Stay with Locals and Make New Friends
by Lisa Rosinky
Daniel Sperry, a “couchsurfer” in his late 50s, decided a few years ago to quit his day job and make a living by performing cello music and reciting poetry in living rooms across the country. “I didn’t know it would become a catalyst for bringing communities of local people together,” he says, but his first gig, a “little shotgun shack” in Elko, Nevada, became more than a once in a lifetime experience. Years later, his Elko host remains a close friend and hosts a regular (and lucrative) stop on his cross-country tours.
Not only does creating connections with strangers make us happier—as University of Chicago social scientists have proven—it leads to fun travel stories. If we choose to see the world via the decade-old organization at Couchsurfing.com, we might find ourselves sleeping on a sailboat in the Irish Sea; meeting backpackers by solar-powered light in a cave in Petra, Jordan; sharing a room with a pet bird that falls asleep listening to sappy love songs on the radio; or jamming to old-time banjo and fiddle tunes in a North Carolina kitchen.
The global community of couchsurfers, now 10 million strong, considers strangers “friends you haven’t met yet.” They currently are hosting and organizing more than half-a-million events in more than 200,000 cities worldwide this year. The aim is to make travel easier and more affordable, build people’s faith and trust in one another and create meaningful connections across cultures.
It’s easy to become a member by creating a profile as a host and/or a traveler, which includes verified identification. Guests don’t need to reciprocate by hosting or leaving gifts, although lasting friendships are a common result. Hosts and guests are encouraged to leave honest reviews for each other, which helps ensure ongoing safety and good behavior all around.
Meanwhile, non-members also are welcome to explore couchsurfing events in their city. Fun opportunities to make new connections include weekly language exchanges, skill swaps, outdoor activities and potlucks.
“For me, it’s undeniably about the community, the kind of person it tends to attract,” says Joseph Abrahamson, a couchsurfer in his mid-20s. “A room full of couchsurfers is full of stories and listening and sharing and trust. It changes a person in a positive way… people that travel like this for long enough can no longer survive with closed minds.”
Lisa Rosinky is a freelance writer in Boston.