27 June 2008

To Couch Or Not To Couch

I was flipping through the latest issue of Wanderlust magazine , the 'special issue' with articles on how to stretch your travel budget. In the current economy most of us could use a little budget stretching, so I eagerly flipped through the magazine and came across an article on couch surfing.

Most die -hard travelers, and certainly any airline employee are familiar with the concept of crashing in a friends spare room/couch. I will freely admit that I am not alone in planning holidays based on where I know people, as Hollene in Sweden and Monique in Switzerland can attest ( and hopefully Bob in Ticino....soon!). The twist of that is couch surfing at complete strangers homes. Hmmmmm.

I looked online at the two sites recommended by the article , couch surfing and hospitality club and checked out what they had to offer. Couch surfing let you browse users profiles, who had 'vetted' them by staying at their place or hosting them, and the profiles gave you a pretty good indication of their personality. Hospitality Club had a bit drier profiles, but you would in every case email the host/guest before so you could get a feel for each other. Photos were with each profile as well. Both groups had members in places as diverse as Iran, South Africa and Minnesota, USA.

Could I stay with a complete stranger? Hard to say, I don't think for an entire holiday, but in places where getting a feel for the country in impossible without a local, like Iran, for example, it might be worth a try. Most of the hosts seemed genuinely proud of where they lived and at the very least , many indicated they would be happy to meet for a coffee /beer and share local tips with you. I think for the moment that is where my comfort level is. If yours is further out than mine, give one of them a try and report back!

1 comment:

Sara said...

Hi Heather, I'm currently reading back in your archives because I feel like somewhere in your blog, you talked about the very best travel pillow....I have a trip coming up, and I definitely want to buy that pillow! (If you have time, perhaps you could email me the name of it at sara.fram@gmail.com-- I'd really appreciate it!)

But anyway, I thought I'd comment because I've used couchsurfing before. It's pretty cool. My friends and I (all female) couchsurfed in Berlin for 5 nights and in Vienna for 4 to save money. Both experiences were pretty good, although there were some awkward moments staying with strangers. For instance, in Berlin we stayed with a couple guys, and early on my friend slept with one, but then decided she didn't want to sleep with him after that night. THAT was awkward. We also felt bad because in both cities our hosts were so helpful, but we couldn't afford very nice gifts for them or anything...we tried to help them with chores and stuff but we still wished we could have done more. Still, those things aside, I found surfing to be very safe and I'd totally recommend it to anyone with common sense:-)