A Sustainable Way to Travel: CouchSurfing.com

CouchSurfing saved my life.

Well, possibly.  No one yet knows what role quality sleep plays in one’s life, or whether one could die from sleep deprivation.

But if it weren’t for the Couchsurfing.com network, I would be–more or less–homeless.

Since I gleefully waved goodbye to my soggy, moldy tent in mid-July, I’ve been faced with the dilemma of… well, now where do I sleep?  For a week or so, I was wearing out my welcome at my friend’s houses and at my boyfriend’s place (whose sleep schedule is around 5 hours off of mine).  Realizing that this was causing inordinate stress, both on me and on the parties involved, I knew I had to find a semi-permanent solution.

With no cash and no lease, where would I stay?  Enter: Couchsurfing.

When I first heard about CouchSurfing, I had the same instant, emotional reaction I had when I heard about Free Ride: the oh, this is way too cool to be true! feeling.  Of course, as with the other projects that I have blissfully filled my life with, it was true… and so cool I felt compelled to participate.

CouchSurfing is a website that connects travellers who need shelter for a brief stay, with hosts who wish to welcome them.  It is rare that someone will CouchSurf within their own city–yet that was exactly my situation after my grimy tent became more like a prison sentence than a home.  On the first night of staying at my current host’s home, I was offered a key to the apartment and asked if I minded staying there alone while they went on vacation for two days.  I was dumbstruck.  The instant trust, good will, and sense of welcoming was unlike anything I could have expected.  This is my personal story of how and why CouchSurfing is a brilliant, vital element of sustainable travel.

The short version of CouchSurfing.com’s mission is: “Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time.”  This is why CouchSurfing.com has risen heads above other competing internet sites for traveller networking–their mission focuses on the role of intercultural exchange and the impact of world-wide mutual aid and tolerance.  People who gravitate towards these messages of universal humanity and intercultural education gravitate towards CouchSurfing.

If you’ve never heard of CouchSurfing before, your first reaction may be to think “it sounds so unsafe!”  But CouchSurfing.com has excelled in innovating security measures to protect the parties involved.  In order to grow your “level of trust” on the CouchSurfing network, people who have met you or know you face-to-face must “vouch” for you.  You must also “verify” yourself by confirming your address, credit card information, etc.  These confirming mechanisms provide safety and mutual trust for all involved–the system is operated so that no one could benefit from exploiting one another.  All participants are accountable and credited for their actions, whether negative or positive!

Now imagine… travelling to any city in the world for a life-changing vacation… yet not having to pay a dime for housing.  Say goodbye to hotels and the “tourist traps”… and say hello to an authentic interaction with the people and place you are visiting.  

Sust Enable strives to present sustainable ideas that are accessible to nearly everyone (ie, ones that do not cost money.)  CouchSurfing is as free as the birds.  In fact, I can almost gurantee you will gain something from your CouchSurfing experience.  The only thing you may lose… is a sense of cynicism about humanity. 

After all, isn’t a welcoming home and an affirmation of the goodness of humankind… priceless?

photo credit: (1) Thief12 under a Creative Commons 2.5 license; (2) the happy crew at CouchSurfing.com; and (3) Tadeu Pereira under a Creative Commons 2.0 license 

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