Couchsurfing.com operates as an international network where people open their doors and transform their sofas into replacement hostel beds for random world travellers. The site operates in over 230 countries with approximately 700,000 members, providing users with their own customizable profiles. Today, many backpackers take it for granted, using it as a tool for meeting locals in far-off places.
Couchsurfing.com founder Casey Fenton, chronicles how Iceland sparked the inspiration for the social network: “I’d gotten a cheap web-special from Boston to Iceland on a Monday and would fly that Friday. I only had one problem though. What would I do when I got there? Stick it out in a hotel? A hostel? I thought about the idea of contacting someone on the Internet and seeing if I could hang out with them and maybe sleep at their house.” The legend goes that Fenton contacted hundreds of students at the University of Iceland to ask them for a place to crash and after getting many invites, the idea for a website was born. Couchsurfer Hanna Larsdóttir takes great pride in guiding travellers around her country and meeting people with diverse international backgrounds. “I open my door to almost anyone,” says Larsdottir. “I always try to introduce my guests to Icelandic culture. You need to be an open-minded person and I think that’s the perfect recipe for being a couchsurfer.”
Þórgnýr Thoroddsen has hosted over 50 travellers since he began hosting couchsurfers with his wife Vala, last July. “We put a lot of effort into our profile,” says Thoroddsen. “We took in some surfers and the experience was amazing. We’ve hosted couples from the States, people from the Nordic countries… Quebecois seem to come in the hundreds, we’ve hosted about 20 of them. Also, people from France, Austria, Mexico, Italy, and the Philippines. I’ve had grown up filmmakers, 18 year old kids, a professor in ancient Nordic; it’s a cool opportunity to mix and get to meet new people and share culture.”
Larsdóttir feels the website offers her other opportunities. “I’m saving the world, one person at a time,” she says. “At the same time, I’m getting to know the world. But I can tell you this, Your parents won’t be thrilled if you say, ‘Hey Mom, I met this guy, he’s staying at my house…but he’s got a couchsurfing profile!’