What if you could travel anywhere in the world, enjoy the ultimate tour guide, and drastically cut your travel expenses? Today thousands of people are having the time of their lives by “couch surfing,” a phenomenon of culture exchange and unique hospitality.
These fun loving, optimistic travelers are ditching the impersonal hotel scene and bunking in other people’s homes all over the world – free of charge.
By joining the online community at couchsurfing.org, you can host members in your home and the next time you make travel plans, find someone to stay with who knows the local scene. Whether you’re stopping over for business or pleasure, members in over 230 countries open their homes and their hearts to their guests. Their motto, “Creating a better world, one couch at a time,” is the inspiration behind this worldwide community.
Local couch surfer, Elyse Poland of Edmond has been a member for four years. She’s travelled to Ireland twice and to several states. She and her roommates regularly host people, entertaining guests from Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S.
Poland said her experiences have been life changing. “I’m not worried they’re going to take off with my TV. My dad raised my brother and I to trust our instincts, have a clear head, and be aware of our surroundings. Even if nothing happens to you your whole life, you’re always wary of something that could go wrong but I’ve learned to trust people.”
When a Portland, Oregon guest, “Jason” bunked with her he found himself in the middle of something Oklahomans are used to: a tornado warning. He phoned Poland at work in a near panic. “I was trying to tell him what color the sky is before he should hide. He was panicking a little bit so I told him to get my bedding and get into the closet. I gave him all the precautions Oklahomans are taught from the age of three in about 20 minutes. He was frantic.” On the other side of the ordeal, he and Poland became good friends.
While the thought of trusting complete strangers raises some eyebrows, Poland has never felt alarmed. Trust works both ways, says Poland. “Couchsurfing.org is very careful about who they allow to join the site. There are various verification processes, vouch-for-steps and they encourage everyone to do their own research.”
The site features member profiles complete with references and feedback from other people with whom that member stayed. With available information about a member’s interests, hobbies, and philosophies, you can get to know them a little before you knock on their front door. Members can also refuse to host anyone at anytime.
Oklahoma City Couch Surfing Ambassador Amanda Alewine says it affords priceless culture exchange and unforgettable experiences. When Alewine travelled to Belize, she learned firsthand that there’s no tour guide quite like a local host. Their couch surfer host, Jaime invited Alewine and her companion to a party where they found themselves welcomed among locals who don’t like tourists. “It was one of those cultural anniversary parties. They cooked us dinner, we danced and had drinks. It was the invitation from someone local that allowed us to be accepted. It was great, you can’t buy that.”
When Alewine and her fiance were in Switzerland, their host took them places where no tourists go, introducing them to friends and new experiences while keeping them away from vendors who prey on tourist’s wallets. “You get used to being treated locally. We went to another town and I was so used to being friendly, we met another guy who took us skiing and hung out that evening. It gives you that faith in people again. You start to realize that people are just people and if you give them a chance, they’ll show you great things.”
Poland couldn’t agree more. “It’s a great way to learn about culture but you also learn about people. No matter what backgrounds, philosophies or religions or anything else that tends to divide people, you realize you’re not that different at all.”
While some travelers are content with a luxurious hotel and quiet museum tours, couch surfers are on the edge of international adventure, connecting with people worlds apart. As they share ideas and passions and bridge the cultural gap, they might just make the world a better place, one couch at a time.
For more information about couch surfing, visit their website at www.couchsurfing.org