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Couchsurfing much more than a free ride

08-05-2010 08:22 BJT

We may all have enough courage to travel alone or ask for directions from a stranger. But do you have enough guts to stay over in in the home of someone you have never met and open your heart to share stories with them? That is exactly what a "Couchsurfer" would do.

Lin Honglin (middle) is with a couple, the host of Lin's couchsurfering in Linjiang, western China's Yunnan Province.[Photo:]
Lin Honglin (middle) is with a couple, the host of Lin's couchsurfering in
Linjiang, western China's Yunnan Province.[Photo:]

"Couchsurfers" refers to travelers who stay for free in someone's house to save on the cost of accommodation. Hosts thus get to meet people from all over the world without leaving home. "Surfers," or travelers, are also able to participate in the local life of the places they visit.

The idea was originally conceived in 1999 by Casey Fenton from Boston, Massachusetts, while he was planning a trip to Iceland.

Rather than staying at a hostel, Fenton randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay at someone's house. Fenton ultimately received more than 50 offers of accommodation and many to be his private tour guide as well. On the return flight to Boston, he began to develop the idea that people not only enjoy free accommodation but also get more connected with the place they plan to travel.

Couchsurfing much more than a free ride
Couchsurfing much more than a free ride

Lin Honglin, from Taiwan, who is an experienced couchsurfer, spends at least 4 months on the trip every year and makes his living as a yoga teacher during the rest of the time. He said the initial reason for him becoming

He once traveled to Provence, staying with a man called Bob, who he found through a couchsurfing network. Bob prepared a big guest room for him and there was a backyard where he practiced yoga each day. Bob also took him to pick up fresh figs as breakfast. Before he left, Lin got a handful of lavenders as souvenirs.

Couchsurfing changes not only the way we travel, but also the way we relate to the world. But the ability to trust and retain an open mind are essential.

Lin will never forget his first experience of hosting a couch surfer. "Just three days after registering on the network, I received an email from a German girl Christine, who was looking for one night's stay in Paris before getting a bus to the south of France. Despite my initial skepticism, I invited her to my place but it was a very pleasant experience. We had a wonderful talk sharing each other's stories. I was inspired a lot by that girl, who was so young but had experienced so much through her voluntary work. The most important thing was she taught me how to be happy by trusting and sharing with others."

Since 2004, registered users on the couchsurfing website(http://www.couch
) have been using the system to come together for cultural exchange, friendship and share experiences. Couchsurfing is now the world's largest hospitality exchange network, with over 2 million members in 237 countries and territories.

After many years of traveling as a couchsurfer, Lin reckons he has changed a lot. He has becomes a happy couchsurfer by opening his homes, his heart and his life.

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