By Darla Shelden
In the US, cross-country drivers typically pass through Oklahoma City, especially with the popularity of historical Route 66. Now, finding a local to put them up has become a lot easier through the Internet phenomena called CouchSurfing.
CouchSurfing.org is an international non-profit network that connects its travelers with locals in over 230 countries around the world. Since 2004, nearly 2.5 million members have been using this system to come together for cultural exchange, friendship and learning experiences.
More than just a free night’s stay, CouchSurfing can add another dimension for any traveler.
Starting from their home in Reading, PA, Jeff Whitlock and his son Collin were touring Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, when they had their first CouchSurfing experience in Oklahoma City. “I think CouchSurfing is a great idea, especially for traveling. We recently explored Route 66 and it was great. It’s much more fun than staying at a hotel because you meet interesting people and you can talk and have a good time during your visit,” stated Collin.
From northern California, Chalyse Drake, Kristen Kampa and Klyvlundd, their four legged surfer were traveling the country to collect stories about the true culture of America.
“We had a great time in Oklahoma City. Even though we arrived late, we clicked immediately with our host who made us comfortable and took us to a local jazz club. We enjoyed hours of wonderful conversation, loud laughs, and dog lovin’ fun!”
CouchSurfing’s initial focus was on hosting and “surfing” (staying with a local as a guest in their home). But now local events are drawing CS’ers together such as the Oklahoma City community weekly potluck dinner.
Sara Jacoby, from Crestwood says, “The OKC Community has a great group of hosts. CouchSurfers from Pakistan, India, Columbia, Costa Rica, Mexico, USA, Turkey, and the UK participate in events here in the city. We have a food society where we all bring meals from our childhood. It’s been the biggest blessing of my life.”
Reed Park residents Luis and Kevin Saenz, have been CouchSurfing since 2005. “We have had such a great experience with guests including singers, researchers, environmentalists, students and professionals –People in transitions of careers or just in the search of their own soul.” “Every time we host CouchSurfers I wish I could just drop everything and join them in their quest.“
CouchSurfing can be compared to staying in hostels around the world, but the big difference is that you’re staying with a local, for free, who can show you the insider’s view of a city.
Matthew Weaver and Tessa Powell from Ft. Lauderdale had their second CS experience in OKC. “Our Oklahoma City host was welcoming and eager to show us around.
After taking us out to hear some local musicians, we saw the Federal Building Memorial We had a delicious meal at Cattlemen’s, a true taste of Oklahoma dining. Couch surfing is a wonderful experience that we’ll never forget.”
Hosts can screen potential guests through their online profiles, which often read like personal ads, with photos, offering a sense of who they are. User profiles have rating systems with feedback from previous hosts in the same way sites like Amazon and eBay include buyer and seller feedback.
Couchsurfing.org was created by Casey Fenton, an American web consultant. After buying a bargain flight to Iceland, he realized that he had no interest in spending his time and money in a hotel, as a tourist.
The CouchSurfing site offers some safeguards, such as a system of users vouching for each other online and a higher verification level ($25), where a letter is sent to the host’s home address requiring a postal reply.
The main thing that the majority of users have in common is a passion for travel and a desire to exchange ideas with new people.
You may not end up becoming best friends with the people you host or surf, but they might open your eyes to a different way of thinking or teach you something new. And that appears to be the real benefit of a thing called CouchSurfing.