Couchsurfing: more than just a free place to stay

CouchsurfingHere at Gadling we’ve talked a lot about Couchsurfing, a very cool organization where members host each other. It’s an amazing example of how the world can work if you have a bit of kindness and trust. Millions of people have slept for free on millions of couches and made millions of friends in new places. I’ve been a member for a year and I’ve gotten a lot out of it, yet I’ve never once surfed a couch with them.

The two times I’ve used Couchsurfing have been when I’ve come up to Santander in Cantabria in northern Spain to explore the city in anticipation of moving there. Both times my wife was with me and she prefers hotels over couches, so we didn’t try to couchsurf. We both had great Couchsurfing experiences, though.

Before we visited last October I got onto the Couchsurfing Cantabria forum and announced we wanted to meet locals and learn more about life in the city. They organized a party for us and 25 people showed up! We got heaps of restaurant and bar recommendations, an invitation to a hike, and my wife got a list of local yoga studios.

We stayed in touch with the friends we made and this week we visited again. This time we got more suggestions of places to go, my son was introduced to a kid his age, and one of the Couchsurfers turned out to work for a rental agency, just the thing we needed! One well-connected woman is going to hook me up with a writer so I can tap into the local literary scene and a spelunker so I can get back into caving. Thanks to Couchsurfing, we won’t be moving to a city of strangers this September.

Couchsurfing puts you in touch with interesting, open people the world over. If you’re interested in exploring a new place to move there or just to visit, get your free membership and start networking!

International CouchSurfing Day: Do you have a couch lined up?

Ten years ago on June 12, CouchSurfing was born–or rather was registered as a domain name and sleeping on the couch of people you just met became an organized system. More than just a way to hook people up with a free place to call it a night, CouchSurfing was created as a way to help make the world a better place.

See, if you stay on the couch of people who have agreed that they like people to stay on their couch as a way to get to know traveling types and expand their connections, the world becomes more friendly. When you make this a global scene, the power just grows.

As a person who CouchSurfed before it was conceived as an organized entity, I can attest to the value of staying with strangers. When I traveled across the United States with a friend of mine after we got out of the Peace Corps, we used our connections of friends to stay with their friends and family members. In most cases it determined where we headed and the experience created a sense that the U.S. was warm, welcoming and friendly.

Our couchsurfing found us staying in: Des Moines, Iowa courtesy of a home for wayward women; at a dairy farm in Vinita, Oklahoma, an itty bitty town; a bachelor pad in downtown San Francisco; and in a house near the beach in Carlsbad, California. At each place we hadn’t met the people before we showed up at their door (or they picked us up at the bus station). The rest of the time we stayed with friends of ours or my family members in various towns and cities in Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and California. Her parents sprung for the hotel room in Seattle and Vancouver and we tented it Utah and at the Rocky Mountain National Park.

That do-it-yourself couchsurfing experience has prompted me to welcome other people who have needed a place to stay into my home which has added to the feeling of expansiveness. It has also created a rich bank of memories of the people who have stayed with us who live in other parts of the world. One of them, Rita Goldman Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad has made couchsurfing an integral part of her life. She stayed with her when we lived in New Delhi and we visited her two summers ago in Seattle.

Without our connections, there’s no way we would have been able to afford this trip and would have missed out on what helped me transition back into a life in the United States (until I moved overseas again).

Thanks to people don’t need to rely on their own connections which might be a paltry number. The whole world is ones oyster thanks to an organized, Internet based system. To date there are 232 countries, 59,929 cities and 1,168,136 people who are registered with couches.

To celebrate International CouchSurfing Day you can also begin looking for a couch in a place you’ve always wanted to go–or offer someone yours. Here are two events happening to celebrate the occassion.

For more Gadling couchsurfing perspectives check out Brook Silva-Braga’s experiences in northern Europe and Tynan’s in Haiti. Neil also vouches for couches and has fond memories of an experience in Kazakhstan.