COUCHSURFING: New experiences for travelers await
WHEN the travel bug bites it can be contagious, I’ve heard people say. The thought of traveling to a foreign country can be daunting for some. However, many would agree that once you force yourself out of your comfort zone, discover new places, meet new people and have new experiences, the feeling is often one of great achievement as well as a newly acquired zest for life. I’ve heard the same thing said by people in their 50s and 60s.
A well-traveled Canadian once said to me, “Galen, there are two things in this world that you should never pass up: learning something new and traveling experiences.” How right he was. The two seem to go hand in hand.
Websites and services such as Skype and Facebook have made traveling to faraway countries far less daunting than times past. These allow us to stay connected to family and friends wherever we may be in the world.
The cost of travel, however, is a reasonable argument for us not traversing across more of our planet. They haven’t yet invented a commercial airplane that can fly on air or cheap biofuel — at least not one that we’re allowed to use yet. There’s also the cost of accommodation to consider, which seems to be higher according to higher levels of comfort. Enter CouchSurfing.
What is CouchSurfing?
CouchSurfing is simple. People volunteer to host a traveler from another country for an agreed-upon amount of time and travelers get free accommodation and the chance to meet and engage with local life. Couchsurfing.org has become an international, non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries worldwide. Millions have used CouchSurfing for cultural exchanges and to help them along their travels.
The response from travelers and locals alike has been hugely positive and there is a library of positive testimonials and experiences on the CouchSurfing website. It continues to show massive growth since its inception in 2004, with over three million successful couch-surfing or hosting experiences recorded to date.
“Our mission as an organisation is to create inspiring experiences: cross-cultural encounters that are fun, engaging, and illuminating. CouchSurfing’s initial focus was on hosting and ‘surfing’ [staying with a local as a guest in their home]. We have a vision of a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Each CouchSurfing experience shared by our members brings us closer to that vision.” — www.couchsurfing.org
How does CouchSurfing work?
Couchsurfing.org offers step-by-step instructions for getting started as a either a surfer or a CouchSurfing host. It basically uses profiles, by which each member is required to create and share as much information about themselves as possible. Many CouchSurfers tend to meet one another and offer to act as references. Reviews or comments are encouraged, which helps hosts and surfers shortlist their choices.
The service is free to use by both parties. However, upon signing up I discovered that they do ask for an initial donation of $3,24. It states that this is used to send you a postcard to verify your address. Apart from this there don’t seem to be any costs. They have even banned any commercial activity on the website and anyone who charges a CouchSurfer to stay is removed from the directory.
The benefit for those who offer to host travelers is often simply meeting and sharing experiences with interesting people. “Hosts have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world without leaving home. We also give more people the chance to become travelers, because surfing lowers the financial cost of exploration.”
If an enticing CouchSurfing profile isn’t enough to get you picked, users can also contact their local ambassadors, several of which have become CouchSurfing members. Couchsurfing.org offers an index of ambassadors worldwide. It also encourages users to become active members by meeting as many CouchSurfers as possible and building up contacts and references.
Is CouchSurfing safe?
CouchSurfing appeals to those rare human traits we all possess but so seldom exercise: self-education and trust. It’s fair to say that CouchSurfing should be used at your own discretion, and it is up to anyone who participates in CouchSurfing to help protect themselves and each other by educating themselves and sharing information about other people’s interests and perspectives. You can see who other members’ friends are and how they know them, and you have the ability to correspond with them as much as you want before you meet them. As an extra precaution, CouchSurfing.org offers a safety page for more information about the different types of information systems that help you make educated decisions while using CouchSurfing.
- Visit www.couchsurfing.org if you would like to join this global phenomenon or if you would like to host a traveler from another country.