I wasn't taking it personally despite the way it may have seemed. Sometimes you have to take risks to get rewards which I guess as a whole going to a foreign country is a bit of a risk. When I was saying about place to not stay ie Lima, they are mainly the places that apply to your example of $20 (poor places or places with a high crime rate).
I hear where your coming from Harrold, I was probably a bit quick to respond in my first post, and it's probably something you have to experience before you can criticise it.
Not my cup of tea and I really wouldn't want my sister, mother or girlfriend doing it but if your comfortable with it then go for it.
And judging by your profile (young/single/attractive/female) your probably a perfect target.
mostly those kind of girls putting their pictures with their boyfriends or dogs
I'm an active CS member as well. I've only hosted a couple of people (i live somewhere fairly obscure and am frequently away as well) but i've stayed with probably 40+ hosts in maybe 15 or so countries, covering the full spectrum - Male, female, couples of all orientations, groups of friends, families, young and old, locals and expats of all descriptions. I've met another 25 or so to be shown around, or have a drink/meal/whatever with, as well as meeting a few randomly when travelling and introducing some members. Some are now very good friends, most i'm still in at least infrequent contact with. In all that time, i've only had one slightly dodgy experience, and even that was great at the time, but just a strange after service. I'd highly recomend it.
The ratings system is corruptable, sure, but it's not (now) as easy it once was. With a bit of common sense and using your judgment, it's reasonably easy to avoid potential pitfalls and "dodgy" hosts.
meeting for the first time in a public space,
That's actually the norm (in my experience at least). I've NEVER met somebody for the first time at their house - the idea/comment has never even come up, and as such i've always had the option to quit if needed. The only two times I haven't met somebody in public first, i've actually been given instructions to where they live, told where the key is hidden (or given it by one of their friends) and let myself in and have then met them later! THAT I don't particaularly like because i'm paranoid i'll try and break into the wrong house... But having said that, i've done the same thing myself, leaving a key for somebody i've never met.
Trust your instincts. if it looks/feels wrong, don't do it. There have been a very few isolated incidents (reported ones) on both CS and HC but it's very low, and statistically much safer than lots of other things you would do without thinking. I've had some amazing experiences/adventures that way and met a truly diverse set of people.
Things to note - Don't get discouraged if you don't get replies to all/any of your requests (i've had 3 people email me over a year later apologising that they never responded for different reasons, and maybe 30% or so have never replied). Try to send a few requests instead of banking on one. That way you have fallback options, but can also evaluate responses. Also, try and ask at least a week or so in advance. Sometimes the day before is OK (I once managed to find a host for that night at 10pm - in a city and country i'd never been in before and knew little about -after my pre-arranged host had to drop out very late [long story]), but most have to check with other people living there or other commitments, and aren't able/happy to host somebody at short notice.
Hosts have their own life to lead as well and commitments, so be aware that they may be alergic to alcohol, have to get up at 4am every day, shoot smokers on sight, be too tired/busy to offer much more than a bed and a key and leave you to your own devices, or alternatively, want to show you off to everybody as a novelty - meaning you get to be paraded/introduced to/fed (as though being plumped up to eat) to dozens of friends and relatives, often elderly, extremely (!) friendly, slightly mad and not speaking or understanding a single word of any language you speak, or even the whole concept of a computer, let alone CS... That can be a huge amount of fun, but also a bit scary/intimidating, especially if you haven't surfed much before.
Also, In most cities/towns there are lots of members, and it can be hard to choose and the temptation is to go for the "safe" core of major players with lits of references and who come to the top of the tree. However, you are often better off looking at members lower down the scale - Many of the top ranked members get overwhelmed (a friend in Warsaw gets over 30+ requests on average each WEEK, whilst some other friends in Ljubljana who i got to join, rose to the top in slovenia very rapidly, but then had so many requests/guests in a short space of time time, that they got a bit tired/overhwelmed and now rarely host) and have to start turning them down, or loose their enthusiasm a bit, whereas some lower members may be desperate to host and have virtually no requests, and thus if you do stay there go out of their way to offer even more than normal, and are still delighted to show you around (you aren't always as keen to, if you shown the same thing to 20 people in only a couple of months...). The other thing is that some of the very top end are a bit too cliquey for my taste - they just want to get the most references/friends or whatever and go to all the meetings just so they can get more friends and to say they've been. That doesn't neccessarrily make them poor choices, but there may be better/more interesting options for you personally. Somebody with a few friends and references is good, but be sure to read them first - I know of a couple of members with lots of friends which looks good, but when you start in detail, discover they've only met one or two people, and the rest are overwhelmingly in a certain sex/age/ethnic/whatever group which makes you wonder a little...
Two final points - don't rule out older people as many surfers do. The woman in her mid 50's who wants to host will more than likely turn out to be the most interesting person there, even if your first idea is to avoid people of a different generation. And finally, accept that human nature means that you won't get along with everybody. people are different. Some stays won't work out siomply due to personality/lifestyle differences.
I'm also a member of HC and have used it a few times, although I don't like it as much as CS for a number of reasons. Having said that, the user base is bigger, and in some more obscure places they have a member which CS doesn't. There are 4 or 5 other similar sites as well.
A couple of other notes - some people will not host without you having fairly well filled in profiles, or similar interests, or photos. Others don't mind. Having a fairly individual (and you) profile often helps - several people have told me they've only offered because they were curious about something in my profile, or it made them laugh or the like. But just because somebody doesn't have a hugely long profile or any friends/references doesn't mean they should be ignored. Probably the best host I've ever had, had an empty profile except for a "maybe" couch and a note saying send me a message if you want a couch.
And after all that, hope somne of it is useful and i'll wish you the best of luck and happy surfing!