Couchsurfing: A journey that begins on a stranger's couch
When going out of town the first thing most of us do is book a hotel. But how about booking a couch? It sounds a little strange but millions of people are doing it. It's called Couchsurfing and all you need is in the name itself.
"You get to see a city from the inside," said Kyle Pounders, a Couchsurfing member since 2008. "That person can show you what's going on in Little Rock from someone who lives in Little Rock's point of view."
It's something that even the best hotel concierge can't offer which is an inside look at the city, something only a native can give you. But not only do they show you around, they give a place to stay.
"I never change what I'm doing for a couchsurfer and that's the point," said Pounders. "That they get an inside perspective on what's going on in Little Rock."
Couchsurfing is a global community of over six million people in more than 100,000 cities who share their everyday life, world and journey and their couch. Pounders has hosted people from all around the world.
"Quite a few people from Austin and then up Northeast, New Hampshire, New York, Boston, Philadelphia," said Pounders. "I've had people from Amsterdam, Germany, France, California. All over the place."
And he still keeps in touch with most of them, like Levein Chorus who's from the Netherlands. Chorus was traveling the United States when he found Pounders on Couchsurfers.org.
"I didn't know anything about Little Rock," said Chorus a couchsurfer since 2006. "I just thought it would be a cool place to stop over and see what's what."
And Chorus, like most couchsurfers, says hotels are simply overrated.
"At a hotel you might get a little bit more comfort but that's is the only thing that goes for a hotel," said Chorus.
Pounders says even as a host he has some pretty crazy stories.
"Ten or twelve ladies from St. Louis were down here for a Beth Moore conference,' said Pounders. "They were like cooking me food. They went to the store and made this big dinner. And they were like, 'Y'all bring your friends over,' and so my friends came over and we had this big time with like all these ladies my mom's age!"
The web site says it's experiences like these that explain their incredible growth from a few thousand members in 2004 to over three million active members today.
"It's only word of mouth," said Colleen Sollars, of Couchsurfing.org "We've never done any advertising. But now it's kind of hit this tipping point and people are starting to hear about it. It's just taking off like gangbusters."
But couchsurfers say what's being lost in this tremendous growth is the reason behind couchsurfing. They say it's an opportunity for cultural exchange not a free place to spend the night.
"It started off in the communities of like minded people that are wanting the experience and it's kind of filtered down into people that just want a free place to stay," said Pounders.
Pounders says this misconception is driving some couchsurfers away.
"They want to have the cultural exchange but they're not able to because the person just wants to come in a crash and just leave," he said.
Pounders says it's much more than a free place to stay, it's a unique way to develop friendships with people from all around the world.
"The people that would've stayed with me previously come back through and they don't hit up a new couchsurfer they hit me up and we're now friends that met on couchsurfing," he said.
It's a chance to learn and grow.
"The world is a lot smaller than I thought it was and a lot more accessible, especially today," said Pounders.
And just as important, you're giving yourself and others the opportunity to create memories.
"You experience the most amazing things in the most unlikely places," said Chorus. "For me Little Rock was a place that I new nothing of and yet now it's my favorite place in the United States," said Chorus