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Couch surfers trying to create a better world

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:52 PM

I am familiar with the expression "couch potato" a person who spends a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV, as if he or she were planted on the couch like a potato. But I have recently learned a new concept that is linked to the couch, only it's very different: "couch surfing."

In a way, couch surfing is just what it sounds like: traveling via the couch, easily, as if one were skimming across the waves of an ocean. Here's what happens in couch surfing: people who want to travel cheaply are connected with people who are willing to provide a place on their couch for the traveler to stay. Thus the traveler is "couch surfing."

The way people who need a couch are connected to people who offer a couch is you guessed it via the Internet. There is a Web site,www.couchsurfing.org/. People from all over the world from Ohio to Africa use this site to locate places to stay in the countries where they want to travel. The person who provides the couch does not charge for it; he or she is perhaps interested in meeting people from other countries, or is perhaps just generous and at some point will couch surf on someone else's couch.

Quite a bit of trust is involved here. How do you know that the person providing the couch is trustworthy? And, alternately, if you are providing a couch, how do you know that the couch surfer is not a criminal? There is some attempt at security: at the site, people can rate both the travelers and the couch locations, so you can read about people's past experiences with couch providers and couch surfers. Perhaps these are just the worries of a middle-aged mom.

My kids think this is a wonderful system; a way to see the world and meet many interesting people. They think that a world in which generous, kind people provide a free place to sleep on their couch is a fantastic idea.

In fact, I found out about couch surfing because my daughter told me about it. She has already couch surfed, and stayed with a wonderful girl in France who showed her around the town of Toulouse.

Don't they worry about trusting strangers? But then I think back to my own hitchhiking days, centuries ago ... I would get into a car with a stranger without the benefit of a Web site rating. I would trust his or her driving ability and his or her offer to take me to a place further along the highway. I avoided expensive bus and plane tickets, and I had many interesting conversations along the way. It was a trusting thing to do, but during the 1970s, many young people were hitchhiking. Now, apparently, many young people are couch surfing.

According to the couch surfing Web site, couch surfing wants to "create a better world, one couch at a time." More specifically, its mission statement reads: "Couch Surfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding. As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal. Couch Surfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it's about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. Couch Surfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!"

This network of couch surfing has spread to Ohio, where, according to the Web site, there are couch surfers in Toledo, Youngstown, Cleveland, Columbus, and many other Ohio cities and towns. My daughter tells me that although many are young people, some are older, too. She has located a couch surfer in Lanzhou, China, the place she will be studying next year.

Check out the Web site if you are interested. Your next travel experience may be just a couch away. As for me, the school year is about to start, and I'm going to be home for a while.

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