Couch Surfing: from Virtual Friends to Real Life Travel Companions

johnnys chicken wing party

What can a Georgian least expect to hear at a party, from an Indian he has met for the first time? My version is: “Georgia? I love Georgia, man! I have been there and I love it!” and that was what Nikunj Gupta an Indian, and participant of Couch surfing community said while at a party for Couchsurfers.

Couch surfing is a free internet based project started in 2004, which unites people from all over the world. Despite different interests and views on the world, and unique aspects of life, Couch Surfing unites people from radically different backgrounds.

“I have met teachers, farmers, musicians, artists, people who work in offices and even a pirate,” says Callista Nurse, 24 a student studying music in Glasgow, who has been participating in the project for about a year.

Nikunj Gupta continues telling me stories about Georgia, I am surprised, however no one seems to feel the same and it is ordinary thing on couchsurfing, to tell stories about the countries you have visited. Furthermore, they know he is an experienced couch surfer and has traveled a lot.

Despite ethnic backgrounds, professional interests and other differences, the community unites people who love to travel, communicate and interact with each other and when asked about commonalities for couch surfers Callista says the following:

“Couchsurfers in general seem to be very open people, a lot of couchsurfers whom I have met are very generous, who really want to make difference, showing people around and connecting people, no matter who they are, their sex, their races, their sexualities and so on.”

People host each other, travel together and visit one other, mostly they don’t know each other before they meet, they just get acquainted with each other from the internet, where they browse each other’s profiles and get to know each other virtually. Then, they send requests to each other, asking for a place to stay. There is no guarantee that you will be hosted immediately, but it does work after you get some experience and recommendations. Couch surfers have also regular meetings.

“I have been mostly hosted while travelling to the Balkans, I was hosted in Albania, Bosnia and Montenegro, for the moment, when in Glasgow I am more participating in regular meetings,” explains Marta Matosek, 22, a Polish student of International Business, at Glasgow Caledonian University.

When Callista first found out about Couchsurfing she was not very optimistic, and even scared to travel and stay at unfamiliar places with people she has never met before, when her friend told her about her intention to travel she replied: “You might be killed, you might be raped, they might be wanting to steal your money and make you a slave, but actually I should admit that it was a very close minded view from me.”

For some participants, Couch Surfing is an important part of life. Eka Gejadze, 24 is another couch surfer, from Tbilisi, who has been using couch surfing since October 27, 2007. “I will never forget this date, I started living again from that day,” she says.

Eka thinks that not many people in Georgia are involved in Couch surfing, and she is right, when comparing the numbers: Georgia as a group and country on the Couch surfing website has 206 members, while Glasgow as a city 713. The difference is obvious. Probably feeling the difference, Eka encourages more Tbilisians and Georgians to join and participate in the project.

“Many people should get involved with it seriously, in Georgia, we are not that many, I mean the people who actively host and surf… everyone has to put his and her share into improving the project,” she calls on people.

When asked about three golden rules Couch surfer should follow Eka lists the following:

– CS (Couch Surfing) is not a dating site

– CS-ers visiting me should have good references and interesting CS background

– My motto is to improve world by the help of CS, bring together people from all over the world and help to make it a united place…

Despite agreeing on most of the rules, there seem to be exceptions, while Marta totally agrees with rule number one, according to Callista, that is not always the way it works:

“Couch surfing is not a dating site, however, people will meet up, people will connect to each other and they will like each other, there are two couples I know, who got engaged.”

While browsing the couch surfing website, one may meet “ambassadors” among the members, one might think that it creates certain hierarchy and empowers them with responsibility and authority. However, Callista says that it is not true and ambassadors are the same members as others. The only difference is that you help people out with information, guide them and welcome to the site.

According to Callista couch surfing is about trust and communication. It is a community where people open their doors for strangers, and this is what makes the internet community very different from other internet communities such Facebook and My Space.

“I use couch surfing as the way to meet new acquaintances, while Facebook is much more for staying in contact with people you have known before.” – She says.

It is free to join CouchSurfing community and it can be accessed at www.couchsurfing.com.

The article was published as a free lance work for “Georgia Today,” May 22, 2009 issue.

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