In the words of Forrest Gump, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’. This pretty much sums up CouchSurfing in a nutshell. From scantily-clad Russian strippers to seventy year old, tartan-wearing bird watchers, you literally do not know who or what will end up sleeping on your beloved sofa. Established in 2000, the idea has grown to have one 1.5 million members in all corners of the globe. Couch Surfing’s success is down to it being a unique volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travellers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation or just advice.
I’m sure nobody has lied, but may have bent the truth slightly on an internet profile. It may be that the picture was exceptionally well photo-shopped and meticulously angled, or that a passion for darts turns out to be a profound knowledge of the pub. Imagine this… you open the door to find an unknown person stood in front of you.
Sympathetically you say, “I’m sorry, but I haven’t ordered a takeaway”. In a matter of seconds, the colour drains from your confused face upon realising it is not the local delivery man, but what appears to be a middle-aged-crack-loving member of the mafia, who happens to be your new housemate for the next week. Whilst frantically searching to remember how drunk you must have been to accept this person into your home, the paranoia sets in. Will he urinate, amongst other things, in the shower? Will he steal half my CD collection? Will he use my apartment as a crack den? Should I sleep with one eye open?
As he opens his mouth, you learn that it isn’t just the erroneous profile picture, but also the language barrier that poses a problem. You reply to a question by nodding enthusiastically, feeling impressed that your Spanish GCSE has served you well. Little is it known however, that what is being offered is not a freshly brewed cup of Brazilian coffee, but a request to ‘share the warmth’ of your waterbed (respect to the man for trying).
After a long week your guest finally leaves, if they ever do, and you can go to bed safe in the knowledge that you have helped a fellow desperate traveller in need. Despite the stressful experience, deep down you know that you will do it all again – but this time only after clearly reading the profile.