Tired of hotels? Try CouchSurfing on your next vacation!

CouchSurfing seeks to "internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding."

couchsurfing 88 (photo credit: )
couchsurfing 88
(photo credit: )
In the stresses of traveling, the hotel experience has its downfalls. While making your wallet lighter, hotels often take you out of any exotic culture you have worked so hard to travel to see. A solution that has been spreading like wildfire across Israel and the world is a phenomenon called "CouchSurfing," where natives open their homes, and clear their couches to host travelers from abroad. According to couchsurfing.com, the online meeting place, "CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding." CS wants to "make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal," it adds. Each country has a page that represents its travelers on couchsurfing.com. On the Israel page, Israelis are described as being "famous [for being] open-minded, warm and hospitable…. The Israeli traditional habit of expanding your horizons and meeting new cultures through traveling goes along with the idea and philosophy behind the CS project." There are already more than 2,500 Israeli couchsurfers, and the number is growing every day, according to CS. Pavel Antokolsky, 25, from Tel Aviv believes CouchSurfing offers a unique experience that is unavailable in the hotel or the cheaper hostel alternative. "The reason why I like CS so much is because you can never deeply explore the place while staying disconnected from a local culture, like normal tourists do," he says. Although CS is clearly a way to save some serious cash, Antokolsky believes there is much more to it. "I truly believe this is not about saving few bucks by not going to hotel, but about cultural experience you would miss otherwise," he says. "How else would you meet local people for an interesting conversation, see some favorite cafe hidden in a back alley or get taken to secret spots not shown on tourist maps?" Antokolsky has hosted travelers from Europe, the US and Canada, the Former Soviet Union, from Asia, and even some fellow Israelis. Dina Dunkelman, 26, from Jerusalem, sees CouchSurfing as a way to open up to the world. "CS in general is an incredible project, a truly ingenious way of connecting the world one person at a time," she says. "I've made friends in Italy, Turkey, Spain, Ireland and India." In a world of Jewish travelers, Dunkelman says, "Jews can connect through CS to celebrate holidays, or Shabbat together, for different gatherings or prayers." Daniel Moran, a 26-year-old from Haifa, takes pride in hosting travelers from around the world. "I try to make them feel as much at home as possible in my place," he says. "Usually in the first hour I ask, 'Do you want a coffee?' and usually they say yes, and then I say, 'So make me one as well.' After that they usually feel more comfortable doing whatever they want." Moran says just hosting travelers helps him to "get away" from his everyday life, just like them. "It's important for me to host people," he says. "It gives me some kind of feeling of being abroad. It's like being on vacation while being home." He says that by being "on the road" while at home, "I learn a lot from my guests, about cultures, about their lives, about their interests." And some CS hosts use the opportunity for some good old-fashioned Israel advocacy. "It also gives me an opportunity to show Israel as I see it, and well, most people who visit here fall in love with Israel," says Moran. "I'd like to think I have something to do with it, but basically I just show them the normal life here, so the community does most of the work." Yitz Ostrov, 23, from Efrat, similarly believes in being an "ambassador" of his country to travelers. "I love to show my guests around and just hang out with them," he says. "I think it's the best way a person could be an ambassador, especially for a country with bad PR such as Israel." To surfers he hosts, Ostrov likes to "show a different aspect [of Israel] than what CNN feeds them." CouchSurfing isn't just for the young traveler. Dunkelman says it was her father who introduced CS to her after he couchsurfed in Poland. Devora Lepp, 21, from the United States, also heard about it from her parents. "The past few years they've been hosting a lot of people," she says. "My dad really enjoys it." CouchSurfing has its share of critics, and even its fans are cautious about bringing strangers into their homes. "There is a security network based on trust. It can only work if it's based on trust," Lepp says. "As you surf, you get references for people to build reliability, but it comes down to trust. You do put yourself in a vulnerable position, bringing someone into your home, or staying in a strange place." Lepp says she has learned to believe in people through couchsurfing while traveling to places like Prague, where her host simply gave her a key upon arrival. And some hosts really do go out of their way for you, she adds. "In Dresden I had to go to the hospital, and my hostess came with me and translated what the doctors said for me," she says. Boaz Balchasan, 23, from Haifa, believes "CouchSurfing is a whole culture." "I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it's also a way of life," he says. "It helps you get to know and understand different people, cultures, nations, and ways of thinking, just through hosting or being hosted. I think it's an amazing project that can really help bring mankind to the targets of unity and world peace." The crew over at CS believes in the power of the couch, and its manifesto contains some lofty goals. "CouchSurfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it's about making connections worldwide," it says. "We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!"