, that really depresses me. It depresses me that last year I would not have blinked at hosting such a person and right now, my mind is spinning with ways that might be able to make it safe -- can I pack tite their bags, wash clothes, etc??.

    BronxBitten: my understanding is that they really didn't have them in this country in the 70s. The were eradicated for a spell. (Although in the late 80's I did stay in a hotel in MX with BBs.)

  9. bugration

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    Posted 9 years ago
    Wed Jul 28 2010 9:15:49
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    DLTBBB - 1 week ago  » 
    The fact that the bedbug is discouraging generosity and willingness to host and meet new people traveling, rather than forcing everyone into cookie cutter motels .. well, that really depresses me. It depresses me that last year I would not have blinked at hosting such a person and right now, my mind is spinning with ways that might be able to make it safe -- can I pack tite their bags, wash clothes, etc??.

    I know exactly what you mean! I also would have had absolutely no problem hosting Couchsurfing guests, had I not known about bedbugs. In fact, even ordinary guests, who have just come in on a plane or from another hotel (high risk exposures), are unlikely enough...

    I could see myself doing it if I knew a Couchsurfing guest was literally just starting to travel, and had not stayed in a hostel or hotel just before coming, but how often would this be applicable?

    But yeah, in a nutshell, Couchsurfing bedbug risks seems to be a bit like this:
    > If you host someone: the bedbug risk can be high (depends)
    > If you are hosted by someone: the bedbug risk can be slightly high, but still safer than the vast majority of hotel rooms!

  10. Nobugsonme

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    Posted 6 years ago
    Fri Aug 30 2013 16:39:29
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    I also don't think there's any basis for saying Couchsurfing is safer than hotel rooms.

    As Winston said above, hosts are even less likely than hotel management to be aware of bed bugs as an issue and taking steps to find and eliminate them.

    AirBnB has taken off since this thread was last updated 3 years ago, and I am sure bed bugs are an issue there too.

    I started and run the site but am "not an expert."
  11. bugration

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    Posted 4 years ago
    Sun Apr 19 2015 5:21:14
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    Indeed it's been several years since I started this post, and these concerns now apply just as well to Airbnb.

    As I stated in my last post, being a host on either Couchsurfing and Airbnb will obviously be a to some extent risky proposition. No doubts there.

    But as a person using these services and staying as a guest, once again I simply don't agree with the proposition that it would generally be at the same (or higher) risk level as an average hotel room. On both sites you can see the number of reviews that a host has received, and can hence gauge the risk of exposure. An average hotel room receives I'd assume 100+ guests per year. The majority of Couchsurfing/Airbnb hosts won't even have hit 50 over a period of many years.

    On the occasions that I've looked for a host on Airbnb, I try to avoid hosts with a high number of reviews (hence stays) - 15 or less if possible. And there are more than enough of such hosts. If I have to decide between a host with say 15 good reviews on Airbnb , versus a hotel room at a hotel that's say 5 years old, it's really a no-brainer. Even if a person with 15 reviews has had for instance an equal number of guests that didn't leave a review, that's still only 30 exposures in total. Compared to a 5-year-old hotel room that's already had 500+ exposures. Not to mention the added risk from being adjacent to other hotel rooms that have also received hundreds of exposures...

  12. Winston O. Buggy

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    Posted 4 years ago
    Mon Apr 20 2015 7:52:33
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    Like many things in life, there are no guarantees. FYI couchsurfing still makes no reference to bed bugs and a search of their site offered nothing.

  13. Nobugsonme

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    Posted 4 years ago
    Mon Apr 20 2015 14:24:02
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    When it comes to couchsurfing, I am most worried about the owners of the "couch". They're the ones who are often offering free accommodations and may not realize the risk they're taking.

    Guests can take steps to avoid bringing bed bugs home from a potentially infested host. The host can monitor and inspect but can't eliminate the risk.

    I moved from a building with active AirBnB hosts and active bed bug infestations. This is true even though I understand the laws now prohibit the type of Airbnb hosting that was being done-- it's still going on.


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