While exploring Europe for six months last year, native Australian Lauren Smith had experiences which ordinary tourists and backpackers alike would envy.
“I hiked up the French Pyrenees mountains and spent the night partying in a 200-year-old abandoned villa,” Smith said. “I dove for urchins in the Mediterranean Sea, played African drums on the beach at four a.m. and learned to grow vegetables on the hillsides of Tuscany. just to rattle off a few adventures.”
Do you aspire to have similar experiences, but feel limited by your checkbook? Does the thought of Italy, Brazil, or Egypt excite your interest — that is, until you consider airfare, entertainment, and hotel costs? There is a way to forgo many of these expenses, while having a more authentic experience abroad.
Couchsurfing International, Inc. is a non-profit organization with the mission of “.internationally networking people and places, creating educational exchanges, raising collective consciousness, spreading tolerance, and facilitating cultural understanding.”
The organization’s website, www.Couchsurfing.com , allows its users to create profiles and arrange to stay in the homes of other users while abroad. This not only excludes the need to pay for accomodations while traveling, but allows the country to be experienced on a local level.
“Not only was my trip to South Korea much cheaper, but it was a much more culturally rich experience,” said Ryan Ruff, a Provo Couchsurfer. “When you are a tourist you see things from a distance as an outsider. As a CS’er you are able to completely immerse yourself in a new culture and experience it from within.”
Although many are at first skeptical of Couchsurfing, its design is legitimate. Pending members undergo an identity verification process, and privacy settings can be customized to fit individual comfort.
Similar to the online auction site eBay, where a reputation is built as things are bought and sold, on the Couchsurfing site a critique is given to anyone who “surfs” a couch or “hosts” a Couchsurfer. As a member accumulates more positive feedback, they become more reliable. It is safest to stay with and host those members who have proven their credibility.
Members may pick and choose whom to host, or choose not to host at all. Hosting, however, can be a satisfying alternative to travel. It allows members to experience new ideas and cultures without leaving home.
“Hosting foreigners has been a life changing experience for me.” said Matina Scapouli. “I have already hosted 50 people, for all of whom it was my responsibility to provide a fun, safe, and comfortable temporary home. I have really enjoyed joining them in their travels around my homeland of Greece.”
Becoming acquainted with the world is essential to gaining a full education. The world is at the doorstep of whoever becomes a part of this emerging organization. Save money while traveling, socialize with the locals, and acquire an appreciation for the various cultures of the world one couch at a time.