Earth Issues

Experiencing culture one couch at a time

 | March 29, 2010

It’s something that nearly every ski bum has experienced in their resort lifespan: couch surfing.
Whether you’ve been looking for affordable friendly accommodation to crash at during a weekend on the slopes or you’re part of a troupe of roommates sardined together for the winter season, you’ve been there, curled up on a well-used sofa. Well, now a seemingly inferior mode of sleeping has become an international movement.

One visit to Couchsurfing.org, a non-profit organization devoted to creating inspiring cross-cultural experiences, shows over a million people worldwide either hosting or surfing couches and spare rooms across the planet. As the website states, “today, over a million people who might otherwise never meet are able to share hospitality and cultural understanding.”

couchsurfing

Couchsurfing.org was founded in January 2003 by a group of men interested in promoting cultural tourism experiences. Their headquarters are located in San Francisco, though today the CouchSurfing community boasts over a million members from over 70,000 different cities, practising 302 languages. Over 72 of those surfers are located in Kamloops.

Sammy Lucian, a nomadic ambassador for Couchsurfing.org who’s currently residing in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil considers www.couchsurfing.org to be the best online invention since Google.

“It’s opened a new way of travel and also a new perspective for all the travellers around the globe,” he says. Lucian himself has travelled to South America, Canada and Italy via this unusual form of accommodation.

Couch surfing isn’t exactly the same as partying at your buddy’s house for the weekend. The website and its members are dedicated to their mission. As Cesar Valentim, public relations and media team leader for Couchsurfing.org explains, it’s not just a travelling community or social networking site; there’s a whole new experience once you’re welcomed across a foreign threshold.

“No one has to surf or host, you can be a member and never have hosted someone,” he says. “You choose to surf because it’s different; it’s an emotional tourism experience.”

Couchsurfing.org’s goal of “making the world a better place, one couch at a time” sets a certain standard of travel as well. The website and its members make recommendations to couch surfers for the best possible experiences including safety measures, such as having money aside for a hostel in case the host falls through, and cultivating a mutual respect between surfer and host.

With over a million people to visit in such a personal way, the possibilities are endless. Valentim recalls a time in November 2008 when he went to Indonesia and was met by many local couch surfers who were interested to learn his experiences.

“I decided to organize a small gathering with the Couch Surfers (CS) from Bali, that meeting was the first one to gather the local CS community and after that the community has grown bigger and better,” he says. “I still have close contact with them.”

In a world where social disconnect is becoming more common, Couchsurfing.org is a breath of fresh air. So if you’re looking to try a new ski hill for the weekend and want to meet some great locals who’ll likely show you the best spots, or you’re looking to travel abroad and are interested in immersing yourself in local culture, give couch surfing a try. It’s a free service, and many adventures await you.

As Valentim says, “you are being invited to someone’s personal space, home, community. You are entering someone’s life.”

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