Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review

In our teenage years a “couch surfer” described the bum friend who bounced between overnight stays on the family couch. Today, the term refers to finding a free, alternative place to stay in an unfamiliar city.

The website couchsurfing.org was created in 2004 to help locate safe couches for travelers.
Western student Rosemarie Boos said the site is there to create experiences for people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet.

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u'Over 2.3 million accounts in 241 countries are registered on couchsurfing.org.'

Boos spent six months in 2009 traveling through Europe. During her travels she stayed on four different couches.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” Boos said. “I was welcomed like we were old friends.”

Each stay lasted between two and five nights, which she said is an ideal amount of time to remain in one home.

In Vienna, Austria, her hosts took her to two underground salsa clubs that she said she couldn’t have found without someone with experience in the city. A great part of the experience of couch surfing is seeing and doing things you normally wouldn’t as a tourist, she said.

“It was a personalized view of a new city, as well as a free place to stay,” Boos said. The website is also a networking tool, she said.

Last winter, Western student Sara Allen traveled through Israel, Spain, Turkey and Greece. In Athens, Greece, she attended a party for couch surfers who were currently visiting the city. The party was set up through the site. Allen has been a couch surfer and a host. She said it was fun to be on the other side, taking care of people and showing them around her own city.

She is still in touch with some of the people she has hosted. “You get close so fast,” Allen said. Allen said she hasn’t had a bad experience hosting yet.

Unfortunately, once in a while people will overstay their welcome.

Western student Ciaran Seward registered her Bellingham home for hosting last spring. Her first surfer, Tom, had spent the two previous years traveling through the United States. When he arrived, he told Seward he would stay only two weeks.

“He ended up staying for a month,” Seward said. “A heavy month, thick month, long month. So we had to ask him to leave.”

Most of his stay he wasn’t a problem, she said.

“One time he got a little drunk, and he was a little forward with one of our roommates,” Seward said. “That was when we decided to ask him to leave.”

The experience hasn’t kept her from hosting three couch surfers since. They were overall great experiences, she said. Generally, couch surfers use the website appropriately.

Boos said that she usually communicates with her host before she arrives.

“I can use their space, but personally I don’t want to over step their boundaries,” she said.

She added that couch surfers should always assume you will pay for your own food and provide personal necessities, such as toothpaste and shampoo.

Most people will say ahead of time what amenities they offer along with their couch. Each host and surfer has their own registered profile on the website. The profiles are used to facilitate communication between surfers and hosts by request.

People may establish that they only have a couch available and nothing else. Once a request is made, the host will say how many people they have room for, when they can host someone and how many nights a surfer can stay.

A good addition to a profile is a list of personal interests, Allen said. If you both like biking, ask your host if you can bike around the city together.

The key to surfing and hosting is being smart, said Allen. Be straightforward and pay attention to references and reviews, which each profile provides. Allen also said always have the address of a hostel ready as a backup.

If done right the experience is well worth the risk, Boos said.