Have Couch, Will Travel

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Illustration: Ricky Vigil

Plaid, brown, green, stained and pink. Red with stripes, black, leather, bloody and ripped. There are no two couches on this little blue planet even remotely similar. The stories behind these squishy pieces of lounge furniture set them even further apart: Friends, enemies, strangers, love, sex, TV, food, drugs, tragedies and holidays—anything goes on that weathered three-seater in your living room. Without even trying, your couch has become a veritable microcosm of travels, stories and good times.

Nearly eight years ago, Couchsurfing.com (now Couchsurfing.org) was started as a way for people from all over the world to harness the unique power of the couch: free accommodations paired with lifelong friendships, international connections, wild parties and more. Couchsurfing’s mission is simple: “Create Inspiring Experiences.” To accomplish this, they provide simple tools that allow travelers to find basic accommodations in other members’ homes all across the world. With just over two million members covering 238 unique countries in nearly 80,000 cities, it’s almost a given that there will be at least one couch available where you’re going.

For those who don’t travel, being a host is an integral part of the CS community. While I’ve only surfed two couches since I joined Couchsurfing in early 2008, there have been 17 different groups of people sleeping on my couches. From Argentina to Russia and Canada to the UK, I’ve made close connections to people all around the world just by lending them my couch for a night or two.

Hosting strangers or traveling in new or unknown places certainly raises the question of safety. Couchsurfing has several mechanisms in place that protect its members, with the most important and powerful feature being the community itself. Not unlike Facebook or eBay, reviews and comments are left by fellow surfers attesting to their validity and trustworthiness. People have profiles with pictures and info about the surfers and their couches. There is also a three-level verification system in place, which verifies the member’s e-mail address, physical mailing address and identity. In all of the adventures I’ve had and all of the people I’ve met, never have I heard of or experienced any negative people in the Couchsurfing community.

Though the experiences that Couchsurfing has made possible for me are innumerable, there have been several absolutely unforgettable times that stand above the rest. Below are those moments.

-Backpacking on the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada with Kyle, a deep-sea bomb diffuser for the Royal Canadian Navy. We spent three days on the Juan De Fuca Trail, a 47 km trail directly south of the West Coast Trail near Victoria. On the last day of our trip, it started to pour and all we cared about was getting warm, dry and fed. We stumbled upon a trailer park in a town of about 50 named Bamfield, where a family in a trailer park let us huddle by their fire while they fed us fresh-caught crab.

-Having a girl and her friends get drunk at a house party I hosted and then randomly meeting up at some crazy bar in Beijing via Couchsurfing over a year later. She was on a her way to Tibet on a trip all over Asia, hitting up countries like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

-Finding over $400 in perfectly good cheese in the Sugarhouse Whole Foods dumpster with a guy from Berea, Kentucky. Levi came here to get his Wilderness First Responder certificate, and just got hungry on an off night. For some reason, we went to go see 17 Again, which turned out to be hilarious in all of the wrong ways.

-Getting caught taking pictures at Body Worlds with a hitchiker from Russia, and then having said Russian hitchhiker talk us out of the situation, slyly disabling his memory card so only the built in demo pictures showed when the goons went a-sleuthin’.

-Hosting a guy who started an organic farm on the Olympic Peninsula. After just a one night stay, he gave us a garbage bag full of veggies for hosting him. Carrots, peppers, beets and all sorts of other seriously delicious edibles made for some of the best meals I’d had in months.

If you’re planning an adventure in the near future, or you want to meet some great people from all over the world, it sure wouldn’t hurt to check out Couchsurfing.org today. They have plenty more information on what the organization stands for and why they do what they do. The local Salt Lake Couchsurfing scene hosts events nearly every week, with attendance often breaking 50 or more people. Just join the Salt Lake City, Utah group on the site and you can learn all about it.

Illustration: Ricky Vigil