The ultimate couch crasher’s heaven
By Catherine Fisher
Hotels are a hassle. You empty your wallet out for an upgraded prison cell and are basically left to fend for yourself. Sure, there are brochures in the lobby promoting the highly hyped walking tours and acclaimed restaurants, but these swamped tourist attractions aren’t going to make much of an impression on you. Plus, you have to see the forced smiles of the concierge every time you walk by, leaving you anything but content. It would be easier to crash at someone’s place than go through all the trouble at your standard Marriott.
Casey Fenton felt the same way when he found himself a cheap ticket to Iceland with no place to stay. Not wanting to deal with conventional hotels, he decided to ask over 1,500 local students if he could crash on their couches over the course of his trip. What started out as an easy way to save money turned into a kickass time for Fenton. The various hosts that he stayed with showed him around the town in a way hotels never could. After having the time of his life, Fenton decided to experiment more with this “couchsurfing” approach to travel, and he never looked back.
Let’s face it, traveling has become more isolating over the years. Yeah, you get to explore new places, see the world and all, but where’s the human interaction? What good is going to a new place if it’s just barren? How would Paris be if there were no people?
“I go to these exotic places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, but no matter where I go it’s still the same room and the same continental breakfast. There’s no change,” said Gerald Fisher, a frequent traveler.
It’s expensive, too. You have to buy a plane ticket and possibly pay for a rental car, as well as spend countless dollars on souvenirs you are never going to look at. The thought of ensuring a place to stay on top of all that is enough to make your head explode. That’s why over a million people have followed Fenton’s example on couchsurfing.org, the web site created in response to his experience. It puts the exploring element back in travel—it makes you an adventurer.
Since Fenton’s trip, couchsurfing.org has enabled all aspiring couchsurfers to connect with one another and plan their local and international expeditions. Couchsurfing’s basis is a global connection, and it starts on their Web site. Think of it as a branch of Facebook or similar social networking sites. There are profiles, discussion boards and so on; the only difference is that, rather than stalking your old high school friends, you’re reaching out to new people to see the world in a new way.
I’ll admit, upon first hearing the concept of staying at a stranger’s place for the night, I couldn’t help but think back to the countless safety lectures drilled into my brain in grade school. The idea would seem life-threatening if it weren’t for the fact that Fenton’s site can be compared to a universal neighborhood watch program. The members all have various recommendations and verifications from people who have had successful couchsurfing trips. And it’s mostly all about trust. Of course there aren’t going to be 12-year-olds couchsurfing through Amsterdam. Fenton would hope people are capable of making their own judgments.
But why would anyone want to take the risks of staying in a stranger’s house when there are hostels around? Aside from the fact there have been no gritty horror films about couchsurfing, you don’t get the intimate experience you would get by spending time with a local. With only having to pay courtesy to your host, you get to see a place through a local’s eyes. You get to go to London and see more than just Big Ben. Plus, it’s great to go somewhere and actually experience it. Instead, people worry about how many stars a hotel has and go on glitzy, hyped-up tours of museums and statues.
Not that that’s bad or anything, but to get the real cultural experience of a place, you need to see it through the eyes of someone who lives there, rather than a paid out-of-towner. So who knows, next time you might want to reconsider that Hilton and see what all the fuss is about.
Catherine Fisher is a freshman cinema and photography major. She’s won the surfing world championship on her custom-made couch twice. E-mail her at email@example.com.