Since last May we’ve been a part of an online community called Couchsurfing. Yes, it is exactly what you think- people travel around the world sleeping on other peoples couches!! Ok, I know 90% of you are right now thinking “oh my god are you serious, you let strangers sleep on your couch!”. The answer is yes, and to be honest with you it has been a truly great experience. The site is set up with profiles (like ebay sort of!) where you post information about yourself and pictures. You can post as much information or as little as you like. Then you select if you are willing to host or if you are traveling (ie do you have a couch or are you looking for a couch). If you are willing to host you need to add information about the # of people you can host and the sleeping situation (ie, floor, private room, couch in the living room). Once you do that everyone can see your profile and request to stay with you. Like ebay you get references and can friend people on the site that you’ve met and trust. There are other security features there that are more boring so I won’t get into them… but it is regulated. Anyway, so say we get a request. We have no obligation to host them or even respond to their request if we don’t want to.
We get requests from all over the world and have hosted people from: Switzerland, France, Germany (so many germans!), Martinique, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Israel and Khazakstan. People are from all different backgrounds: students, doctors, teachers, writers, tv crews, fashion designers, etc… so its not just a group of free loaders.
While it was a little scary the first few times, we have house rules, etc.. so that everyone is on the same page. Seems to work pretty well. Very few people are free loading, most of them are just on vacation and want a real cultural experience, not what you get at a Hilton or a youth hostel.
Will we do this on our trip? You betcha. Spending a few nights with a family in another country is the BEST way to break down cultural barriers and get to really know another culture. Based on all the good experiences we’ve had and the interesting people on the site, I can hardly wait to get moving!