CouchSurfing is an Internet site which helps people find free accommodations around the world. But its founders say it's not just about the furniture - it's about participating in creating a better world.
According to CouchSurfing's website, three of the co-founders, Casey Fenton, Daniel Hoffer, and Sebastien LeTuan, became close friends while working together at a dot com Hoffer founded in 1999. Several years later, the idea for CouchSurfing solidified when Fenton bought a cheap ticket to Iceland for a long weekend. He came up with the "brilliant" idea of e-mailing over 1,500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik and asking them if he could crash on one of their couches. Exchanging e-mails with many of the students, he then had several groups of friends offer to show him "their" Reykjavik. After spending an amazing weekend just south of the Arctic Circle, Fenton decided he would never again stay in a hotel. Fenton then invited Hoffer, LeTuan and another friend and colleague, Leonardo Silveira, to co-found CouchSurfing.com with him.
The member-driven, non-profit website now boasts over a million members. Not all are willing to offer their couch, but most are agreeable to meeting for lunch or coffee to share tips about exploring the area in which they live.
Sandy Comer of Delta says there's a high level of accountability, because bad experiences quickly spread through the network. CouchSurfing also has vouching and verification systems in place. According to the website, verification is a critical process for some travelers. For others it's less important.
Darby, who is 59, said he only recently began finding his way around on the computer. When he was planning a trip back East to visit his parents, he posted his plans on craigslist, an online forum.
"I hooked up with some very interesting people, and the four of us rented a car together and drove to the East Coast," Darby said.
During the non-stop drive, Darby expressed his amazement at his ability to connect with them through the Internet. A fellow passenger said, "If you like craigslist, you're going to love CouchSurfing."
He described how it worked, and when Darby returned to the North Fork Valley he signed up for CouchSurfing. "The philosophy is amazing, because it's all about connecting people worldwide," Darby said. "The whole idea was grand as far as I was concerned."
Although he's not done any "surfing" himself, he has exchanged e-mails with several travelers. A couple stayed at his house; he met another traveler downtown for a movie. One young man pedaled his bicycle to Darby's home on Garvin Mesa, even though it would have been easier for him to stay with someone in town. He hooked up his computer to Darby's television and showed photographs of his journey. "He stayed a couple of days with me, packed up his bike and off he went," Darby said. Although he doesn't have any experience surfing someone else's couch, Darby said he won't hesitate to do it the next time he's traveling. His wife and daughter are a bit more skeptical. During a recent trip to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy, they opted to stay in hotels and hostels.
"I suggested they do some CouchSurfing, because it gets you right into the culture, but they didn't want to do it that way."
Darby likens the experience to a long "walk" he took to re-discover the goodheartedness of people.
"I almost made it to Santa Fe, N.M., then turned around and walked back home. When I was not offered a place to stay I walked all night long or took catnaps on the side of the road. In 60 days I walked all night just twice; every other night I was offered a place to stay. I was amazed how openhearted people are. CouchSurfing is an electronic way to extend that same kind of experience, and it's way safer."
Darby acknowledges that the vast majority of CouchSurfers are in their 20s, but he expects the demographics to "age" much as Facebook has.
Although he doesn't visit the site frequently, Darby says it's fun to pick a small, out-of-the-way place and see if a member lives in the area. Then he'll e-mail them and ask if they know an acquaintance who lives in the same community.
It's Ryan Christie's mission to travel the world on a journey of self-discovery. The 27-year-old Delta High School graduate first heard about CouchSurfing from a couple of Canadian friends who used CouchSurfing to explore Europe. They usually surf in groups of at least two, after one of them had a bad experience with a guy who was looking for a little more than having her stay at his place. "You do have to be careful who you choose to stay with," Christie said. "On the site you can see comments left by people who have stayed to help with your decision whether or not to stay with a particular person."
There is no obligation - or expectation - to pay the host for overnight accommodations, but Christie said he generally buys dinner or a nice gift to express his appreciation.
He has CouchSurfed with three different people. The first was a student in Innsbruck, Austria, who was "very nice." He showed Christie around the city and even cooked him a meal.
"He was in student housing so he had a studio apartment with an air mattress for me," Christie recalled. "The first night I slept on it, it became deflated in the middle of the night and I was practically sleeping on the floor. The kid's name was Andreas and it was his first experience hosting someone as well as my first experience staying with someone through CouchSurfing." Then Christie surfed the kitchen couch of three grad students in Munich. "The guys cooked some good meals for me and were very hospitable. They hadn't hosted anyone prior to me either. One of the guys took the time one day to show me around Munich.
"The last place I stayed at on my trip was in Vienna. This guy was a student as well and he took me to his Kung Fu training the night I stayed with him. He had surfed some couches in South America and met some really great people but once again I was the first person that he hosted.
"Overall I had a great experience. CouchSurfing is a really great thing for those who want to travel on a shoestring and don't mind where they sleep. You get a better sense of the culture and the city you are visiting by staying with someone that lives there. There are literally people that open their houses to you all over the world. Wherever you can think of traveling you could probably find someone to host you. It is a really great hospitality service for travelers. Not to say that there aren't people on there for the wrong reasons but overall it is a great thing."
If you'd like to "create a better world, one couch at a time," check out couchsurfing.com.blog comments powered by Disqus