Sleeping with Strangers
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 17:03
Couchsurfing allows people to see the world through the eyes of locals, while giving travelers a free place to crash
To some people, it’s an open invitation to kidnap, rape, murder or to combine the three. To others, it’s a way to travel.
Meeting someone from a foreign country over the Internet and asking to stay on their couch when you travel to their area may not seem like a wise idea, but political science senior Christian Edlagan has couchsurfed nearly a hundred times.
Couchsurfing.org was started in 2004 by a group of passionate travelers whose goal was to build a community for like-minded people who could exchange experiences and cultures, according to Colleen Sollars, community outreach manager for Couchsurfing International.
Couchsurfing has approximately 5.5 million members and has travelers, known as surfers, represented in 97,000 cities and in every country in the world, according to Sollars.
“Couchsurfing represents a unique way of traveling that puts people at the center — people who connect with each other online for the purpose of connecting offline. Members connect through the service to share their lives: traveling together, hosting each other in their homes and creating experiences and friendships together,” she said. “Some think of Couchsurfing as a way to find a free place to stay anywhere in the world, but it’s much more than that. For many of our members, Couchsurfing represents a way of life. As a couchsurfer, you have friends all over the world, even if you haven’t met them yet.”
For Edlagan, Couchsurfing started out as a cool suggestion from a friend as a way to travel without having the expense of paying for a place to stay and an interesting way to meet new people.
“I signed up hearing it a was a neat way to get a free ride and thinking it would be something useful to have in case plans fall apart,” he said. “But it turns out to be so much more than that. It’s not even just about surfing. Often, it’s a great way to meet other travelers or locals through personally contacting members for coffee or company to local events. In bigger cities, there are always Couchsurfing activities, which is very convenient if one is traveling alone,” he said.
According to Sollars, while the site’s main goal is hosting and surfing, it is common for couchsurfers to host events in cities across the world and create activities each week through the system.
“It’s a social travel experience, whether you’re home or away,” Sollars said.
Edlagan has used Couchsurfing to travel to more than 30 countries, either alone or with friends, and speaks very highly of his experiences.
“I have both surfed and hosted over the years, living independently, in student housing and working at a hostel, ironically, in Estonia, Belgium, Bulgaria and Quebec,” he said. “For something like Couchsurfing to develop in this day and age helps to restore some faith in our future, and I hope its awareness and its ideals continue to spread.”
“It’s about knowing wherever you go in the world, there is going to be someone who thinks like you, who has the same views of people, and you’ll never have to be alone. With Couchsurfing, you feel like you are really being invited to someone’s home,” Edlagan said.
Because Couchsurfing is a free service and members do not have the ability to have financial transactions with each other through the site, it cuts down on scams seen on sites like craigslist or sites where connected people exchange money, goods or services, Sollars said.
With the Internet comes many misconceptions and concerns regarding safety, but Sollars said most Couchsurfing experiences are positive. “There are rare negative experiences, of course, as in any large community that brings people together. Couchsurfing’s Trust and Safety staff is fully dedicated to supporting members who need support in the event of misuse or abuse of the system or service,” she said.
According to Edlagan, there is no better way to see a new place and immerse oneself in a new culture than by integrating yourself into the lives of the people there.