CouchSurfing turns travelling community into a sofa society

Spinnaker

Hotels too bourgeois for your non-conformist sensibilities? Broke and looking for an inexpensive way to score some lodging for that weekend getaway? Or perhaps you’re craving a summer globe-trotting expedition to clear your head and imbibe the cultural richness of an exotic locale? Well, a growing social networking Web site may enable you to broaden your horizons and pinch pennies in one fell swoop.

Welcome to CouchSurfing, where idealism and economic pragmatism meet.

The CouchSurfing Project 2.0 is an Internet community that provides its members with the ability to connect to host guests, seek sojourning shelter or both. CouchSurfing is designed to do more than simply offer its members the chance to find a free place to crash; its lofty mission is to “create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding,” according to the Web site, CouchSurfing.org.

Alicia Cannessa, a senior international relations and sociology major, found that in her experience, CouchSurfing has fulfilled its mission.

“My faith in humanity has been rewarded,” Cannessa said.

She has been a surfer as well as a surfee, hosting students from Boston and staying on strangers’ sofas during a trip across Europe.

“I would recommend it to all, it’s a great way to save money and meet people from different backgrounds,” she said.

Absorbing a different cultural perspective is what is most attractive about CouchSurfing to Issa Nicolay, a junior computer information systems major. Nicolay hasn’t gone surfing yet, but has signed up and would like to try it in the future.

“I like the idea of getting to know cultures through meeting new people,” Nicolay said.

The cost efficiency of CouchSurfing combined with its cultural exposure aspect is very appealing, senior advertising major Ashley Koscielniak said.

“CouchSurfing gives you a cheap place to stay and good people to spend time with,” she said.

Though Koscielniak has yet to surf outside of the U.S., she has hosted as well as utilized other people’s couches in New York and Seattle.

“[The surfers] stay for a day or two and we show them a good time, go out to the bars and take them around town,” said Koscielniak.

This is not to say that surfing always goes off without a hitch. Kostielniak was faced with a potentially disastrous dilemma while on her trip to Seattle when her initial host fell through.

“She just disappeared on us, basically,” she said.

Fortunately Koscielniak was able to find another couch.

While concerns regarding safety might seem intuitive, members said that CouchSurfing has developed protections that attempt to minimize any risks associated with staying with strangers. There is a voluntary verification system on the Web site that confirms members’ addresses and identities through a credit card donation to the CouchSurfing organization. There is also a ratings system akin to eBay’s, where members can leave positive or negative feedback in order to help would-be surfers chose whose couch to commandeer for an evening.

“It wasn’t creepy or anything,” said senior business management major Christopher Hawk about CouchSurfing.

Hawk traveled to England with his girlfriend last summer without incident.

So long as members consult the ratings system they should have little to fear, Hawk said.