Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A flood of CouchSurfers!

For those of you who have not heard of CouchSurfing.com, it is a website that connects people from all over the world who are looking for a place to stay with people who are willing and able to host visitors. I first heard about it when the creator was interviewed on NPR. We joined later that day and never looked back. They recently broke the million member mark.

We used it to stay with a nice, retired military Canadian guy on a road trip to a wedding in Maine. We arrived at his apartment, had a cup of tea, play with his dog, and then went to bed. In the morning, after he took us to breakfast at a local place, we shook hands, said thanks, and hit the road. We and our friends, Bryan and Amy, stayed with a family in Ohio when we went there for Horse Progress Days, an event/celebration about horses being used for agricultural and other purposes (lots of Amish people). We think it is one of the best uses of the Internet we've seen in a long time.

So, you are probably having one of two reactions. One is "Wow! What a great idea! How can I sign up?" The other is "Oh, I don't know... How can you trust them?" The way I look at it, you are either a half-full or half-empty glass person, and it works for you, or it doesn't...

For safety, because it is a legitimate concern, CouchSurfing has some layers of verification. Level 1 is just registering on the site with a name and email. Level 2 is sending them a letter from your address, and then they send you a letter to that address with a verification code that you type in. Level 3 is making a donation to support that site, matching a credit card bill and billing address to your profile. As I say, if you were a serial killer, CouchSurfing would be a dumb way to find victims because you are creating quite a digital paper trail.

Also, when you look at people's profile, you see comments and references from other couchsurfers who have hosted or visited that person. Most are positive, but occasionally a few are negative, so you just have to go with how you feel.

For an example of a profile, click on this link to see Rich and Joan's profile.

So, when we were living in Michigan, we only had a few people express interest in staying with us. Some people were passing through. A guy playing in a state softball tournament in nearby town. However, none of them panned out, and we felt a little disappointed that we weren't able to give back to the CouchSurfing karma.

Well, we recently changed our profile to indicate that we live in Tokyo. I bet you can guess what happened...

In less than 24 hours, we have had about 20 people ask to stay on our couch. The French hydraulic engineer living in China. The Mexican marathoner running in Nagano to raise funds for his friend's lung transplant. The Swedish WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming) volunteers. The Argentinian traveling with his mother from China.

Wow! At first, we were excited and said yes to everybody. Then suddenly we realized that at this rate, every night except three in April had a house guest, and the requests kept coming! We decided that we will have to start gently declining some of all these interesting people and find a reasonable amount of hosting. We don't want to burn out...

So, we think we will have our first one tonight, a Japanese lady recently returned from America. She speaks excellent English and has offered to take us around our neighborhood and translate signs and explain the different stores and restaurants. We'll keep you posted! And for you worry warts, we'll check back in regularly so you know she's not a serial killer...

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