June 18, 2008

CouchSurfing for a Cheap Vacation

The service at CouchSurfing.Com may not be for everyone, but it's a great find for those who are looking for a cheap and fun vacation where they meet lots of new people and get outside the usual tourist box. And, yes, it's free.

What is it?

The Couch Surfing Project is an international, non-profit organization with the following mission:

"CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding. ... We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. ...CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!"

How does it work?

At the website, you create a profile for yourself (similar to MySpace or Facebook), get to know fellow members through the forums and discussion boards, and when you're ready to travel, you plan your trip around your new CouchSurfing pals - who open their homes up to you for free. Of course, it's a mannerly exchange (you have to request an invite, and they have to say yes) and there are safeguards (members are "vouched for" or "verified" and there are a number of privacy settings).

And, there's a range of hospitality here. Maybe one host feels fine offering you a "couch" at their house; another may be willing to meet you for coffee or drinks, or give you a ride to/from the airport. You set the hospitality boundaries both as a host and as a guest.

It's a worldwide membership and all sorts of people are listed as members. All ages, all sexes, singles, couples, families, from all over the world are establishing online friendships via the site before traveling - or before inviting guests into their homes. This service may not be for everyone, but it sure seems like a great find for the adventuresome ....
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