Surf The World on a Couch


This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on July 15, 2008.

The internet is a great place to hit up for travel advice, and as airline ticket prices skyrocket with fuel surcharges, saving some coin on accommodation could be a way to keep your travel on budget.

COUCHSURFING

I slept on the couch last night.

My son was kicking me off the edge of our bed. So I trundled down the stairs and curled up with a cozy blanket and a cushion and hung my ankles over the armrest.

It doesn’t sound very comfortable, but it was the best sleep I’ve had all week. You can keep your W and your Four Seasons, and your Fairmont – I’m choosing the couch.

If you don’t mind the couch, check out Couchsurfing.org, a website connecting travelers in need of accommodation with hosts with room to spare. More than 600 000 couchsurfers are registered from more than 44 000 cities.

But, as with anything, you’ve got to have your wits about you. As Laura recently wrote on her blog, From Sparkly to Single, some of the hosts can have other things on their mind.

“I had made arrangements about a month ago to stay with this guy named Angel who I met through Couchsurfing. I was supposed to stay with him for five days,” she writes.

“In between meeting me and dropping me, we managed to flirt up a storm at the tapas bar and he kissed me in the car. I was like, seriously? No. I want a nap and a shower.”

DIY B&B

The silver haired set is really taking to travel as they hit retirement and they’re flocking to the web to make it affordable.

Georges and Sandra Leroux are empty nesters who are members at EvergreenClub.com. The site allows the Lerouxs to operate as a do-it-yourselfi bed and breakfast where they offer the rooms in their South Surrey home that used to be used by their children.

The site is $75 a year to join and each host is requested to charge $15 per night and provide breakfast.

It’s a break even hosting opportunity and Georges and Sandy have used the service to stay in Las Vegas and have hosted many couples in their home.

HOME SWAP

For those with extra homes, not just extra rooms, a full property exchange is a way to see the world as the locals do.

Chuck and Steph Newell
are retired realtors with properties in Kelowna, Pender Island and France and first heard about home exchanges 20 years ago.

“When we first looked into the program you were provided with a weighty catalogue of homes complete with names and addresses and it was all done by written correspondence,” the couple says via email.

Things are much easier now with the internet as all the connections can be made through Homelink.org.

It can get a little tight to make exchanges sometimes, because you not only have to arrange to be on vacation and visiting as the same time as your co-hosts, but you’ll also need to find someone from a destination you’ll want to visit.

It gets easier, however, in a city like Vancouver where owners have multiple properties.

“Interestingly there are many people that have more than one home and offer non simultaneous exchanges so you could have access to a small apartment in Sidney Australia or a holiday home on the Gulf Islands.”

It takes a special type of person to do a home swap, say the Newells.

“You have to be willing to have someone use your things and your bed so if you can’t handle that stick to hotels.”

But if you have relatives in Edmonton and want to trade for a place in France, they have a deal for you.

“We have family in Edmonton with cats that we are allergic to so we can offer our place in the South of France in exchange for suburban Edmonton.”

Whether you have a house, a room or a couch to offer, hit up the web and make connections to save on your next vacation.

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Comments

comments

Previous 24hrs Blogosphere Buzz: 2008.07.16
Next 24Hrs Blogosphere Buzz: 2008.07.23

5 Comments

  1. Derek (a CouchSurfer)
    July 16, 2008

    To all who read this blog: I recommend you check out CouchSurfing yourselves before jumping to conclusions about it based on Laura’s experience. It does provide an opportunity to leave feedback that is visible for other would-be surfers and hosts, and I would hope that Laura did just that.

    For a sample of this feedback, feel free to take a look at my profile: http://www.couchsurfing.com/people/derekb

    Cheers,
    Derek (CouchSurfing across the USA)

  2. July 16, 2008

    @derek i agree with you COMPLETELY. this is just one person’s first experience. if you do your research, the couchsurfing experience can be fun as both surfer and host.

    thanks so much for dropping in with a comment.

  3. emily
    July 18, 2008

    Dear Mr. Bishop and fellow blog readers,

    While Derek brings up some up Couchsurfing’s safety features, I would like to address the mission of the site.

