Junior Paul Calder is a registered “CouchSurfer” who has CouchSurfed in Morocco and Barcelona.Alex Ellis
assistant photo editor
A year ago, Nancy Glass never would have thought she and her husband, Gil, would be hosting a French family in the guestroom and a pair of British backpackers in the basement of their posh Northwest D.C. home. But that was before she knew about CouchSurfing.com, an Internet phenomenon that is bringing strangers together the world over. Glass, a 1986 GW alumnus and a recent convert to the movement, opens her doors about once a week to travelers in search of a global discourse.
Like Facebook or MySpace, the Web site is a profile-based Internet community, but that is where the similarities end. Hosts open up their homes – and couches – to traveling surfers, who get a place to stay and a local host to show them around. But as Gil said, “we are not a hostel.”
CouchSurfing is a means to cultural exchange, not just a free couch to crash on. This philosophy seems to be echoed throughout the CouchSurfing community.
Nancy and her husband were attracted by this precept.
Since they cannot find time to travel during the nine to five daily grind, they have opened their home to travelers worldwide to swap stories and meet interesting individuals that they otherwise never would have known. In the four months since registering, the couple has hosted more than 20 people to only positive reviews.
Paul Calder, a GW junior and registered CouchSurfer, said crashing on strangers couches in strange lands is “not sketchy at all.” Calder has CouchSurfed in Morocco and Barcelona. Calder, like many other CouchSurfers, was even allowed to stay alone in his host’s home.
The network’s genius is that members gain prestige based on peer review, similar to eBay. Through extensive profiles and multiple feedback postings, one can get a sense for their potential host or guest before they even meet them. Overall, only 1 percent of all feedback (nearly 285,000 in total) has been negative. The Web site emphasizes that, unlike some sites like CraigsList, CouchSurfing is not to be used for nefarious purposes and should be treated with a mutual respect among guest and host.
With more than 300,000 surfers worldwide – more than 80,000 in America – in over 31,000 cities and towns there is rarely a shortage of couches to surf. Members from Siberia can live with government contractors in D.C. – as was the case for the Glasses – and GW students can spend a night on the town with Barcelona natives (as was the case for Calder). For now, it seems that the only difficulty facing CouchSurfing.com is its growing popularity. With Facebook users constantly bemoaning its “selling out,” CouchSurfers are worried that corporate interests and increased media attention may spoil the purity of their network. But increased memberships can only further the goals of cultural interfusion and global understanding.
“CouchSurfing is bringing people together in a way they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to,” Nancy said. “It’s been a blast.”