The CouchSurfing Project has nothing to do with The Beach Boys or crowd surfing on a futon (although that must be fun) and has everything to do with traveling the world by the seat of a couch — someone else’s, that is.
CouchSurfing.com is where couch surfers hook up with couch owners for a place to crash for a night or two for free at their travel destination. They can browse though the database of over 165,000 users from over 200 countries for those offering short-term accommodation. The search options include a cool Google Maps feature: one can select a continent and the locations of CS members in the area are displayed on the map.
Usually the surfer is a guest at the couch owner’s home, but doesn’t necessarily sleep on the couch. The surfer could end up sleeping on an inflatable mattress, a spare bed, or in a tent pitched in the backyard. For people who don’t like the idea of providing temporary lodging or prefer to sleep between pressed sheets at a hotel, they can state that they are part of the CS network for a coffee meet up. It can be an alternative way to play tourist and tour guide.
The CS Project’s mission is to “internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding.” And it is doing it.
Zak Young from Houston, Texas, visited Toronto for the first time last month, in search of a grandmother he recently found out about. He couch surfed the first night, and his host took him around the city. Young has fond memories of the Hot Box Café and has a soft spot for Tim Hortons and ketchup chips (apparently they are an indulgence unknown to Houstonians).
“[My host] was able to show me the places that I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own,” said Young. “[You] see the real city as opposed to what you would see as a tourist.”
Couch surfer Andres Vielma from Montréal stayed with Sadie Yancey and her roommate when he came to Toronto in January, also his first time here. He preferred to mingle with locals and hang out at places like the Madison Avenue Pub rather than visit museums and landmarks. Yancey feels the same.
“When I travel, I prefer to be somewhere and interact with people,” she said. “It’s a way to mix with someone who you wouldn’t normally run into but you may get along [with] quite well.”
CouchSurfing provides other useful travel information. There are some interesting safety tips for traveling in a foreign country — it’s suggested that a single woman visiting a potentially unsafe country alone wear a fake wedding ring. Though we don’t know how effective of a deterrent that would be if someone really insists in harassing you…
The network doesn’t claim to be the safest way to find people who will put you up for a few nights or who can keep your couch warm, even though it comes pretty close. It’s rumoured that one member used another’s address to deliver illegal drugs, and this guy seems to be looking for a one-way ticket out of the country.
However, CS offers a verification system to help filter out the stalkers and crazies responsible for the 0.2 per cent of negative CS experiences. A member can achieve higher levels of verification the further he or she can prove his or her identification. Be prepared to give out your credit card information to be verified, and pay $25 in the process (keep in mind that CouchSurfing is a non-profit collective).
The website could be more user-friendly. It has a lot of redundant layers without a consistent navigation menu and the wikis (which seems like most of the info pages) are messy. There probably are pages buried in CouchSurfing.com that will only be found by accident.
Despite the poorly designed website, the CouchSurfing network attracts thousands of members. And a lot seem to be couch surfing here — Toronto is on the top ten cities list, with 1,412 surfers as of this minute. You can join them and never spend a cent on a hotel room again, discover secret spots only locals can direct you to, and make friends across the globe. Ride the couch, dude!
Guy sleeping on couch by tailfeather, Got Couch? guitarist by Tiin4.