BY JUSTIN LUND
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”- Mark Twain
After travelling for six months in South America, Felicia Verkerk is another victim of a serious illness: the one inflicted by the voracious travel bug.
“I can’t stay in one place too long,” said Felicia, known to her friends as ‘Flip’. “Once you do a little bit of travelling, you want to do more and more.” She was so hooked after her South American trip that she saved more money and headed straight to China.
“I had to save up for around a year,” she said. “That meant a lot of hours in a lot of shitty jobs. But working hard for holiday makes the holiday that much sweeter.” For young travellers, often students working for low wages, it can be hard to fund their adventures. But Flip found a way to experience something different week in and week out at home in Sydney, which also cut her travel accommodation costs: couch surfing.
“Couch surfing is where you stay at somebody’s house, and sleep on their couch for free,” said Flip, who also welcomes couch surfers into her home in Sydney.
“It’s far more than just free accommodation,” said Flip. “It’s an amazing idea that just makes the world seem a smaller place.
“I think you get a better taste of the culture of another country if you stay with the local people, rather than staying in a hotel or hostel.”
Couch surfing is an international non-profit network operating in 230 countries and territories. Travellers join the online network for a $20 fee. Once the couch surfer locates a couch he or she would like to stay on, they send a request to the host via email, or via the couch surfing network. The host may then accept or decline the request.
Each member on the network has a profile page, and the site employs a feedback system similar to eBay’s. And like eBay, the network verifies its members so people can’t make up false names or accounts.
“I’ve haven’t had a bad experience with a couch surfer who has stayed at my place,” said Flip. “They’ve all been really appreciative. One guy from Italy even cleaned my whole house while I was at work.
“There have been some language barriers a few times. which makes things interesting. But I’ve had a lot of fun with all my couch surfers, had some great conversations, and learnt a lot.
“I think couch surfing has taught me that you can build a good friendship in a short amount of time, and that you relate to anyone no matter where they’re from.”
More information about the Couch Surfing network: http://www.couchsurfing.org/