Social networks give you a place to sleep.
In the old days your chances of getting taken home by a stranger to sleep at their place were slim. If you were hitchhiking your driver might take pity on you as the sun went down, or you might have got lucky spending your last few bucks on a round of drinks at the local bar.
But mostly, the only time you couchsurfed was when you looked up those travelers who had been foolish enough to scribble their addresses on a scrap of paper. Hi, remember me? you said, knocking at their door and smelling of a 15 hour journey, their uneasy expressions testament to a sudden attack of amnesia…
The modern world with its all-pervading media has us all afraid. Mothers no longer let their kids play out of sight, everyone’s doors are locked, we tear up our receipts for fear of identity theft and we increasingly live alone, separated by the very technology that promised to keep us all in touch.
So when couchsurfing.com came along it seemed a bit unlikely. Why would people who drive to work alone, increasingly work alone (unless you count a computer as company) and maybe live alone, suddenly become as hospitable as Arabs and invite unknown travelers into their homes?
The answer is that human nature will always find a way to buck the trend. People do want to meet others, share their experiences and help others out. Maybe they’ve been terrorized by a million news stories and movies of murder, rape and robbery but in essence, we don’t change that much.
Couchsurfing recently passed the million member mark and has become an indispensable tool for travelers around the world:
Going to a new city and you don’t know anyone? Meet new friends who will show you around the coolest places and introduce you to new people.
Heading to New York for a few days and you can’t even afford the hostels? Someone will probably put you up and give you a bed with the kind of homely atmosphere you’d never get in a dormitory.
Live in a beautiful place in the country where it gets lonesome? Have travelers from around the world pass by and share their tales from the road.
And if it still seems unlikely that in the 21st century peope would be opening their homes to strangers, leaving them the keys and the contents of their refrigerators, then you probably still haven’t grasped the paradigm shift of online social networks. People can work out if you’re trustworthy by checking your profile and checking what others say about you. The references left by those you’ve stayed with or hosted create a vast network of trust that would be difficult to fake and provide the threads that tie together a community of like-minded souls across the world, even if they are constantly on the move.
Couchsurfing is a miracle of the internet and given travel a whole new dimension.