Couches and surfing used to have nothing in common at all. Now these are precisely the two words that become the commonalities between people across the globe.
Couch surfing is a term referring to a traveler who finds accommodations on the couch of a person who resides in the place the traveler is visiting. This is not a process in which a hitchhiker with a backpack goes knocking on doors until he or she finds someone with an available couch and a willingness to let a stranger stay. Instead, this is a process in which hosts and travelers alike develop in-depth profiles through websites like couchsurfing.org and match themselves with a host or traveler that seems to be a good fit.
The purpose of couch surfing is not only to take advantage of a free place to stay, but also to meet people who are familiar with the area in which the traveler is in order to make the traveling experience better.
One benefit of hosting is to meet people who are traveling in the area, make his or her experience better than it would be if he or she were paying for a hotel and to make a friend.
“For me, I couch surf when I don’t have other friends or family to stay with,” said Brian Chernoff, a couch surfer who passed through Manhattan last night on his way to Ohio. “Couch surfing is a great resource for a cheap place to stay and a great way to make new friends.”
Kelsey O’Hara, junior in electrical engineering, has couch surfed in Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence and Munich.
O’Hara was couch surfing in Munich when the volcano in Iceland erupted last March.
All of the prices at hostels went up significantly, and O’Hara said she was glad that she and her friends were couch surfing instead of paying hostel prices.
On each profile, the couch surfing member has the opportunity to write about their interests, travel experiences and proficiency in languages. Also on the profile is a space for other people who have either visited or hosted the surfer to write positive or negative references about the surfer. Even though addresses are not shared through the website, there is an option to verify your address with the couch surfing organization, which also allows for more credibility for the surfer.
“It’s an experience you shouldn’t take lightly because they are accommodating you; you should do everything you can to accommodate them as well,” said John Bacon, K-State alumnus and active member of the couch-surfing community in Manhattan. “There are a lot of safety procedures that are available,” Bacon said. “Females traveling alone should choose their host appropriately.”
“I know a lot of people think of the movie ‘Taken’ when they couch surf, but if you do it smart and actually look into it, then it’s really not that dangerous,” O’Hara said.
“Using couch surfing is like using any other new technology for the first time,” Chernoff said. “I would advise using it no differently than something else like Facebook, YouTube or Craigslist.com. In other words, be smart, ask lots of questions, and err on the side of caution.”
One of Chernoff’s experiences with couch surfing combines the positives of a free place to stay with the opportunity to meet people from around the world and experience things that he would not have otherwise had the chance to experience.
Chernoff stayed in Los Angeles with an Eastern European woman who was living in LA at the time.
“When I got there, I found out she was hosting another guy from Belgium. She was also hosting a girl from Germany that lived in Spain who was on vacation from her job training horses,” Chernoff said. “We went to the beach one day where we met a girl from Sweden who worked in London. The girl from Germany was dating a guy from Egypt who was a professional body builder.”
Despite the cultural diversity that Chernoff was exposed to by staying with one women in LA, he sets apart one aspect of this experience as particularly meaningful.
“The most amazing of the whole group was the girl from Sweden who was a part-time model and a full-time aerialist in the London Royal circus,” Chernoff said. “We were going to meet the Swedish girl on the beach. She texted us to cancel because she got invited to meet with Disney producers who wanted to make a movie about her life because the most amazing part is, she was completely deaf. We met her, and I had spent 3 months learning sign language. I knew just enough to translate her Swedish sign language to English so that the others could understand her.”
To use his newly learned sign language in befriending the Swedish woman is something that Chernoff said he will always remember, all thanks to surfing a couch.