“Aren’t you afraid of traveling alone? How can you afford traveling so much? Aren’t hotels expensive?” are the things people always ask me when I tell them my future plans. Well, the answer to all of these is CouchSurfing.
In case you haven’t heard of it yet, Couchsurfing is the practise of moving from one’s person’s house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch, staying for a few days before moving on to the next house or returning to yours.
The idea for the CS project arose after Casey Fenton found an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland in 1999. He randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay at their place. In short time he received more than 50 offers of accommodation. On the return flight to the USA, he began to develop the idea that would be the beginning of the CouchSurfing project.
And so it began
CouchSurfing was founded as a non-profit organisation in 2003 by Casey Fenton, Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan and Leonardo Bassani da Silveira. It is based in San Francisco and it offers hospitality exchange and social networking to its users. Today CS has over 4.8 million members in 207 countries. Famous couchsurfers include WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and singer Daniel Bedingfield.
My CS friend Sam Roberts is a passionate couchsurfer. “I slept in over 100 homes in more than 30 countries all over the globe. But I will never forget the first time. I was excited and terrified. My parents always taught me not to talk to strangers, not to mention sleeping in their homes,” says Sam.
When I decided to host for the first time back in 2008, I was quite worried. Will the surfer be friendly? Does he/she have different daily rhythm than me? Will I be a good host? The answer is: DO NOT WORRY!
You can easily check the security and references of potential hosts or surfers on the CS website. You can browse people by their age, location, gender and activity. Later on you can make further selection through personal preferences: their philosophy, languages they speak, music they listen. Everything is worked out in advance between the host and surfers.
The most important thing is that there is no monetary exchange. It is free and it is a great way for students, newly employed people or anyone adventurous to travel around the world. The best way to learn about the new country, its values and culture, is through the eyes of the locals.
One of the problems is that in the “popular” destinations, it won’t be easy to find an empty couch – it might take months. For example, I ended up homeless in Hawaii. I landed in Honolulu and I didn’t have a host – everyone was busy or already hosting somebody. But I always have back up money for cases like this – I went to hostel instead.
Also, from time to time, there is a misunderstanding or people just don’t connect. My dear friend, Maja Pavlovic from Serbia, who I met in London couple of days ago, had an unpleasant experience. She agreed to host a man for a night. The next day he asked if he could stay for one more night. The following morning he asked for couple of more. In the end she had to kick him out of her flat and leave him a negative reference on the CS website as a warning to his future hosts.
Sho Mitsuya from Japan, another CouchSurfing addict and friend of mine, says: “CS is made of people’s kindness, passion to travel and hospitality. You learn how important challenges in life are and the importance of coincidence and fate. I’ve visited 24 countries – most of Europe, USA and China”.
He lived in a couple of countries and still keeps moving around. Sho belongs to the new generation: the global kids. Surfers usually say: “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”.
If you don’t have money or time for traveling, you can still learn about the other cultures from the locals. You can always host. Kaya Novak from Slovenia hosted people from more than 40 countries: “If you can’t go to the world, let the world come to you”, she says via Skype with the wide smile. She made friends from all over the world and one day she might get the chance to visit them in their homes. You can do the same.
In the end it is not about the destination. It’s about those we meet along the way.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net