How to live anywhere for free

We’ve been fairly constrained on time lately due to the relentless need for Karner Butterflies to eat and Kerry studying for her qualifier exam. And so few adventures have gotten us out of South Bend. But we have found an interesting way of bringing adventure to us, through a thing called couch surfing. The concept is simple: you open your couch (or air mattress or floor) to random strangers that are traveling in your area and need a place to sleep. In exchange, you can request to stay at other random stranger’s houses when you are traveling in the future. All of this is regulated by a website, couchsurfing.org, where you create a profile, accumulate references, and people can determine how suitable you and your residence is for their needs. The website includes users from every part of every country in the world.

Couch surfing is easily one of the greatest ideas that has come out of social media. I’ve been using it for about a year in both Florida and Indiana and have met an assortment of interesting people. I’ve hosted a man hitchhiking across the country, another man taking his five year old daughter on an epic West road trip, a group traveling to promote global poverty awareness, some “quantum mystics” and others.  I myself have surfed once, for two nights in Queens NY during a conference, where hotel rooms regularly run more than $200 per night (this alone saved me more money than the tiny costs of hosting will ever add up to). I’ve yet to have a single bad experience and all have left me with interesting stories. It’s a hobby that requires an open mind, but can be very rewarding.

Generally the person will contact you a week or two in advance and request to stay with you. You may accept or kindly decline. If you accept, they’ll roll into town on the day and give you a call for directions. This is usually followed by a meet and greet where you get to pick their brains about life, the universe, and everything. Some may seriously challenge your world views while others talk about roller coasters non-stop for three hours, you never know what you’re going to get. You may offer them food or invite them to go out somewhere and experience your town, or just give them advice on how to do so themselves. It’s entirely up to you. Even if you have a busy lifestyle and can’t take any time to entertain, couch surfers are always very appreciative of having a free place for the night.

As with any adventure worth having, there is some amount of risk. I haven’t heard of anything bad ever happening, but as always you should use common sense when participating.

Of course this blog isn’t only about traveling but conservation as well, so how can couch surfing help you save the world?

Here are a few facts:

  • The average electricity consumed for a single hotel room is equal to almost twice the amount for an entire house over the same amount of time. Have you ever considered that the bed sheets you sleep on as well as the towels and wash cloths all need to be cleaned after you leave, even for a one night stay? You would never wash those after a single use at home (because it’s a waste of energy).
  • Hotel guests tend to use more electricity and water than they normally would. Few people keep the thermostat at 60F when it’s hot out and take hour long scorching hot showers at their home (because it’s a waste of energy).
  • 500 to 1,300 new hotels are built in the USA every year. And they are getting larger. Many of these are built on rare and fragile habitat like beaches.
  • All of those little shampoo and conditioner bottles end up in a landfill for the next thousand years.

The point is that hotels are bad for the planet and we should reduce the demand for them. The good thing is, they are entirely unnecessary and can be eliminated from use completely. Couch surfing not only provides you with a safe place to sleep, it also allows you to meet a friendly person that is knowledgeable of the area and might even cook you a meal… all for free.

There is even a website, www.sustainablecouch.org/, that lists ideas for couch surfers and hosts on how to make the experience more environmentally and socially sustainable (i.e. taking your guests to a coffee shop that sells fair trade or lending them a bicycle for their stay).

I highly recommend that people who are into conservation and adventure give couch surfing a try. It’s just another way to make your traveling experience and everyday life that much more unique, memorable, and sustainable. Check out the website, read more about it, and make an account!

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