How to surf
¢ The Couch Surfing Project is a nonprofit social Internet network of people who offer their homes to travelers across the world.
¢ It was created in 2003 after co-founder Casey Fenton traveled to Iceland and arranged housing by sending mass e-mails to Iceland students requesting a place to stay while visiting.
¢ The project has 570,000 members in more than 200 countries worldwide. The service is free and provides users with tools to increase safety.
¢ For more information, visit www.couchsurfing.com
Lawrence is quickly developing into a hot spot for area surfers.
Couch surfers, that is.
More than 100 people in the Lawrence community are registered as official couch surfers at couchsurfing.com, offering up their homes to travelers visiting Lawrence or just driving through. Registered couch surfers are able to send out requests on the nearly 600,000-member social networking Web site, also referred to as The Couch Surfing Project, when needing hospitality in more than 200 countries.
Becoming a couch surfer is simple: You create a profile on the Web site, similar to a MySpace or Facebook profile, listing your accommodations and interests. Those looking for a temporary place to stay browse the profiles, find someone in the place they are traveling, and send a message requesting to "surf."
Members can then accept or decline the request. The lodging is free.
Lawrence resident Paul Linder stayed with someone he met on the Web site when traveling to California and has hosted several groups of people in his home. While it helps travelers save money, Linder said couch surfing has also introduced him to some interesting and adventurous people he would not have met otherwise.
Kelley Rushing encountered couch surfing when she and a friend were planning a trip to California. They found a host within a few hours of sending a request, and Rushing has since hosted that person in Lawrence. Rushing, who said her couch surfing experiences have been "amazing," appreciates the chance to learn about a new city from a local person.
"You really get to know a place," she said.
Cecilia Mills hosted her first surfer recently - a woman traveling to Georgia from Colorado. Mills said couch surfing provides an opportunity to offer the same type of hospitality she has received from generous hosts when traveling through Europe.
"I thought, 'Why can't we do this in the U.S.?'" said Mills, who found that opportunity when she discovered couch surfing.
Offering up your home to a complete stranger might sound dangerous. Those concerns are considered by members who utilize the Web site's safety tools.
Couch Surfing spokeswoman Crystal Murphy said the Web site includes Web references from other members, a verification system for participants, and a team that investigates all negative experiences reported by members.
She cautions users to check out other members as best they can to ensure safety and a positive experience.
"We can't guarantee anyone's safety," said Murphy.
Linder said that when considering hosting someone, he first checks the person's profile online, then talks with them on the phone. He says this enables him to make an educated guess about the person's personality and character.
For some surfers, though, having faith and trust in strangers is exactly the point of couch surfing.
"People are such strangers to each other in America," said Rushing. "This (couch surfing) is exactly what our country needs."