More than one million couchsurfers in the world

Travel Perspectives — By on April 13, 2009 at 7:12 pm

It appears that couchsurfing is continuing to grow in popularity. The website that became a trendy mode of travel is now going mainstream. Couchsurfing.com has passed the one million member milestone. Of course, as the Frugal Traveler points out, this growing popularity brings with it the danger that newcomers may not always be in it for the same goals of cross-cultural interaction that attracted many of the original members.

A member since May 2006, I’ve used CouchSurfing from Montenegro and Bucharest to Indiana and Kyrgyzstan, sometimes staying in a plush, private bedroom, sometimes on big, soft sofas and sometimes just meeting up for drinks and hanging out with fellow members. These CouchSurfers have rarely been backpacker types: Vlatko, in Perast, Montenegro, was an ebullient restaurateur who loved playing the jew’s-harp. Gabriela, in Oporto, Portugal, ran a high-end furniture factory. And in Columbus, Ind., there was the Signorino family. Few have welcomed me into their homes and their families with as much sweetness and warmth as did Michele, Andrea and their three whip-smart kids, Renzo, Vincent and Lucia…

With so many people finally “getting” CouchSurfing, it may finally shake its fringe reputation. But with mainstreaming comes the danger that newcomers may see it simply as a way to get a free room and ignore the site’s more important goal: “meeting new people and discovering new cultures from the inside;” as Mr. Fried put it.

For true believers, the free bed is not an end unto itself but a first step toward cross-cultural connection and the idea that, as Mannie Pierre, a 36-year-old social worker, said, “There’s more to love out there than to fear.”

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