Greetings from my favourite Canadian city, Montreal. This is our second time in the cultural capital of Canada but our first experience couchsurfing. CouchSurfing has been fantastic so far, not only as a free place to stay and an introduction to an unknown city, but as the quintessential social media site. It’s very essence is about connecting people in real life.
What is CouchSurfing?
For those of you who don’t know, CouchSurfing.org is a network where travellers can connect and find a place to stay with a local person in cities around the world. There is no cost for the website or for the couch (bed, room or floor) but it is expected that you are going for the social exchange and not just a free place to sleep.
This is how my wife explained it to her mother, “We are going to stay at a stranger’s house. We found the person on the Internet.” (Very rough English translation. :-))
Prior to our visit, I must admit we had some apprehensions about staying with someone we have never met. Other than the profile everyone writes about themselves on the CouchSurfing.org site and reviews from other travellers, you really don’t know what to expect on arrival.
Will they actually be there? Is it safe? What etiquette is expected? What gifts should we bring? Many things were on our mind prior to our first meeting our host.
The World’s Greatest CouchSurfing Host
It turns out we managed to find the best CouchSurfing host in the world on our very first attempt. The generosity and trust of our host is amazing. He opens his home to couchsurfers constantly. There is a steady flow of new people living in his house. Each surfer gets the keys to the house and full access. Despite his never-ending kindness, for every one person he accepts, he has to turn two away.
My wife and I have had the opportunity to spend several amazing nights with him drinking late into the evening. We feel like we have gotten to know him more than some of our close friends.
CouchSurfing is What Other Social Media Sites Try to Be
I think many social media critics associate online friends with superficial connections and banal conversation. That may be true in some cases but CouchSurfing is inherently different. The real value of the site comes from facilitating real life meet-ups. There is little chance that these kinds of connections could have been made before the Internet. Some good relationships can be developed online only but they will never reach the level of in person contact.
This to me is the real promise of social media. We are able to connect with like minded people on a global scale. That is huge!
It takes lots of work to build and maintain relationships but it can be so rewarding. I hope we have started the foundation of a life-long friendship with our host. I am certain we will meet again in different parts of the world.
Many people and businesses are using social media platforms as an inexpensive way to advertise. They try to friend or follow as many people as people with the intention of building a potential customer base. While that is part of life, I hope that it is going to be a very small part of our social media experiences.
CouchSurfing is Not About the Money
With CouchSurfing there is absolutely no financial transaction, the host is generous without expectation of direct reciprocity. Certainly there are long term benefits of being repaid with future couches to surf, but most hosts seem to give a lot more then they will ever receive. The real reason for giving so much is the social interaction.
That to me is a very powerful idea. We are social animals after all, social connections have tremendous value. That value extends far beyond any financial exchange. We have been conditioned to be consumers over the last 150 years or so. It is important to remember that society wasn’t always like this and it doesn’t have to continue this way indefinitely.
Again, it is my hope that this is all part of the economic and social evolution of mankind. We are reaching for the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy. Life is no longer a struggle for food, shelter and clothing. We are looking for meaning and purpose in our lives. That meaning can’t be bought or consumed. Life is measured by the quality of our personal relationships and contribution to other people. CouchSurfing.org is the best example I have found of that so far. The only downside is that we have been having such a great time that I haven’t been able to get any work done. 🙂 After the fantastic conversations we have had with our host, I am going to put a lot more effort into meeting people around the world.
I would love to hear about other websites that facilitate human interaction like CouchSurfing for a project I am working on. If you have any good examples or experiences please let me know in the comments or by email.
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