Feature

The enlightening -- and cheap -- art of couch surfing

Travel is getting a whole lot cheaper. Provided, of course, you don't mind sleeping with strangers.

There's a new way to "see the world with a free place to crash," said Jeff Miranda in The Boston Globe (free registration required). Couchsurfing.com is an online network of mostly 20-something travelers who offer to host visitors, and let them use their spare couches or beds—even their cars. There are other services with similar offerings—such as Hospitalityclub.org. But Couchsurfing.com says it places special emphasis on a mission that goes beyond saving its members money. Its goal is to encourage "human interaction."

The site has 285,000 registered users, and so far 98.8 percent have given positive ratings to their couch-surfing experiences. Members can sign up and offer their couches, and in exchange they have the right to search for available space, and hit the road after contacting their hosts. "It makes the world a smaller place," said Erin Benoit, who recently hosted three visitors in Massachusetts.

"CouchSurfing would seem to appeal to the postcollegiate backpacker set," said Matt Gross in The New York Times (free registration required), "but families dig it, too." The site's members don't have to hit the road themselves to get a taste of faraway places. Couples who find it hard to travel with kids can open their doors to fellow couch surfers, and get a vicarious thrill by listening to tales from "touring rock bands, teenage Canadian motorcyclists, and other frugal travelers."

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