By Jin Kok
Couchsurfing was conceptualised in 1999 when founder Casey Fenton needed a place to stay after finding cheap tickets to Ireland, this would be the start of a global network that now has almost 3 million users.Couchsurfing.org works like any social networking site with a profile page but the difference is that people can leave reviews and ‘vouchers’ on your page.
These features bring an element of transparency and give the amount of trust both parties put into the exchange, they help to paint a clearer picture of the stranger you are letting into your house or the person whose couch you will crash on.
Also described as a hospitality exchange network, Couchsurfing’s mission is to ‘create inspiring experiences’ which according to the website “are fun, exciting and accessible experiences that stimulate people to learn and grow.
“Experiences of this nature encourage people to explore and connect with people and places that are different than what we’re accustomed to.”
Kelly Bowers, 50, has hosted surfers back home in Washington, DC, says she hopes to see more ‘surfers’ of her generation.
She says having an intergenerational aspect to couchsurfing would make the community more robust and it is up to the current couchsurfers to spread the word to their older friends.
Local couchsurfing host, Phil Harker says the majority of people who ‘surf’ at his place are usually single, from the 18 to 25 age group and are most likely in their gap year.
He says the economics of couchsurfing and the lack of family commitments at that stage in life makes ‘surfing’ appeals more to that that demographic.
“With couchsurfing.org in particular, because of the references and the vouching, there is a sense of safety that you are in a safe environment…people can get on there and read for themselves the reviews and vouching,” he says.
Kelly Bowers says she always tells people to ‘trust their gut’ when it comes to couchsurfing.
“You absolutely have to get good at tuning into your instincts and listening to them,” she says.
“The biggest mistake that you will make is not listening to them.
“And its not like something horrible will happen to you, but you do yourself a grave disservice if you don’t listen to them.”