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Thread: New era of 'trusting' travellers open up doors

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    Super Moderator Tati's Avatar
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    Default New era of 'trusting' travellers open up doors

    Becca Barnard never knows what to expect when she arrives at a total stranger's front door, jet-lagged and in need of a couch. But usually she finds they are only too happy to give her their spare keys, extra towels and free rein in their kitchens.

    The recent Arizona State University grad, who is currently surfing a couch in Granada, Spain, discovered this year that she could save money and make new friends using couchsurfing.com, a website that connects travellers to people in 230 countries with a free couch.

    "It's like Facebook," says Barnard, 24, who's originally from Los Angeles. Travellers connect through social networking discussion groups and can plan social events around the world, she explains. "Generally, you stay with people who have larger profiles, or who have similar interests or interesting things to say. It creates a couchsurfing chain."

    Since she started travelling in April, she has surfed couches in seven countries and has found many of them to be quite "comfortable." Her host in Munich took her out for an authentic German breakfast, her host in Prague showed her the cheapest place for a Pivo (beer) and her host in London served up a six-course meal.

    "In our generation, a lot of us are more open to new things and more trusting than our parents, so we're not suspicious of people," Barnard says. "We trust other travellers because everyone knows how it is to be out travelling the world and needing a place to stay."

    So far, that trust hasn't let her down too badly. The worst experience she can recall is being asked to vacate her Munich digs an attic draped with red velour so her host and his girlfriend could use "the love nest" for a while.

    The average age of a surfer is 26. And roughly 75 per cent of the site's users are under 30.

    But, surprisingly, couch-surfing isn't just for young, single travellers with strong backs. There is accommodation for entire families usually a room rather than just a couch and more than 4,000 users listed on the site are over the age of 60.

    New Hampshire resident Casey Fenton hit on the idea of starting couchsurfing.com while travelling to Iceland, one of the most expensive countries on the planet. He emailed 1,500 students in Reykjavik for a place to crash and received an overwhelming response.

    The experience inspired him and three friends to create a website with a mission "to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding," and he firmly believes "the surfing of couches" is a means to those ends. Couchsurfing.com spokesperson Trent Collins says its real goal is "to change the world, one couch at a time."

    Surfing experiences vary greatly. Sometimes you get a couch, other times, your own bedroom. Sometimes, it's much more "rustic." But hosts will tell you in advance what to expect usually. When avid surfer and Toronto resident Tim Pass arrived in Portland, Ore., he was informed the apartment didn't have a couch yet. He ended up tossing and turning on a wooden floor all night, without even a blanket or pillow.

    He went online the next day and found a much more welcoming host. He stayed there for a week, and he's repaying that kindness by showing his host around Toronto this summer.

    Pass thinks of it as couchsurfing "karma."

    "It's just cool to help someone out," he says. "I've been in the situation where you have no money and need somewhere to stay... If you're like `Oh man I spent $6 on lunch and I'm over my budget,' at least you know you have a couch to sleep on."

    The site claims more than 600,000 users worldwide and a stable of couches in more than 44,000 cities in 230 countries. Meanwhile, its popularity continues to grow, and summer is, of course, its busiest time. Last week alone there were almost 23,000 real-life introductions and 8,129 new couches.

    Canada is the fourth-most-popular destination for surfers, with more than 39,000 travellers landing on Canuck couches. Toronto is the 10th-most-popular city on the site, one of two Canadian cities in the top 10 (Montreal is third).

    Collins says the most serious problem he's heard of from fellow surfers is petty theft. In fact, as of July 1, couchsurfing.com boasts over one million positive experiences reported on the site.

    University of Toronto graduate Liz King has surfed couches in Japan, Switzerland, Thailand and Greece, and says the site creates a circle of trust based on user references and links to people who can vouch for the couch host.

    "I always choose hosts who have well-developed profiles and extensive references, and try to get to know them a bit over email," says King. "When I arrive in a city, I meet them in a public place first. There is always the option to politely decline the invitation and leave."

    King says that, in addition to saving money, couchsurfing offers a much more intimate and memorable travel experience, and a chance to make new friends.

    "I've been able to meet amazing, open-minded and inspiring people from around the world," she says. "People I am lucky enough to now count as friends."
    Sunny Freeman, Toronto Star
    If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.

