“Professor Karl” Hahn provided a light-hearted review of his experiences with a popular, worldwide phenomenon called “Couchsurfing” at the Sunday, October 1 meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club. He said it is a way to meet new people from all over the world.
Karl is an American originally from the Great Lakes region of North America/Canadian province of Ontario. He migrated to the warmer climes of Florida before venturing to Thailand. He taught school for many years, “got married and divorced, got married and divorced, got married and divorced…”, he also says that he is good at “making money, losing it, making money, losing it… etc.”. He now enjoys the latest chapter of his life and works at staying in a marriage and keeping his new wife happy, “Happy wife, Happy life”.
Couchsurfing is a hospitality service, as well as a networking website, that has been around since 1999. The concept was conceived by a computer programmer, Casey Fenton, who hacked a University of Iceland site when planning a vacation, then e-mailed 1,500 students, asking for a place to stay, for free. He received 50-100 lodging offers, then, on his return flight, he came up with the idea to create the “Couchsurfing” site and registered the domain name. Couchsurfing became a non-profit corporation in the state of New Hampshire in 2003. Popularity grew over the years and an “International Couchsurfing Day” was established on 12 June 2004. A reorganization took place in 2011 with “Couchsurfing” becoming a for-profit organization in 2011 making money by offering an optional, member verification fee of about 800 to 900 baht. Basically, it involves a member asking/or offering someone in another location for a place to stay during their travels.
The “Professor” talked about the experiences he and his lovely wife have had after hosting 47 surfers from 23 countries. He says that they have had to turn away triple that number as schedules did not permit accepting their requests. Karl indicates that Pattaya could use more “active” hosts and repeated the site’s motto is “Friends you just haven’t met yet.”
Karl presented a video of a BBC news report about Couchsurfing being a way for adventure on a budget while being “resourceful”; noting that some locations are more “in demand” than others. Another segment is an interview with Brian, from California, making an around-the-world trip, where he says that not only is he saving money, but more importantly, it provides a unique opportunity to get a real taste of the culture, hospitality and the true feel of the community, as opposed to staying in a hostel or hotel.
The “Professor” points out that there are two parts of “Couchsurfing”, the “Surfers” and the “Hosts”.
Connection is made via the website www.couchsurfing.com where you fill out a profile reflecting your lifestyle, your mission and what’s important to you. You tell people if you’re traveling or would like to be a host. Once you explore the site, you can then decide if you want to make your couch, or spare room, available to travelers. If you are traveling, search for the city you plan to visit and browse locals with couches available, look through the profiles and references and send a “Couchrequest”, with a personalized message, saying why you want to meet. Karl suggests that you look at the potential guest’s social media to get an understanding of the potential guest. The option to provide a polite rejection is always there, if you don’t feel comfortable with what you see.
Safety is always important. A careful review of available data is a must and don’t compromise, if you are uncomfortable, keep looking. Trust your instincts and always have a backup plan. Make your boundaries clear and don’t be shy about stating them. Don’t give out your personal contact information until you have met and use the “Hangout Communication” within the application. Become informed about the cultural and religious differences, sensitivities and also utilize the safety recommendations from government sites. The site has a reference system to let other Couchsurfers know about your experiences. The site also has a “Trust and Safety” team if there are any issues.
Karl points out that although “Couchsurfing” tends to be a young person’s adventure, there are many senior citizens who explore the world and enjoy making friends along the way. He and his wife have hosted several “young at heart folks”. Couchsurfers organize at regular events in 200,000 cities around the world and usually meet in a local bar or coffee shop.
Surfers, like society, have different ideas about what they like to do. They have discovered some common items… The young guys like the bar and lady scenes, no surprise. The ladies tend to love…shopping! However, the common like is eating! The roles of “Surfers” and “Hosts” needs to be established before getting together. You may not want to feed the guests, every meal or maybe you do. Maybe the guest would like to prepare a meal. The guest may want time alone. Decide, up front, about the sharing of expenses to avoid “uncomfortable” moments. As a host, you decide how long a guest can stay and what “house-rules” you may have. As we all know, in Thailand, “It’s up to you.” Karl points out that he and his wife have had the opportunity to make lifelong friends and have learned about many local attractions, just by acting as unofficial “tour-guides”. He recommends the adventure.
After the presentation, MC Roy Albiston brought everyone up to date on upcoming events. This was followed by the “Open Forum” portion of the meeting, where questions are asked and answered and comments made about expat living in Thailand. For more information on the Club and their activities, visit www.pcec.club .