I heard about couchsurfing a few years ago and thought it was interesting-- but not enough to try it. I figured it would be a bunch of teenagers who wanted to get wasted on cheap beer all night long. I have no problems with said population, but it isn't who I'd spend all of my free time with.
Recently, I've started planning a trip around the world, and I was astounded at how expensive accommodation was. Let me put my dentures in and tell you about hostel prices back in my day. But seriously, backpacking for two people means that hostels are often not the most economical choice. Are we really going to pay $20+ each to sleep in a 12-bunk room when we could get a private hotel room with a private bathroom for a few dollars more? Unlikely, but spending that much each night wasn't going to work for us, either. A student mentioned couchsurfing in passing the other day when I mentioned this, so I finally went to check it out.
It was nothing like what I expected. Their emphasis is not on the free accommodation but on the community that is built from connecting with locals and getting to know a place from a real-person-living-there perspective. Their mission statement is "to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding."
Intrigued, I looked to see who the couchsurfers were in Christchurch, New Zealand. There were people of all ages and types, from 45-year-old teachers of the blind to 23-year-old artists-- all offering their couches for strangers to sleep on. It was remarkable.
So, I created a profile and went through all of the profiles to see who I liked best. (You can even select age, gender, etc. in your search.) Then, I sent a 'couchsurf request' to a couple in Christchurch and another to a family in Iowa City, Iowa. Within hours, the family in Iowa City had decided to take us in. I felt like a mad scientist, screaming "It works! It works!" Instead of blowing up in my face, the crazy couchsurfing 'invention' lit up and did somersaults.
For a while, I suspected couchsurfing was just a cruel joke the cool kids were playing on me. I would send a couchsurfing request to someone who seemed really nice and funny in their profile, and I'd be laughed to the ground for falling for it. My partner said they were probably serial killers just looking for fresh prey. Instead, I found really nice people who just wanted to connect with other open-minded, interesting people from around the world.
I'm excited to meet the people I've connected with-- they are people I would have chosen to be my friends, if we'd lived in the same city. I'm looking forward to meeting more people as my partner and I embark on a year of travel and field work, and I look forward to hosting nice people from around the world when our year of extended travel is over. Now, it's true that I haven't yet met any of these people in person, and they may turn out to be nothing like their 'chiseled, 6'3" and a souffle chef in my spare time' internet personas, but I'm optimistic.
If you're interested, you can check it out here. You can choose who you'd like to stay with, you can choose who stays with you -- or you can sign up to meet for coffee or a drink with people who are visiting your town and not host anyone or stay on anyone's 'couch' (which could range from a private bedroom to camping in someone's backyard). At the very least, I figure I'll have some interesting stories.
If we make it out alive.