Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca
If you’re looking for a community building project that is international in scope CouchSurfing.com must, surely, be it. Around the world people are connecting via this website to arrange to crash on someone else’s couch (or spare bed). This is a volunteer venture that has a large following (3 1/2 million profiles) and is a different shift from concepts such as home exchanges that involve having a place to offer in exchange for staying somewhere else.
As a parent of two young children who also has a husband who travels with me, I cannot foresee using this service. Although it is true that you can search for a place that accommodates four people and is suitable for children. I also doubt that we would offer a bed since it’s not likely that visitors would want to stay out in the suburbs when they could choose a more central location. Even though I probably won’t use the service, the couch surfing concept did get me thinking about experiences I have had that are similar.
Growing up in a foreign service family, I have many memories of sleeping in all kinds of locations. These include different types of hotels, B&Bs and friends’ and relatives’ homes. One of my favourite experiences was when I stayed in pod-like structures in different locations in northern Iraq. As a young adult I lived in all types of university dorm and shared accommodation set-ups. I revisited this lifestyle again when I completed grad school in my early 30s. I also took advantage of the opportunity to travel while I was working for an international organization overseas and in the process visited hotels, hostels and stayed on many a friend’s couch, extra bed or floor. My funniest experience was when I slept on the foyer floor in between my brother and sister-in-law’s piles of wedding gifts the night after their wedding. (It was a small one bedroom apartment in Vancouver’s west end and I was visiting from overseas.) The one low point was when a now ex friend and her boyfriend decided that my 22 year old lifestyle and essential being somehow offended all of their left wing senses. Ironically not only have I never voted for the CPC but I can match this couple’s anti-right wing arguments tit for tat. Needless to say, their hosting skills took a turn for the worse at that point. After I returned to Canada in my early 30s I also had many opportunities to crash on my brother’s extra bed, couch or floor while babysitting or staying overnight in one of a number of homes he owned over the course of five years. It got to the point that I could drop and sleep just about anywhere.
As a hostess I have always enjoyed having friends and family to stay. My specialty is trying to create a spa-like setting in the guest bathroom. (“Try” is the operative word in that sentence.) My funniest memory was going completely overboard and spending $100 on breakfast supplies when a friend from Europe came to visit me in Japan. Why I felt I needed to replicate the way they do breakfast in his country, I cannot explain.
There’s something about the concept of crashing out on someone’s couch that seems so old school. After all – can’t we access the latest info on the cheapest 3 star hotel? Why go for the free option? In reality, many of us don’t have the cash to travel far and wide. We aren’t in jobs that send us on business trips and we aren’t racking up air mile points. Free accommodation isn’t such a bad idea. As I also know from personal experience, you see a country through a different lens when you stay with someone who lives there.
Even if we don’t travel, it’s also a nice idea to think that you could host people from other countries as well.
On the flip side there are safety concerns related to using this type of service. It is good to know that you can search for someone who has a photo, is verified, vouched and has been reviewed. Although women do stay with male hosts (see article posted below), it would be more prudent for women to stay with other women if they are traveling alone.
Couch surfing. It could be a plan. If not to surf than perhaps to offer a place.
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