    By not giving any information or background on couchsurfing, this blog portrays it as merely a way to find free accommodation. This is NOT what couchsurfing was intended to be; I hope that we can save it from becoming about Free.

    Couchsurfing’s mission statement states, “Couchsurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding.”

    This project is an opportunity for both locals and travelers to meet, help each other, and learn and experience in ways that would be impossible, or at the very least improbable if you stayed in a hostel and used a guide book.

    I do agree with this statement of yours – “But, as with anything, you’ve got to have your wits about you.” Of course you have to be careful. Joining a website such as this, or any of the other similar versions, one must have a certain faith in the goodness of humanity. I trust the people who come into my home or allow me into theirs significantly more than I do people who share my dorm in a hostel.

    If you need more information on either the origin, the mission, or the safety aspects of couchsurfing, please click here.
    http://www.couchsurfing.com/help.html

    Couchsurfing is Not a dating site. It is Not dangerous. It’s Not about FREE. It IS about cultural insight.

    As a member for over 3 years, I’ve traveled the world and met amazing people who have taught me more than I ever could have discovered on my own. Even when I stayed in hostels, there were people to share Their city/country/world with me. I never would have guessed that the Syrians are some of the nicest most hospitable people. Nor would I have seen Cairo from a mountain top, orchids in Colombia, or discussed the post war development of Korean economy over dong-dong-ju and pajeon.

    Couchsurfing is about cultural exchange, which Laura did experience. More than once and not only through couchsurfing. I did not scour her blog, but a couchsurfing search did turn up this reference to a girl she met in France, a more positive experience than she had with Angel (in the May 3rd over view) – http://sparklytospouse.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html

    While I understand that couchsurfing is not for everyone, I hope that you can appreciate and more importantly portray the site as valuable for more than it’s frugality. Couchsurfing is a community of people who are interested in a different type of travel than you can experience staying in a hostel and following the guides. I do recommend that you try it; you can start by meeting the people in your city.

    All the best and happy blogging,
    Cheers,
    Emily
    Chicago, IL

    http://www.couchsurfing.com/people/emilyclare

  4. July 18, 2008

    Dear Buzz

    I would like to show your read a different side from the above tow comment.Couchsufing has a lot of politics going on inside secret group. They also like to censor the truth

    http://www.couchsurfing.com/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=1273757

    About couchsurfing trying to portray it is NOT a dating site do read
    http://www.nerve.com/dispatches/clark/foreignexchange/index.asp?page=2
    Wilder still is the story of Sexy Suzie, a twenty-eight-year-old CouchSurfing ambassador who was verified by no less than the site’s founder, Casey Fenton, under her real name. Sexy Suzie maintains a second profile for hookups, however — the profile links to her MySpace blog, which anonymously details her experiences attending swinging parties with other couch surfers

    Also do read about couchsurfers getting married
    http://www.couchsurfing.com/group.html?gid=2125

  5. July 25, 2008

    Hi, this is Laura, the author of the blog From Sparkly to Single quoted for my Couchsurfing experience with Angel in Spain in this article. I just wanted to state that if you read my blog post about him at http://sparklytospouse.blogspot.com/2008/04/my-spanish-amigo.html you will see that actually my initial response when Angel kissed me was not negative (my post was edited a bit for space reasons, I think, which is fine!) but I had second thoughts the next day. I do not think that either Angel or I were using the Couchsurfing site as a way to try to meet someone to date or for a hookup; I know I, for one, only contacted him because I was looking for a place to stay in Madrid. But once I met him, I happened to be attracted to him and I guess the feeling was mutual, so my experience is indeed not the main purpose of the site. I believe the reason I was taken aback by his aggressiveness was due to cultural differences that I didn’t enjoy – not because he was trying to harass me. I just wanted to clarify that. And I would also like to mention that after my experience staying with Angel, I have stayed with 4 other Couchsurfing hosts and had a wonderful experience in each case. So don’t let it scare you off Couchsurfing, it is a really great site with a great mission. Just keep your wits about you whenever you interact with a stranger and be smart about how you use the site.

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