I recently signed up with a site called CouchSurfing.org. The premise of the site is that those looking for free lodging can hook up, via Internet, with those who have a couch (or a spare bedroom) available. The point is to provide travelers a way connect with natives in whatever area of the world they’re visiting. Because we have a spare bedroom and because I just love meeting people from other countries, I excitedly signed up to be a host, much to the chagrin of my extended family and circle of friends. “You will get killed in your sleep!” predicted on friend. “You’re crazy,” lamented another.
I see their concerns, but after browsing through the site, I am pretty sure that the vast of those on the forums are not ax-murderers. First, there is a feedback system, where you and others can leave references for those you host or stay with. Secondly, you’re not obligated to host (or to stay with) anyone who contacts you. You can take your time, get to know them as well as possible, and decline anyone with whom you do not feel comfortable. For those who do not have couch to offer or who do not want to host a stranger in their homes, there is an option to offer to meet travelers for a cup of coffee, or to show them around your town a bit. All of this combined with the fact that I’m sort of a Pollyanna when it comes to things like this led to me jumping up and down with glee when a potential CouchSurfer contacted me a couple of months ago!
Her name is Svenja, and she’s traveling from Germany with her young son. To make our first CouchSurfing experience even more special, she’s arriving on Christmas Eve! Yes, she’ll be spending Christmas with our family. I have exchanged dozens of emails with her, and am really looking forward to showing her around our area in southwest Florida, and showing her a typical American Christmas, besides!
We are planning a big European vacation in a couple of years, and we will probably try CouchSurfing for part of the trip. We have plenty of family and friends in Germany, which is where our vacation will start, but we don’t know anyone in Switzerland or Italy, the other countries we plan to visit… and what better way to immerse ourselves in the culture than to stay with natives?
This type of travel may make it more feasible for families with children to explore faraway destinations; after all, one of the biggest expenses when traveling is lodging, and CouchSurfing helps reduce those costs. When you travel with kids, you do need to practice due diligence, check references, and follow your instincts.
I will let you know how it goes with Svenja’s visit. My expectation is that we will have a wonderful, magical Christmas, particularly because we’ll be sharing it with a new friend. I also hope that as the years go by, my children remember this is yet another time we’ve opened our home to someone of a different culture, and that they, too, are inspired to want to meet others from around the world.
Would you consider hosting a CouchSurfer, or CouchSurfing yourself? Why or why not?