International backpacking during winter break may sound pricey when compared to sleeping until noon at mom’s and dad’s, but thanks to the social networking Web site CouchSurfing.com, some Temple students are traveling worldwide and still have Diamond Dollars to spare.
“I got to experience a real Kiwi Christmas and New Year’s with people I met on CouchSurfing,” said Danni Shtraus, a junior Asian studies major who traveled throughout New Zealand during the break. “It was great because I could meet locals, as opposed to just staying in hostels like other travelers.”
So, where can you travel?
With 53,117 different cities represented on the site, the possibilities are endless.
Shtraus stumbled upon the site when searching for inexpensive lodging while studying at Temple’s Japan campus.
“I ended up really liking the site for a lot more than the cheap accommodations,” Shtraus said.
Howard MacNapier, a Temple alumnus and CouchSurfing Ambassador for the United States, agrees the site offers benefits for students beyond the free couch to sleep on.
“Seeing a city, a town, a place and meeting families and friends – it’s all valuable,” MacNapier said. “The university experience is more than what you learn in the classroom. CouchSurfing allows you to see these personal things through the eyes of another culture.”
The site is also useful for making international contacts.
“I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing while in New Zealand,” Shtraus said. “It’s a seven-hour hike up and down an active volcano, and it was something I did not want to experience by myself. I met up with a bunch of other CouchSurfers, and we did it together. That made it an amazing experience.”
For those who can’t afford to spend $3,000 on a plane ticket to New Zealand, CouchSurfing gives users the opportunity to host surfers from the United States and abroad on a pick-and-choose basis.
“At Temple, you live on a funky campus where you can see your shadow at one in the morning,” said MacNapier, who is a seasoned surfer and host. “It’s definitely unique. Philadelphia is a big city with a small-town attitude. By hosting, you get to show it off and learn to navigate yourself around.”
Whether you’re about to offer up your futon or hop on the next piece of free furniture that comes your way (yes, some hosts actually offer beds), users make secure connections using the safety tools CouchSurfing provides.
In addition to self-written personal descriptions, profiles contain three levels of security. There are personal testimonials from other CouchSurfers, proof that users have valid mailing addresses, which ensures travelers physically meet their hosts and are vouched for at least three times.
Another way to build a good rapport with fellow users is to join a CouchSurfing group. The Philadelphia group is home to 780 members with 25 of those belonging to Temple’s subgroup.
“I just use the forums for the places that I’m going, and I can find people who are doing the same thing at the same time as me,” Shtraus said. “There are tons of groups and CouchSurfers all over the world, and I got to find out about local events wherever I was visiting.”
MacNapier has also established CouchSurfing Zone Philadelphia, a group for local users to meet up, learn more about the site and share stories. The group meets at Bean Exchange located at Seventh and Bainbridge streets. Meeting times are listed on the Philadelphia group site.
“For a lot of college kids who don’t have much money, it’s is a good way to get a rich cultural experience and just enjoy people and places,” MacNapier said. “To share food, to hear different languages, to soak up diversity. That’s what the world is about, and CouchSurfing shares that.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.