Friday, March 14, 2008

Surf the new green wave of travel: couch surfing!

Surf’s up, travelers! And I’m not talking about surfing the waves. I’m talking about surfing couches! Step into the world of couch and “help make the world a better place one couch at a time.”

What am I talking about? The new bohemian craze in travel:couch surfing. Couch surfing was invented by Casey Fenton - he was young and a little low on funds and got a free ticket to Iceland. Only problem: nowhere to stay. And he really didn’t have the money or the inclination to hole up in a hotel, so he used the internet to find people willing to put him up at their place. The rest in online history (beginning officially in 2004). Currently over 226 countries have couch surfers and almost 40,000 cities!

I heard about couch surfing from two friends of mine, Katell and Damien, from France. She couch-surfed from Charlottesville to Quebec just recently by herself, but before that her and Damien couch surfed in France, to Chicago, New York and in a three-week trip across the U.S. The first question I asked my friend, Katell, an unassuming petite woman who doesn’t weigh more a small chair, “Is it safe?” She said in all of her couch surfing experience, she has never had any sort of problem. There have been people she didn’t really gel with, but in that case you politely say that things aren’t working out, and no worries - one finds another couch.

Because of the open nature of the system, it weeds out potentially creepy customers. The social networking format includes “vouching” and “verification.” The nice thing, she said, is that you call the shots. You read an individual’s profile as your planning a trip and decide if they sound like a good match for you. Once you decide, you share your profile with them and they decide if it’s ok to surf on their couch for the night, or two or more. If they do, they will invite you.

In talking with Katell, the most beautiful thing I am struck with, besides the fact that it is so green (no big hotel with the hall lights on 24-7, no plastic goodies) is that it really brings a much more human side to travel. She said that she has met some amazing people who have really become good friends throughout the world.

Couch-surfing expands your comfort zone (no more retreating back to your empty hotel room). You meet new people and have a totally local experience. Katell said that she had asked for an invitation from a girl whose parents owned a lake in the country, so she invited her there instead and had an amazing experience kayaking with her and her family. “You realize that people are nice and generous and you may not get along with everyone, but everyone’s spirit is the same. It’s magical, yet simple really.“

It may not be your style (personally I’m not sure how many people want my four year old surfing on their couch!), but if you are adventurous and outgoing, willing to meet interesting people, and be a bit more flexible and accepting of a less- than-perfect situation (smaller bed, you pitch in with the dishes, etc), couch surfing might just be for you!

A segment from their mission statement: CouchSurfing (is an international non-profit) seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding. As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal."
CouchSurfing is

For more details check out www.couchsurfing.comNamaste, my travelers.

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