Sleeping on a mate’s sofa used to be a local way to avoid being homeless – now couch surfing is making a major contribution to tourist accommodation. LEE PING went to find out how it works in Cardiff.
Have couch, will travel has become the motto for millions of tourists looking for somewhere to stay on their global adventures.
However the couch belongs to someone else and they have to be willing to lend it to you for the night.
Users of couch surfing as a tool for finding accommodations are called “couch surfers”. People who share their houses or couches are called “hosts”.
Surfers go online, find the hosts in certain area, read their profiles which normally include dos and don’ts, and then send their requests to the host who can either approve or decline.
In Cardiff, the capital and largest city in Wales with the high level of international exposure, besides that there are more than 2,000 users on one couch surfing website, couch surfing has developed into a lifestyle rather than a simple tool after nearly fifteen years.
Various events are created and hosted by the couch surfing community such as weekly meeting, hiking trips, movie nights and bowling games in Cardiff on a regular base.
Céline Lecocq stepped up to be the organizer after moving to Cardiff two years ago, and she’s been using couch surfing for more than three years.
“Since I’m working in Cardiff now and do not travel as often as before, I mainly host people who travel to Wales,” she said.
However, merely hosting brings headache to Céline during six nations, when many travelers from outside Wales came to watch the rugby games.
“Six nations are crazy. I’ve got three times more requests. There was a girl saying she would arrive at two in the morning and I can’t let her stay because I have housemates who might get pissed if they were awaken at the midnight,” she said.
Apart from the regular meeting, Céline has organized many hiking tours in South Wales such as Ogmore Castle walk, coast walk from Barry Dock to Rhoose and mountain walk in Pen-y-fan. She shares her experiences and living tips for people who is about to live in Wales on her website trickortrip.com.
“This [website] becomes a huge part of my life. I keep updating articles on my website at a pace of two to four articles every month, and I spend more than five hours researching the topic I’m writing about. Sometimes I don’t use couch surfing at all, but I get involved in events and activities to meet people who travel here,” she said.
Céline added: “It’s becoming a lifestyle and it is something I do when I’m not working.”
Céline turned her couch surfing experience to a lifestyle, while Adil Sabiri has made more use of it.
After using couch surfing for three years in Morocco, he moved to Cardiff and became a café manager in 2013. All this started from 2008 when he and his wife encountered each other.
“I hosted her in Morocco. After the first meet, she came and went back a couple more times, and we decided to get married,” Adil said.
In 2010, Adil quit his job as a stock manager and moved to Cardiff to start his new life with his wife.
He added: “It is a huge decision, you know, leaving your job, your family and all your friends and pursuing your love. But now, I’m having two children, one is three years old and one is eighteen months, and things are going well.”
Being busy managing his life in Cardiff, it’s almost impossible for Adil to host people in his house, but he doesn’t see this as a problem of being a part of couch surfing community.
“I still get engaged with couch surfing events like the weekly meeting where you can meet people from different countries and share cultures and experience with them,” Adil said.
Although there are many benefits in couch surfing – saving money, experiencing culture, meeting new people which can potentially lead to a long-term relationship, there are sorts of concerns raised up by some surfers.
An exchange student from Germany talks about his experience in Manchester before he arrived in Cardiff: “I went to his house and we had dinner and watched a movie together. Things all went well before I thought it was late and I needed a sleep.”
“He didn’t allow me to sleep on the couch and said I can only sleep on his bed. I didn’t feel comfortable and said no, then he started touch me. So I left his place at one and found a hotel eventually,” he said.
In spite of that he did have a good couch surfing experience in Leeds where the host showed him around and gave him free access to the house, he never used the website ever since.
“He did have a full profile with many pictures and the reviews are all positive, you would not expect that when you read his profile,” he added.
On the website, people write down information of the house condition in their profile and users can read the reviews left by previous surfers or hosts who met, but not everyone with a bad experience would feedback in reviews, which leads to the potential danger that people cannot identify the person by what they can see from the profile.
According to an article published by Business Insider, there are many users simply seeking for sex on through the website, and many other identical applications such as Bewelcome and Hospitality Club.
“Some people just have empty profile and what they want is just a free place to sleep. It would make people’s life so much easier if users just personalize their requests and write a serious profile,” Céline
On her profile, it is written clearly: “As I’m working a lot, it’s complicated to host during the week days so you’ll have to leave with me at 7:30 AM and come back at 6:00 PM at the earliest but most part of time about 7:30 PM.”
“It’s a great community and everyone should make a contribution to make it better,” she said.
By Lee Ping