Think sleeping on couches is limited to penniless backpackers? Think again.
With the success of networking sites that connect travelers around the world, the concept of couch surfing has evolved into a viable budget option for travelers of all types.
Rachel Belle Krampfner reports on the couch surfing experience for grownups.
Most of us were raised not to talk to strangers. We don’t make eye contact, we avoid them in the subway, on airplanes and in the street. But here we are, millions of us in 232 countries, inviting those very people into our homes, and sometimes even into our beds.
The popular travel Web site, CouchSurfing.com, connects travelers from around the globe who are looking for a free place to stay, or willing to host someone. Users have a profile with photos, similar to other social-networking site, but they also include details about their spare room, couch, or air mattress as well as their travel philosophies. The idea is not to use a fellow couch surfer’s pad as simply a free place to crash, but to meet new people, to explore a city through a local’s eyes and to promote trust, kindness and generosity.
Find out more about the site with Couch Surfing: Celebrating 1 Million Ways to Save on Accommodations.
I decided to join the 1,556,950 couch surfers registered on the Web site, and found myself outside a McDonald’s in Kanazawa, Japan, waiting for a girl who shares my name, age and home country. Rachel was traveling through Japan and needed a place to stay for the night. Based on her profile alone, she looked harmless, seemed fun and interesting, and didn’t mind sharing my tiny studio apartment. I prayed she wasn’t a sleepwalking kleptomaniac and accepted her request.
“My friend and I crossed the border from Pakistan into India and were desperately seeking a place to stay in New Delhi,” says California native, Michael Morgan, who has used Couchsurfing.com in his travels through Germany, Japan, Israel, and India.
For more destination insight from locals, check out our Ask the Locals series.
He connected with a belly dancer who agreed to host him on just three hours notice. “The next few days were a whirlwind of amazing. The best salsa and hip hop dancers in India were also staying there. The whole household treated us like family. It was wonderful to stay up late, watch them dance, and discuss everything we had in common. It truly was a global community.”
“I stayed with someone in Japan who was using people as secretarial slaves,” reports Morgan. “In exchange for staying, I had to work six hours a day in her tiny room filling out applications and sending out grants. She complained of my clothes smelling and demanded I get out of the house. When I returned, we entered a conversation about religion. I let her know my religious beliefs, when she asked, and she proceeded to insult and degrade [them]!”
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Morgan left, despite being broke and having nowhere else to stay, and ended up sleeping under a cardboard box in a homeless park that night. Still, it didn’t turn him off to the idea of couch surfing.
“I use CS because I believe everyone is innately good. It saves money and allows me to interact with people from all over the world who know the place I am visiting far better than any guidebook or Internet site.”
The Web sites encourages couch surfers to post undeletable testimonials. Travelers and hosts perusing a profile can read what others had to say, and see if a potential guest/host was given glowing or unfavorable reviews.
Not into the whole couch crashing thing? There is another way to have an inexpensive, but homey, travel experience. You can rent a room, or an entire apartment, from a local on www.airbnb.com, which is a play on Airbed & Breakfast. Travelers can avoid characterless hotels, and usually pay a fraction of the price, while vacationing in some of the world’s most expensive cities.
Explore more options with Couch Surfing Options for Sleep on the Cheap.
Currently, there are more 900 participants in New York City alone, but also plenty of beds in smaller towns around the globe. Some hosts are in the next room, flipping pancakes to share with guests, while others are out of town, trusting their home to strangers.
Francis K. and her husband have rented out their stylish Upper East Side apartment on 10 occasions for $129 a night. They provide towels and linens and guests are free to watch TV and use the Internet.
“Our experiences have been overwhelming positive,” she says. “Since people know that they are visiting someone’s home they are very respectful. There have been quite a few times where we had guests stay without leaving a single trace. Except maybe a bottle of wine!”
Guests pay in advance online, by credit card or PayPal, to avoid the awkward disputes over money and any damages can easily be covered. The money is transferred to the host after guests arrive. Hosts can also choose their own cancellation policy.
As for me, my couch surfer was neither a sleepwalker or a kleptomaniac. We instantly clicked and I felt completely content sleeping just feet from this not-so-strange stranger.
As a traveler, I love the idea of showing a fellow globetrotter a good time in a foreign city.
But if my mom asks, I still don’t talk to strangers.
By Rachel Belle Krampfner for PeterGreenberg.com.