Imagine letting complete strangers into your home. Weary and weathered with an industrial-sized backpack on their shoulders, they stop at your place while on a journey around the world. The only information you have about them is a photo and short profile on a website.
Would your couch be available?
In the current age of the "sharing economy", this concept might not seem so strange. With the rise of companies like AirBnb and Uber, new travel norms have formed.
But one platform existed long before such companies were created: Couchsurfing.
In 1999, co- founder Casey Fenton, then a 22-year-old traveler, e-mailed over 1,500 local students in Iceland asking for a place to stay. He received over 50 offers for accommodation. This generosity which sparked the idea to form a couch surfing network.
These days, people from all over the world can log on, create a profile, and become a part of a network spanning 200,000 cities and over 10 million people. You can register as a host — welcoming travelers into your home — or as a traveler looking for a cheap stop.
With extra verification features, online messaging platforms, and reviews, Couchsurfing has attempted to allay safety fears through information sharing.
While the site is open to anyone, it can be particularly attractive to bootstrapping young adults during globetrotting adventures.
For Ohio University student Carrie Rumancik couchsurfed in France after a study abroad session. Couchsurfing came in handy when her money started to run out.
“I was supposed to back- pack around Europe, and I didn’t re-budget until I was in France, and I couldn’t afford to do anything that I originally planned,” Carrie said.
Instead of cutting her trip short or going homeless until her flight home, Carrie worked on a donkey farm and couchsurfed. She described the encounter with her first host, Hélène, as an amazing experience. “She gave up her bed, and that’s not a usual couch surfing thing,” Carrie said, adding that Hélène cooked delicious French cuisine, took her swim- ming in the Mediterranean and helped her resolve a mix-up with her train tickets.
Another former OU student, Ryan Boone, has couchsurfed in Colorado and West Virginia, applauds the program for its economic practicality and social benefits.
“Everyone loves traveling, but the thing that holds them back is the expense,” Ryan says, “It’s great when you have this opportunity to go and stay somewhere for free.”
However, no system is without its flaws, some travelers mentioned that couch surfing can present a few peculiar problems, such as lack of sleep and uncomfortable accommodations.
Being a female traveler, Carrie took safety precautions when booking her hosts, but still felt anxious.
“I made sure the hosts had some sort of reputation or voucher or something,” she
said. “I was still nervous the whole time, though.”
As a non-pro t organization, couch surfing is completely free for travelers. Most surfers,
however, give back to the hosts that have warmly opened their doors—and their pull-out couches.
“People don’t really expect anything out of you, but usually I get them a six pack of beer or something,” Ryan said.
Couch surfing relationships don’t have to end once the sofa is folded up.
Carrie keeps in touch with Hélène through emails, and Ryan knows that he is welcomed back at his West Virginian host’s home whenever he needs. “I don’t plan on staying at a hotel ever again,” Ryan says. “There’s no need to when you have people like this.”
Have you couchsurfed before? Let us know in the comments below!
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Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.