“Life is about doing things that don’t suck with people who don’t suck.¨
This is an interview from October 2004. Couchsurfing is much bigger today, and Casey Felton is not associated with the organization as far as I know today. In 2011, a private equity firm bought Couchsurfing, and today, it has around 12 million subscribers. This is a companion post to my blog about hospitality exchanges.
A Profile of Couchsurfing and its Founder, Casey Felton
Casey Felton, a 26-year-old political consultant and computer programmer in Anchorage, Alaska, set up coachsurfing.com in February 2004. CouchSurfing.com has nearly 5000 members worldwide who agree to provide hospitality. Usually (approximately 70% of all members) the hospitality takes the form of offering a bed for a few days’ stay to other members. However, some hospitality is limited to offers by hosts to spend some time showing guests around their community.
Most of the members come from the US and Canada, though there are several members in Europe and East Asia. Couchsurfing also has several members throughout the Third World.
Casey has put a lot of thought and time into the site. He has succeeded in getting a lot of press interest (including articles in the New York and Los Angeles Times and several major European papers) and developed a site that allows members to post a lot of information to help “break the ice.” Couchsurfing.com also has excellent tip sheets, helpful member profiles, and an intuitive, easy-to-use design.
In October 2004, I interviewed Casey. Here is a summary of that interview:
Paul: When did you start developing couchsurfing.com?
Casey: I started planning couchsurfing.com four years ago. It started after I spent time traveling throughout the globe and thought it would be great to get to know people by staying in their homes. In Egypt, I was invited by a young boy to stay with his family. His family offered me a dirty blanket and put me on a bed outside, but they also taught me that the Earth was full of hospitable people.
To see how receptive people would be to couchsurfing.com, I sent e-mails to the entire student population of a University in Iceland before I went on a trip there. I was met at the airport by an Icelandic pop star and received a really wonderful welcome from people throughout Iceland.
Paul: How has Couchsurfing become so popular so quickly?
Casey: I think the name has attracted a lot of attention, and I also believe that many people are attracted to Couchsurfing because of its non-profit status. I also encourage members to get in contact with their local press to let them know about our service. It has worked well. I expected to have 3000 members at the end of 2004, and it looks like we’ll have around 5000 instead.
Paul: Are most of your membership young?
Casey: Our average age is 29. Last week, I hosted a pair of nurses who were both in their 60s, and we have members in their 80s.
Paul: How do you deal with safety issues?
Casey: We recommend that members refuse to host people if they don’t feel comfortable with the exchange. We have two ways that we help to establish trust. One is that we give members the option of becoming verified. “Verification” requires $25 payable by credit card. This enables us to establish that the person is at least creditworthy enough to have a credit card. We also verify the member’s name and address by sending them a letter.
We also offer members the option of “vouching” for each other. Hosts who have enjoyed a guest can “vouch” for the guest by posting their remarks on the website. So far, I have not received any comments about any significant problems with any guests. One host did complain, however, that a guest was not interested in spending much time with the host. This, however, is a question of good guest-host communication rather than safety.
While I have never read of any serious problems with hospitality exchanges, many people are reluctant to join out of fear for their safety. They don’t want strangers in their homes, or they are afraid of their safety in someone else’s home.
While this concern is understandable, it isn’t really justified. You have to remember that most people involved in hospitality exchanges are also opening their homes to travelers. They have opened themselves up to risk because they are both trustworthy and open to trusting other people.
That said, if you are extremely concerned about safety, you should consider joining SERVAS since they require that all travelers must go through an interview. However, rest assured that you will be safe with any organization you choose.
Regardless of which hospitality exchange program you choose, there are things you can do to help ensure safety. Couchsurfing has an excellent list of safety precautions, including:
- After contacting a person, get their telephone number and make a telephone call. Make sure you get a photograph, and an address. Ask as many questions as you need. No one who is offering their couch to visitors should be afraid to provide this information.
