Not long after I arrived in Poland, I met a young American woman – part of my Bible study group. She was teaching English here – a professional with master’s degree in ESL. She had a keen interest in travel and exploring the world. She had also taught English in China and was considering options for her next assignment.
Before she left Poznan, she had one last trip to make. She mentioned that she would be couch-surfing. I had never heard the term before. I jotted it down in my iPad to research the topic further. She told us that through a website, she would find people (all over the world) willing to host her in their home at no charge. As you can imagine, the women in our group (a few of us with daughters her age) were concerned about her safety. She said that both guests and hosts collect online feedback from past interactions, much like buyers and sellers on ebay. She said that she didn’t even consider staying with anyone who didn’t have multiple positive ratings.
There is a large, active couchsurfing community in Poznan as you might expect in a city with so many universities. Poznan couchsurfers even meet weekly – just a social/networking gathering at a local dance club. I understand it’s quite an international crowd. Our friend, Maciek, told me that he couchsurfed around Brazil while visiting his girlfriend who was going to college there. I’m guessing that the majority of couchsurfers are college students, young people with the freedom to travel but not the resources to do so conventionally. They are happy to have a couch and try to return the favor to people passing through their town. Isn’t this the biblical definition of hospitality? Something that had become unknown in modern, developed countries.
From what I’ve been reading online, there is also another distinct group of couch surfers. These are people well past the college years, who want to expand their social network while traveling. These are people who could afford hotels, but prefer getting to know the locals and getting a local perspective. They also look forward to showing the best of their locale to visitors.
While those who host couchsurfers are prohibited from charging a fee, a similar idea has a commercial bent. I was just reading an article in the International Harold Tribune about Airbnb. This concept grew in San Francisco; the founders looking to pay their rent, marketed their apartment to convention goers as Airbed and Breakfast. Their website now has rooms listed in 192 countries, with global daily volume about 1/3 of Hilton’s.
I looked at the airbnb site for an upcoming road trip to check out potential lodgings in Munich. In addition to listings for spare bedrooms, you’ll find entire apartments for rent. That’s what interested us. We ended up going with a hotel, they offered a better parking option for our car. (Something that isn’t always a given in Europe.)
I have a friend in Tucson, whose home is operated as an unofficial Bed and Breakfast. Airbnb could provide a much larger audience for those wanting to do something similar. I find the idea intriguing, but I have reservations about sharing space with strangers.
I have done that only once. When our older girls were away at school and Ed was out of town, Rachel (still in high school at the time) and I hosted two young women who were part of a university choir on tour. They just stayed with us overnight, less than 12 hours, but that was a very rewarding experience. The girls, both altos, were charming. They taught Rachel, also an alto, some soprano jokes. The girls had both come down with colds since they had been on the road, so while Rachel helped them settle in, I prepared Campbells’s chicken noodle soup (their request). I was glad we could send them off with a bag of cold med capsules, and cough drops.