April 01, 2006

Cybertrack - 8

Couchsurfing

The best place to set up base, when you’re travelling, is with friends. No room service and housekeeping, yes, but your stay is free, and you get the security of your hosts telling you things about the place you’re in, pointing you to what’s best, warning you about what’s to be avoided, as only a local can do. Perhaps they’ll even wander around with you, and show you the sights.

But, unless you’re a diplomat or have spent a lifetime travelling, its pretty unlikely you’ll have pals to pile on to in every place you want to visit. Couchsurfing gives you the next best thing.

When you join (and that’s free; the site is a non-profit project), you get instant access to 59,172 other couchsurfers (as of this writing) in 187 countries, 11,314 cities., speaking 641languages.

That’s all very well, but how does it work? Like so. You’re headed for X. You specify places in and around X, and, via the site, contact the people who your search throws up. When you get acknowledgments, you take the process further – both sides get to reassure themselves about each other – and if all works well, you wind up with a couch, a place to lay out your sleeping bag, even a room. At worst, you’ll get a little free advice and a coffee. In return, you’re expected to be a good couchsurfer, which means, perhaps, doing chores around the house, and definitely also making your own couch available.

Privacy worries? There are settings you can adjust to selectively make available varying levels of information about yourself. There are also “verified” (by other users) and “vouched for” (involves bank and snailmail verifications) members to help you make your choices.

Does it work well? They claim 25,327 “Successful Surfings” and almost 30,000 “Friendships Created.” Go on in, the water looks good.

Published in the April 2006 edition of Outlook Traveller, in a column called Cybertrack



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