Sunday, August 2, 2009

Grandma, DON'T read this post

There's this thing called couchsurfing, maybe you've heard of it? I know I never had until recently. It is essentially a group of people from around the world who have collectively decided that they will allow travelers to surf their couch, a.k.a. stay with them (for free). Hopefully these hosts will have the good karma passed on to them and someone will allow them to surf when they travel next. It's all kind of on an honor system; there's no rule that says for every time you surf, you must then host, it's just part of the community ethos that couchsurfing is a give and take. The idea is that the best way to really get to know a city and a culture is to get to know the people who live there. Hosts don't just lend you their couch and send you on your way. Often they will cook dinner for you, be your tour guide, and introduce you to their friends.

There are a number of internet based networks that connect these like minded travelers, but the biggest of them is There are systems in place to increase security, like name and address verification and references from other travelers. Obviously you still have to use your head, but it's quite a few notches above answering an ad on CraigsList.

I think it's an awesome idea. I like the community feel of it and I like that you get "the real Barcelona" (or Prague, or Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpar, etc.). Plus, since my whole mission for this trip is to learn about myself and the world around me, I'm not approaching it like your typical tourist on vacation. What better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to meet and live with locals (albeit only for a few days at a time)?

So I signed up and paid the $25 suggested donation to verify my name and address. Looking through the profiles of other members is a bit daunting and intimidating, though. Some members have been active for years and have very specific "rules" for making requests. As someone who's never done this before, I'm afraid I won't follow proper couchsurfing protocol and etiquette (by accident, of course). Bottom line is that I have no idea if this is actually something I'd follow through with on this trip. At the very least, however, my donation is supporting something I believe in and would like to see continue.

Btw, contrary to the title of this post, I've told my grandmother about couchsurfing before, so I'm not trying to lie to her or hide anything from her. But I know that she worries, so I wanted to give her a heads up in case she chose not to read. :-)

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