    - Kahlil Gibran

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    Super Moderator Tati's Avatar
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    Some travel networking sites:

    Although couchsurfing.com is the largest online travel exchange program, there are many other social networking sites that help travellers find a free place to stay:

    GlobalFreeLoaders.com is a similar organization, but expects members to reciprocate by hosting a traveller within the next six months. GlobalFreeloaders.com / The Worldwide Free Accommodation Network

    Stay4free boasts that it was the first international accommodation networking site. It also lists people interested in house swaps. Home Exchange, House exchange, Free Holidays Accommodation, Vacation house swap

    Servas is an international non-profit that aims to bring about world peace through multicultural friendships. Membership requires an interview and approval by a local Servas representative. There are approximately 14,000 members in 135 countries. Sometimes there is a small fee involved. joomla.servas.org

    Women Welcome Women Worldwide is a female-only network that aims to foster international friendships between women of different cultures. Membership requires completion of an application form and a monetary donation. Members receive a list of 2,500 members in 70 countries. womenwelcomewomen

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    If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.

    - Kahlil Gibran

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    that sounds nice if you live in a global utopia, but in the age of craigslist rapists and facebook stalkers, no thanks.

    I don't want to end up in Hostel 3
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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    Elite Member moomies's Avatar
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    Canada is the fourth-most-popular destination for surfers, with more than 39,000 travellers landing on Canuck couches. Toronto is the 10th-most-popular city on the site, one of two Canadian cities in the top 10 (Montreal is third).
    Canada is relatively safe and free of psychos...unless you end up on a bus with a head decapitator.

    If you think it's crazy, you ain't seen a thing. Just wait until we're goin down in flames.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tati View Post
    the site creates a circle of trust based on user references and links to people who can vouch for the couch host.
    And what about vouching for the couch potato? Or is it only the hosts who are going to have devious plans?

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    Elite Member Penny Lane's Avatar
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    ANDDDDDDDDD THAT'S how you end up chopped up into little bits on someones plate.

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    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    Let the youngsters have their bit of fun, exploration, and adventure.

    I'm just fine with my hotels.

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    Gold Member Dorahacky's Avatar
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    Thanks for the info, Tati, I just registered with them.

    Sure, to do something like this is taking a risk, but then again, so is walking out your front door these days.

    Some of the nicest people I ever met were strangers, and some people that I once called my friends ended up being the biggest assholes.

    Just sayin'.
    We all like to think we're so special. But in the end, we all do the same stupid shit. - Dennis Miller


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    A*O
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    Mooching bum tourists/rellies have been doing this for years. I remember when an American cousin decided to land on my parent's couch after she'd been backpacking around Europe for a couple of months. She ended up in the UK broke, filthy and destitute and expected us to provide free board and lodging until she got her shit together. My dad put her on the first flight home to the US.
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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    paid for?
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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    A*O
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    By some miracle she still had her return ticket with her. That and a passport. Otherwise she was flat broke.
    I've never liked lesbianism - it leaves a bad taste in my mouth
    Dame Edna Everage

    Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right.

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    Elite Member greysfang's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moomies View Post
    Canada is relatively safe and free of psychos...unless you end up on a bus with a head decapitator.

    Thanks, but I like my feet attached to my body.
    FUCK YOU AND GIVE ME MY GODDAMN VENTI TWO PUMP LIGHT WHIP MOCHA YOU COCKSUCKING WHORE BEFORE I PUNCH YOU IN THE MOUTH. I just get unpleasant in my car. - Deej

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    Elite Member Beeyotch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stylejunkiex View Post
    ANDDDDDDDDD THAT'S how you end up chopped up into little bits on someones plate.
    For real.

    Even if there's no body-chopping involved, lots of people are happy to steal from you or just plain pull fucked up shit on you, be it as a host or guest. I just don't trust strangers in general and especially not to this extent.

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    Elite Member moomies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by greysfang View Post
    Thanks, but I like my feet attached to my body.

    Hehe, that, too. Your foot will turn up ashore on some place near VanQ Island. Still, if you could get a free room and board...

    If you think it's crazy, you ain't seen a thing. Just wait until we're goin down in flames.

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    Elite Member sputnik's Avatar
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    i don't know if i would do this. i can see staying with friends of friends - if i've met the friends at least. but a network of people on the internet? not sure.
    i do think appartment-swapping is a great idea though. i've yet to try it but i have friends that have used internet services to find people to swap appartments with. one couple i know recently spent a month in new york while the new york couple stayed in their flat in paris. of course, they live in paris, i live in little geneva which i doubt is as sought after as a flat in paris.
    I'm open to everything. When you start to criticise the times you live in, your time is over. - Karl Lagerfeld

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