Travelling the world by crashing on strangers’ couches might sound like something that would only really appeal to the 18-25 demographic – and even then, probably only those trying to travel on a very short shoestring.
You’d be surprised though. Couchsurfing.com – an online hospitality exchange network – has members of every age, political affiliation and income bracket, all around the world.
Couchsurfing.com connects travellers looking for a place to bed down for a night or three, with willing hosts. It might sound dubious in an age where one is encouraged to trust no one, but six million people in 100,000 cities are willing to take the risk, simply for the pleasure of meeting and connecting with people from other parts of the world.
Yes, there are, inevitably some weird ones – Afghan hosts who list their occupation as ‘warlord’; Death Valley residents who promise to remove any black widow spiders from the house gently; and Uruguayan nationals living in Antarctica who claim to believe the world is flat.
But then again, delving into the world of couchsurfing requires a degree of open mindedness, and depending on one’s attitude such quirks could well be considered part of the charm and authenticity of the experience.
Almost 60 people across all three Cayman Islands have signed up to the site and have the option to make a couch, blow up mattress or guest bedroom available to surfers.
Some of the most active hosts are Bob and Debbi Truchan, residents of Little Cayman.
They first heard about Couchsurfing through a friend two years ago, and after doing some research, signed up to the site. So far, they have hosted nine surfers, who have stayed for anything from three days to two weeks.
“The usual expected time is about three days to a week,” explains Debbi. “As Little Cayman is a bit farther to get to we actually expect people to stay at least a week.”
While some hosts offer nothing more than a sleeping bag (they had one surfer who had couchsurfed the whole of the US and Canada and along the way had slept in trailers, private cabins, house boats, private rooms, on floors and even once in a tree) Bob and Debbi have a spare room.
Over Christmas they hosted one couple in their spare bedroom plus three girls who slept in the living room on a pullout and an extra couch.
So does a couple in their sixties not mind complete strangers invading their home on a regular basis? Not this one, at any rate.
Bob and Debbi are no strangers to opening up their home to others. Prior to moving to Cayman, the couple took in foster children in Canada whom they cared for and nurtured alongside their own three children.
“As Baha’i we are always looking for ways to enhance our lives and the lives of others,” says Debbi. “Couchsurfing is a fantastic experience, the people charming and gracious, adventurous and willing to learn all they can about the Islands and other lifestyles.”
Surely there have been some bad guests, though?
There was one ‘no-show’ but no negative experiences, they say. Some of their surfers have been exceptional, in terms of their enthusiasm, and desire to explore new food, music, and lifestyles.
As hosts, Bob and Debbi always have the option not to accept a couch request, although so far they have turned no one away. Because each couchsurfer completes a profile, posts photos of themselves and their accommodation, and hosts and guests alike can review each other, they have no reason to be apprehensive about the arrangement. They also reason that Little Cayman being small, and not a place one can easily leave in a hurry, makes them feel entirely comfortable with the arrangement.
Many of the guests they host are what Debbi calls “life seekers” – young people with open minds and questions that need answering.
As a cook, counsellor and artist, Debbi is able to share some of her gifts and insights with her guests, while Bob finds a connection with people of all generations and cultures through his love of music.
Others, they say, are return visitors to the island, who are looking for an alternative to the expensive resorts. They may therefore couchsurf at night and dive all day.
So far, Bob and Debbi have not experienced the other side of couchsurfing – staying in other people’s homes. They have invitations from past guests though and intend to take them up on it when they find the time.
For now, welcoming people to their home and their island is enough. The ability to experience it all through the eyes of their guests gives them a refreshed outlook on life, they say.
“Couch surfing tests and challenges my belief in unity, my principles of abolishment of all prejudices and it also humbles me in gratitude for what I have and where I live,” says Debbi.