Where Surfing Meets Couches: Adventure and Hospitality In Many Cultures

When you are planning to travel there are many things that you have to take into consideration: transportation, food, places you desire to go, things you want todo, expenses of the trip, and where you will stay overnight. While the practice of hitchhiking goes back many years and has taken care of transportation for those who can’t afford it, a new phenomenon has arisen for finding a free place to stay. That phenomenon is couch surfing.

The Urban Dictionary defines couch surfing as “A cheap form of lodging used mainly by college-students or recent college-grads, where one stays on acquaintance’s couches rather than a hotel.” It defines the couch surfer as “one who defeats homelessness by relying upon a series of friends’ couches. A friend or acquaintance who frequently crashes at your house. Can be due to inability to pay his own rent, frequent and/or persistent intoxication, or reluctance to return to his own dwelling.”

While couch surfing can occur in a variety of ways, there seems to be one company and website that started the idea and has the largest network–CouchSurfing. It all began when Casey Fenton found an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland in 1999. He decided to randomly email 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay with them. How he had access to those emails is beyond my knowledge, but it led to him receiving more than 50 offers for accommodation. When this happened he came up with the idea to create a network where people could get to know others by their profiles and stay for free in areas all over the world.  According to Wikipedia, a beta site was launched in January 2003 by Fenton and 3 others and it became a public site in January 2004. The site had just over 6,000 members by the end of 2004. As of October 2011, the site has over 3 million members.

Couch Surfing gives travelers the ability to learn cultures from the locals and form many new friendships. You can also be a host by sharing your hospitality and experiencing your city through new eyes when you offer travelers a place to stay on their journey. CouchSurfing describes itself as a community and a movement.  It is a global community with members in over 230 countries and territories around the world. There vision is to see “a world where everyone can explore and crate meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community.” There mission states that they desire to “create inspiring experiences.”

I first heard about couch surfing this past summer from someone I worked with. When she explained what it was, my immediate reaction was, “Are you serious!? People actually do that?” I was a little sketched out by the idea and my inner child reminded me of stranger danger, but there are several precautions taken to ensure one’s safety when couch surfing.

This is one of the guys whose testimonial showed up own the site. I know I'm not supposed to judge, but I don't think I would want to stay with him... creepy.

  • There are references from the experiences of other couch surfers.
  • You can also see how many close friends they’ve made from their friend link.
  • Members profiles are not censored so that you know what to expect when staying with someone or hosting someone.

CouchSurfing also has a new member welcome team that will verify your information. I would add to the list do not couch surf alone–that way if a host is a murderer, at least there is a witness (please take note the sarcasm). There’s a reason Jesus sent the disciples out in two’s (Mark 6:7). It’s just like when we were kids and we were told to have a buddy to hold hands with as we crossed the street. There is more power in pairs. Ultimately, you make the decisions, so safety is up to you.

If you are planning on traveling this upcoming winter break, spring break, or summer break, couch surfing may be for you. It simply requires 3 things boldness, an adventurous spirit, and signing up for an account in order to create a profile and begin exploring your options. Be wise in your decisions and live life to the fullest!

Whether you are looking to stay in Rome, Paris, Sydney, LA, or Boston, CouchSurfing has a host for you. If any of you try this out make sure to let me know about your experience and possibly even post something on Anthrotourist about it. It’s really something how social networking and the internet have affected travel in so many ways, and the couch surfing movement is just one of them.

Here’s a video that displays another form of couch surfing.