A Travel Guide for the Couch Potato

By: Nick Cox

Couch surfing involves travelling to a destination, anywhere in the world, finding a person with a kind face and asking them if you can sleep on their couch for the night. A pastime reserved only the insane, but now, thanks to the internet, it has become a social phenomenon.

A dedicated couch surfing website has been set up, which allows people to search members who are willing to provide free lodgings for the night. It has more than 300,000 members worldwide, with up to 10,000 more signing up each week.

The website founder, Casey Fenton, came up with the idea after searching for cheap flights to Iceland in 2004. He found the thought of being just another faceless tourist, enduring cheap hotels for a weekend unappealing.

So he came up with an idea that would provide a more insightful perspective to travel, whilst also saving a few quid in the process. He went about emailing 1500 students in Reykjavik, asking if they would consider putting him up for the night. He had over 100 positive responses.

After exchanging emails, he was successful in securing several groups of students who were willing to show him around their city. After an amazing weekend, Casey decided that he would never again take the traditional tourist route and he began to wander why more people didn't take this approach to travel. The Couch Surfing Project was born.

To begin your couch surfing adventures all you need to do is sign up, create a profile, plan your trip and then begin emailing your potential hosts, or you can offer to host surfers yourself.

Inviting complete strangers into your home obviously comes with risks, so several precautionary measures are taken by the website to avoid any one taking advantage of people's hospitality. One visitor in the United States was reported have helped himself to the host's credit card.

The site has a verification system in place to insure that members are using their valid name and address, and every member is linked to other users he or she knows in the system through a network of references and friend links. People are also allowed to leave testimonials on your profile.

The Couch Surfing Project isn't just about travelling on the cheap. At its core there is quite serious message. The following is taken from its mission statement:

Couch Surfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding... We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives.

The user testimonials on the site echo the sentiments of the above statement, with many claiming that couch surfing has changed their lives. There is clearly more to this than just getting a free place to stay.

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