October 18, 2009

CouchSurfing: International travel through staying free abroad

Perhaps, it is not news to you, but that was something of novel to me.

Would you rather stay at someone’s hospital house during your vacation, instead of hotels and hostels? I bet, you would, and it became very possible thanks to the couch-surfing, or, in other words, stay through an informal cultural exchange that lets you to see a foreign country from inside in.

What Is Couchsurfing?

It all began when a 29-year old webmaster, Casey Fenton, visited Iceland in 2004 without much money in his pockets, and stayed with the students who he found on the internet. Upon his return still under a deep personal impression from his stay, he created www.couchsurfing.com to spread the word out about this free international tourism, made possible through a friendly free stay at someone’s house.

Are you planning to host your own pen-pals?

If you are thinking of hosting someone you’ve been corresponding with from another country, all you have to do is to visit Fenton’s site, www.couchsurfing.com, to register for free. All you need to include is your name, age, address and hobbies, and to specify how many people you can host at your home, what excursions you can organize for them, and whether you would be open to share a home meal with them. Very personal and approachable, which makes one to wonder how true and legitimate it is, however, it is as simple and real as it looks, and many testimonials on the site are there to prove it to you.

Moreover, the site, being a very easy and visually attractive one (no unnecessary information bulk up the site), it offers more than just requests and locations, it also provides you with the tips on how effortlessly and conveniently find the information you need.

According to the statistics (extracted from the website’s traffic and registrations), there are currently more than 1.3 million registered users, 1.4 million of “couch-surfers” have had, thus – they’ve shared this experience with the other users – successful surf/host experiences, 2.5 million – had positive experiences, and more than more than 1.5 million have made friendships out of their pen-pal traveling experiences.

"I have met and stayed with some incredible people through CouchSurfing.com. These are warm, friendly local people who a regular tourist would never meet, and their travel experience would be far richer if they had. Besides the obvious benefit of not having to pay for accommodation, CouchSurfing allows travelers to experience a country and its culture from within, instead of just as an observer. Inevitably, a CouchSurfing host will introduce you to his or her friends, and take you to the places that they enjoy. Basically, you can become part of their life for the time you're visiting. I promise your life will be richer through your membership to CouchSurfing, " says Steve Savage, a couch-surfer from Australia.

You have 231 countries and 64,728 cities to choose from that are currently represented on the site.

Are you the one who is going away?

Before you contemplate your leave, make sure you understand the goals and needs for your trip – from routes to take, dates of your trips, and what age and hobbies you’d like for your couch-surfer to have. Once you logged it all in, you’d be taken to the page that matches your needs with someone who can offer it all to you at the best compatibility.

Websites to Know, Free Stays and Guides

More and more sites have been popping up as the popularity of free fun trips grew. Here are a few other non-commercial community sites that offer inexpensive (or free) traveling and staying exchanges:

www.intervac.com

www.hospitality.org

www.globalfreeloaders.com

www.bewelcome.org

If you are looking for a local guide, not some commercial tour guide, who does it at his/her own time and way, and who introduces you to the city in unconventional non-standard way – let’s you see and experience the real “best-kept secret” places of his/her home city, try one of those local guide associations, like Big Apple Greeter, who has more than 300 local residents – volunteers to guide you through NYC as they know and grew up with it.

www.bigapplegreeter.org

Now it also offers local guides in the cities of Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Toronto, Paris and Nantes.

www.warmshowers.org

The site that is a bit older than CouchSurfing, and it is focused on bike travelers.

Is It Safe?

From the beginning of its existence (it’s been around for five years now), CouchSurfing has not experienced any serious incidents of any kind. CouchSurfers could go through a check up by sending a post letter to identify if the name and the address of the other CouchSurfer is legitimate. Moreover, the travelers who used CouchSurfing, leave their comments and feedback, and anyone is free to accept or decline a request for a home stay.

Who Uses The Website?

This site is not for everyone. Especially if you are a cheap person who does not see this experience as bearing any benefits to you as an individual. All the people who participate in couch-surfing love the experience. They find it culturally enriching and fulfilling on personal levels, such as friendships and education. Since no one benefits financially, there is no charge of living at any kind, people who are not sincere in their reaching out to other travelers would just not bother to participate in the first place.

I’d love to hear about your couch-surfing experience.

1 comment:

elladavis said...

Couch Surfing is an amazing experience and has really evolved into an incredible movement that we would be participating in. Couch surfing is an alternative free lodging option for international and domestic travelers.