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Couchsurfing!

Maggio 2011
Se avete un budget limitato ma tanta voglia di viaggiare e conoscere gente di tutto il mondo, il couchsurfing è per voi. Basta adattarsi a dormire alla buona sul divano (couch) di qualcuno ed essere pronti a contraccambiare il favore. Ma ci si può fidare, direte? Ne parliamo qui di seguito.

di Kathleen Becker

File audio:

A gathering of Couchsurfers at “Bosco in città” in Milan
A gathering of Couchsurfers at “Bosco in città” in Milan
Maryke Walraven
Maryke Walraven

Imagine you are planning a holiday in Boston, say, or Sydney, or Dublin. Now, what if you could stay with locals who could give you a guided tour, take you to the best pub or beach, help you improve your English… and all for free? Welcome to the world of  Couchsurfing! Yes, Couchsurfing is about a free couch – or bed, or room, or hammock, so it is great for budget travellers. But it is much more than that. The Couchsurfing philosophy is about connecting people and cultures. The ethos is “Making the World a Better Place – One Couch at a Time.”

HISTORY

The idea was born in San Francisco in 1999. A young man called Casey Fenton was planning a long weekend in Reykjavik. Iceland is expensive and Casey needed cheap accommodation. So he e-mailed over 1,500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik to ask if could he sleep on their couch. Casey was not only offered couches, the students also showed him “their” Reykjavik. Casey decided this was a great way to travel, and launched the site with three friends in 2003. Today the world has more than 2.5 million Couchsurfers. 80,000 of them live in Italy, the sixth-most popular “CS” country.

THE CS PROFILE

What kind of people are Couchsurfers? The average age is 28, 50 per cent male, 50 per cent female. Couchsurfers are usually open to the world, have a sense of community and often speak several languages.

IS IT SAFE?

Every mother will ask: is this safe, staying with total strangers? Couchsurfing has various safety features: one is “references,” where people leave positive, neutral or negative comments on Couchsurfers’ profile pages, another is a credit-card “verification” and the most serious is “vouching” for other Couchsurfers. Considering that seven million couches have been surfed, there have been very few bad experiences. Couchsurfing also works as a social life tool. A city like Dublin, for example, has many CS “groups” (for musicians, food lovers or hikers), and events. Romance can and does happen, too.
Some say that Couchsurfing has now become too big, diluting the original spirit. But, if you choose your Couchsurfing experiences wisely, then they can change your world.

YOUR PLACE OR MINE?

LANGUAGE LEVEL C1 (ADVANCED)

Speaker: Rachel Roberts (Standard British accent)

Couchsurfing has been a popular form of travel accommodation for the last 10 years. Basically, if you visit a city, you can sleep for free at the house – or “on the couch” – of a fellow member of the Couchsurfing website. But what’s it like? Maryke Walraven is studying Spanish and Portuguese at Leeds University in England. She recently “couchsurfed” in Lisbon. We asked her whether she had ever provided hospitality for other couchsurfers: 

Maryke Walraven (Standard British accent)

Oh, completely. I’ve already hosted somebody in Leeds. I was moving house, so it probably wasn’t the best host that she’s ever had! It was a Taiwanese girl called Jill who’d been travelling for three months and just wanted to spend time with people, rather than statues, like sightseeing and being a proper tourist. So she came and she definitely spent time with me and my flatmate and helped us push a trolley, like, 15 minutes down the road, with all of our stuff in it! And it was really, really good. I really enjoyed having her: I think she was with me for two nights and it was really good fun having her, she was really lovely and we got on really well because she just had like loads of interesting stories from where she’d travelled to, like through Indonesia and England, Europe generally.

SECURITY ISSUES

Of course some people worry that sleeping at the house of a complete stranger that you met on the Internet could be be dangerous. We asked Maryke for her opinion:

Maryke Walraven

I think it’s the same level as just generally travelling. If you’re planning on travelling without spending that much money, you’re staying in hostels where you’re staying with lots and lots of other people. With Couchsurfing you have verifications and you can check out the person’s address and check out their profile and what... other people have said about them. There are safety measures involved, so, although you don’t know the person, other people do and can vouch for them. So I wouldn’t say it was any more dangerous than travelling, like backpacking normally, but definitely more interesting.


COUCHSURFING TIPS

It is free to set up a profile. Here are some tips for getting hosted: Spend time on your profile. Especially if you’re male, get ‘Verified’ – a quick credit card/address verification check costs about 20 dollars. If you’re starting out, attend CS events in your town and make some CS friends. When requesting a Couch in a popular city at a popular time, contact a few Couches, but try to connect with each one at some level: music, films, places you’ve travelled to, other things you share. No-one likes “cut and paste” requests. And always send requests through the official “Couchsurf with …” channel rather than as a message. Always have a back-up plan and enough money and contact details for a hostel. Wherever you go, you’ll have a ready-made network of friends. They say that there are even Couchsurfers in the Vatican… and Antarctica! www.couchsurfing.org

 


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