See the world by couch surfing

With the alarming price of gasoline and skyrocketing plane ticket prices, students and adventure seekers on a budget are having to develop new ways to travel in our ever increasingly expensive world.

There are many types of wanderers, drifters, nomads, migrants and students with restless minds and brazen ideals, hungry for the experience the vastness of the unknown world has to offer. When these types of people feel the urge to move, they do. No matter the cost of fuel or the fare for the plane, bus or train ticket. They may be easily spotted in most communities. The freedom-bound, free-wheeling free loaders, tattered, sometimes traveling with canine companions and asking for change. Or the mysterious nomad, saving and traveling, only to save and travel again.

It has become difficult for those yearning to experience new cultures, because of the rising cost of plane tickets and the weakening of the U.S. dollar. However, if one is open to it, a striking possibility exists, though it is not for the weak hearted, or easily unsettled: couch surfing.

This is not the type of couch surfing one does when they are between apartments, or when they're in their late twenties and living at mom and dad's. This is organized couch surfing, brought to you by another friendly social networking tool: . Their Web site states "CouchSurfing is a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit." And the way they do that is this &

each user creates a profile (very much like MySpace). You may upload pictures, tell stories about yourself and answer those ridiculous survey questions (I suppose this feature is to establish compatibility, though I feel it rather trite). You find friends on the network, and you give each other referrals to boost your reputation as a safe and hospitable host. You are asked if you are able to host, and if so, what you have to offer &

a bed, couch, floor, etc. and for how long. Then, when it is time for you to take your trip, say to Spain, you look up the town you are visiting on the Web site and are given a list of people in your area with available space. Then, you contact them on their CouchSurfing page asking them for availability. It may take some piecing together, two days here, three days there, a night or so on a hammock, but it is a free service, and you get to experience the place you are visiting on a more personal level.

Of course it is best if you participate as host too, where a traveler asking to stay in your space will contact you. You are allowed to deny anyone, and no one ever has any of your personal information. This service changes the way we are able to travel. Hotels and even hostels are becoming unreasonably expensive and, when staying in those places, one is always surrounded by other tourists, so it's sometimes hard to experience the local culture.

It is a fantastic way to network and create many new personal connections. Instead of visiting an area and only having the memories of being there, one may be able to form friendship after friendship, creating a much richer experience.

CouchSurfing is not for everyone. It's not for those who overpack or expect a hot shower each day and breakfast cooked for them. You should not go into the experience expecting a tour guide. Some people don't want you to tag along with them.

They are just kind enough to offer some space while you explore their city. It's important to respect this rule, though some hosts love to show their guests around.

Experienced traveler Annie Walsh said, "While my experience with CouchSurfing is limited, I've only had positive experiences. It may not seem like the safest way to go. But I've only ever heard good things, and I think if you are on a budget, it is definitely the way to go, it is the most cost effective and economical way to travel."

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