- Leave a copy with friends or family, next to your passport copy, with the date, address, and telephone number you are staying at. If you are traveling in a remote or dangerous area, you might consider registering with your embassy. You can usually do this via phone or email.
- Keep a backup plan. Perhaps your host has a family emergency and has to leave, or maybe you’ve found that you don’t get along well. Don’t worry. Get a telephone number for a hotel or youth hostel ahead of time, just in case.
- Know how to get downtown from where you are staying, by foot, taxi, auto, bus, or metro. This means that you should get a map. Mark your embassy on it. Your embassy is there to help you. Make a telephone list with the numbers for the police, your embassy, a taxi, an ambulance, and your host. Find out how to use the local telephones ahead of time so that you can make calls easily in the event of an emergency.
Other Accommodation-Related Posts
- A 2004 Profile of Couchsurfing Founder Casey Felton from Fifty-Plus Nomad’s Hidden ArchivesThis blog contains an interview from October 2004 with Casey Felton, the founder of Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is much bigger today, and Casey Felton is not associated with the organization.
- Discover 16 Top Hospitality Exchange TipsHospitality Exchanges are a great way to meet people and travel the world on a budget. I once even met a woman who spent a year traveling around Europe staying with hospitality exchange hosts and only spent $7000 on the whole trip!
- Home Swap Tips: How to Arrange Your Perfect Home ExchangeHome exchanges (also known as home swaps) seem like the perfect fit for many long-term travelers and expats. This post features tips to help you arrange the ideal home swap for you.
- Homestays (Staying with Local Families While Traveling): My Favorite Insider Accommodations For Long-Term TravelersLong-Term travelers should stay with local families in homestays, usually as part of language schools or volunteer travel programs. Homestays have made a significant impact on my life and are also highly economical.
- Tips for Expat Retirees Buying a House Abroad (Under Construction)Under construction
- Pros and Cons of Moving Your Belongings Abroad for Expat Retirees (Under Construction)Under construction
- Maggie and the Mexican Hot Sheets MotelRoberta Rich wrote this article about staying in love motels in Mexico during her annual drive from Vancouver to Colima, Mexico. She stayed in these motels because they were the only places she could find that allowed dogs.
- Travel Alliances are Essential: But Are They Worthwhile for Consumers?Travel industry alliances are essential to the business´s survival. However, alliances have both good and bad implications for consumers
- Ancillary Travel Fees: Why Are They Increasingly Becoming An Industry Lifeline?More and more the travel industry depends on the sale of other products to expand and maintain its profitability. Expect to be bombarded with hints to buy other things (ancillaries) on your next cruise, flight, etc.
- 3 Travel Industry Cost Savings Techniques: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyThe travel industry has made several changes to save costs in recent times. Some like using more fuel-efficient planes do not affect consumers that much. Others like reducing staff have made the experience worse for consumers.
- Business Travelers Versus Leisure Travelers: The Ultimate Airline ShowdownThe travel industry gets most of its clients from leisure travelers. However, it makes more money from business than leisure passengers. The airlines put up with us leisure travelers because they couldn’t survive without us. However, they don’t hide their preference for business travelers.
- 4 Travel Industry Consolidations (Non-Airlines): Consumer’s Nightmare or Benefactor?Probably the most significant change in the travel industry in the past couple of decades has been the industry’s rapid consolidation. Read this post to discover how few travel players really exist in the market today. and how this rapid consolidation has affected consumers.
- Why the Sharing Economy Has Become So Popular in the Travel Industry?The sharing economy like Uber and Airbnb has made a major influence on the travel industry and will continue to affect the industry far into the future.
- The 3 Reasons Travel Prices Are So Radically Different than Other Products: Perishability, Capital Costs, and Yield ManagementHave you ever wondered why travel products seem to be priced so crazily? Learn the three economic factors that contribute to the pricing of travel products: perishability, high capital costs, and yield management.