When you’re on the go and don’t want to pay through the nose for a hotel, it helps to have a friend’s couch to crash on. It also helps to know that there is a worldwide community of millions of travelers and hosts dedicated to providing couch surfing options in over 230 countries.
For Sydney-based librarian Nick Warren, couch surfing is more than just a cheap method of travel. It’s a way of seeing the world through the eyes of locals rather than tourists, a way of meeting new friends from other cultures, and a chance to help others experience Cape Breton with a unique method of hospitality.
CouchSurfing is an international non-profit network for couch surfing travelers and hosts. The community consists simply of hosts willing to offer free accommodation in their home, and “surfers” who seek lodging. CouchSurfing International seeks to foster links between travelers and hosts, with the goal of creating enriching, meaningful cross-cultural experiences.
Warren will be giving a presentation on couch surfing at the McConnell Library Tuesday, June 15 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. He will go into the ins and outs of couch surfing in more detail, as well as demonstrate how the online community at couchsurfing.org works to facilitate the travels of over two million surfers worldwide.
Drawing from years of his own traveling experience, Warren’s enthusiasm for couch surfing comes from how it enables one to see other parts of the world through the eyes of locals, rather than as a detached tourist. “If you stay with a local who is familiar with the area rather than people who are just paid to recommend restaurants, you would discover things like a unique hole in the wall restaurant. Plus you actually get to meet local people, and in a short span of time people really open up and share their lives.”
When Warren isn’t traveling, he shares his Sydney residence with travelers who are eager to get a taste of Cape Breton culture. The experience of hosting couch surfers holds a similar appeal to traveling, says Warren. “It’s cool because it’s like you get to travel without moving, and get to meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. People come into Sydney with an outsider’s perspective, and they want to see and do things. So it adds a really cool random element and I make friends,” he said.
Warren explained that couch surfing appeals to a range of different types of travelers. “There are people who do it to travel cheaply, and then there are people who do it because for the different experience.” Though most surfers fall between the ages of 25 and 35, Warren pointed out that he has encountered surfers as young as 18 and 19, and has stayed with surfers or hosts who were well into their 60s.
Whatever the preconceptions of the activity may be, Warren said that the international couch surfing network benefits from having many safety features and norms around which surfers and hosts operate. The site functions as a sort of social network that helps match surfers with hosts. “There are rules in place to make sure the trust relationship between guest and host isn’t broken,” Warren explained. After staying with a host, the surfer would leave a reference detailing what happened during the stay and what made the stay a positive or negative one. The more a surfer or host participates, the more references and ratings they accumulate. This system is helpful in not just keeping untrustworthy individuals out of the system, but ensuring compatible surfer/host matches, which goes a long way to ensuring that resulting experiences are positive.
To learn more about the international couchsurfing network, visit couchsurfing.org.