A New Way to Travel and Socialize
An online community called Couchsurfing has now attracted 2 million members worldwide and has changed the way people travel and socialize. Founded in the United States in 2003 with just an idea of staying in a stranger's place for free, Couchsurfing has now become the biggest online hospitality and culture exchange website. And as our Su Yi reports, the national day holiday might be an ideal time for travellers to go counchsuring.
Couchsurfing is a non-profit organization that connects travelers with locals together in about 230 countries and regions around the world. It is a platform for people to exchange cultures, build friendships, and learn travel experiences. People who joined Couchsurfing name themselves " Couchsurfer".
How it works basically is when you are planning to travel somewhere, instead of spending a lot of money on hotels and hostels, you go to the website and find someone local whose couch availability is open and then send a request to him. If you don't need a couch, then simply just ask to meet up and have a coffee or drink together. By doing so, you not only get to know the real local life, but also have an opportunity to talk to the local person and exchange ideas. Quoting a Couchsurfer's reference" You get off the train meeting a stranger and you say goodbye to a friend."
Mike Shaw, a long time Couchsurfer from the United States who is now living in Beijing , says he joined CS because he found some similarities between CS and himself.
"I saw a story in an American Newspaper about the website and it was very interesting to me. I like the idea that you can stay at a stranger's home. I went to the website to investigate the kind of people, they look a lot like me,they were open to other people , they like to travel , they were interested in other cultures, I said, I could join that."
Alongside the initial focus of hosting and staying with a local as a guest in their home or as Couchsurfers call it "Surfing", the website also facilitates a growing array of activities and events.
Attending a Wednesday Couchsurfing gathering along with 30 other couchsurfers in Beijing, Lydia Zhang, a local born Chinese girl, who had most of her life spending in Australia says Couchsurfing has changed her life.
"It's life changing, there are a lot of trust in this website.Ive heard a lot of stories about it. There are couchsurfers that are actually our of town,but actually left the keys underneath the mat for people to actually just pick it up and say, look you can use anything you want. I think this is really amazing. I love it. "
Despite the huge popularity among Couchsurfers and those who are interested in it, many are still concerned about using the website. The biggest worry might be the safety issue. CS.com offers a well-rounded form for all members to fill out. Moreover, the past reference that other travelers left on the profile page is a good evaluation for you to decide who you want to meet.
Barryfun, the ambassador of Couchsurfing.com Beijing forum says a good way to know a member is to look over the references.
" Potential couchsurfers and couchsurfers to look at the profile the person you are going to stay with, make sure they have enough references, make sure they have enough vouchers, make sure they have been a part of the organization for a while. Don't go with the stranger who just joined the day before , go to someone who has a lot of positive references."
In China alone, there are now about 35,000 mandarin speaking surfers and 22,000 English speaking surfers with other language speakers totaling about 15,000.Even though China has a traditionally conservative culture, but a lot of modern young Chinese, especially university students are attracted by this new way of traveling and meeting interesting people and are trying to adapt the western-made idea.
Wang he, a graduate student from China Foreign Affairs University, says she was a little bit nervous when she first joined CS activities.
"Yeah, I was a little bit of nervous, when I first joined a party, most of the people I didn't know. I'd prefer to be introduced by the all timers of Couchsurfing instead of to be active to introduce myself. After that, I can handle it very well. "
If you are a road lover and enjoying meeting new people and sharing, maybe it's time to try something a little different like Couchsurfing. With about 99% of positive experience in the history, It's almost certain that your first Couchsurfing bite would be a delicious one.
For CRI, I am Su Yi.