NO WAVES. NO BOARD

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    The CouchSurfing Project provides
    an innovative method of travel to
    those looking to broaden their horizons,
    make new friends and save a few
    bucks. Outside the realm of hotels and
    tourist traps, CouchSurfing gives travelers
    a unique opportunity to absorb the authentic
    culture of a city by pairing them
    with someone who lives there.

    How does it work?

    Much like MySpace and Facebook, users
    create personal profiles on the CouchSurfing
    Web site (www.couchsurfing.com) to
    find people to host them in the city they
    would like to visit. Users list anything from
    the languages they speak to their hobbies
    or “current mission” in life.
    Profiles can be viewed by any member
    of the project, and all communication
    through the Web site is recorded. From the
    information listed on a surfer’s profile, users
    can gather if that person would be their
    ideal host.
    The only cost to surfers and hosts is the
    willingness to open their homes and hearts
    to other travelers.
    Is it safe?
    Sleeping on a stranger’s couch in a foreign
    city has been an unnerving concept for
    some. Crystal Murphy, an ambassador for
    CouchSurfing who is based in Birmingham,
    Ala., said she has hosted more than
    70 people and has “surfed” more than 20
    times without having any problems.
    The CouchSurfing project is a nonprofit
    organization so no money goes into advertising,
    Murphy said. Most users learn about
    the project through positive referrals from
    others, she said. It’s those referrals that have
    helped more than 475,000 users worldwide
    become involved in the project.
    Of those users, there have been more than
    720,000 positive experiences reported to
    the Web site.
    “I think people think [CouchSurfing] is
    dangerous,” said Anna Wilhelm, a senior
    math and Spanish major at TCU.
    She said a trust mentality has to exist between
    users similar to the idea behind eBay.
    If someone receives a bad reference, no one
    will shop with them again, she said.
    Of about 80 CouchSurfers in Fort Worth,
    a few are TCU students.
    Past Surfers
    Name: Jennifer Pippin
    Major: International communication with a global advertising/public relations
    emphasis
    Current Mission: “To finish my senior
    year and figure out my life”

    For Pippin, CouchSurfing in Ibiza, Spain,
    last summer was more than an alternative
    method of travel 8212; it was necessary. In Ibiza,
    one of the world’s renowned vacation destinations,
    hotels and nightclubs are expensive.
    Her vacation could’ve cost more than
    $1,500, Pippin said, but she spent about
    $300. She said her host put her name on
    VIP guest lists at nightclubs, drove her
    around the island and introduced her to
    his friends.
    “I felt like I was in paradise,” Pippin said.
    Most people unfamiliar with the goals of
    the CouchSurfing Project think Couch-
    Surfing is a dating service, she said, and
    it’s not. The project is about opening your
    home to experience a different culture
    without judging it first, she said.
    Name: Mary Bauman
    Major: Graduate student, speech-language
    pathology
    Current Mission: “To do it all”
    Although she’s a trusting person, Bauman
    said, she had her fair share of concerns
    before embarking on her first CouchSurfing
    experience in Barcelona. Bauman has
    surfed eight different times and her first
    experience remains her most memorable
    mostly because of the excitement, she said.
    Her host’s mother cooked for her and she
    also had her own room, she said. Her host
    was very involved with CouchSurfing and l
    liked to take others around to show them
    the city, Bauman said.

    CouchSurfing is not just a Web site to find
    free places to stay 8212; that’s not the point,
    she said. It’s a tool to help travelers meet
    others and form connections to people
    around the world, she said.
    Name: Matt Buongiorno
    Major: Political science
    Current Mission: “Be silly. Be honest. Be
    kind.”
    Buongiorno said he joined the CouchSurfing
    Project because he wanted to immerse
    himself in a city’s culture.
    “I wanted to step out of the conventional
    frame of travel,” he said.
    His first CouchSurfing experience started
    one weekend when he couldn’t fight the
    urge to climb a mountain 8212; literally. He
    flew to Salt Lake City and hitchhiked to
    the base of a mountain.
    Before his flight he had contacted a Couch-
    Surfer, a student at the University of Utah,
    and arranged to stay with her. He remains
    in contact with her and the other four people
    he has surfed with.
    Buongiorno said he hosted a CouchSurfer
    from England, while living in a residence
    hall. A meal at The Main and a shower in
    the community bathrooms gave the surfer
    a true-life view of life at TCU.
    A student in Flagstaff, Ariz., hosted Buongiorno
    and his friend so they could hike in
    the Grand Canyon. He said an entire wall
    of her apartment was covered in artwork
    other surfers had made for her.
    The CouchSurfing Project brings together
    like-minded people to travel uniquely, he
    said. It brings people outside the travel industry
    to form global connections.
    A small world
    The U.S. is the most popular country for
    CouchSurfers, and Europe follows close
    behind. CouchSurfers span the globe from
    San Francisco to Istanbul, Turkey, and anywhere
    in between.
    Alex Allin, a senior social work major, said
    she stayed with a young woman in France
    and then hosted her when she visited Dallas.
    She said the idea of “giving back” is the
    most interesting and important part of the
    project.
    With more than 345,000 couches worldwide,
    it’s just a matter of figuring out
    where to visit.

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