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SUNDAY, APRIL 8, 2007 STAR TRIBUNE TRAVEL G3 Traveling abroad, with rooms to spare That week Bampasaki also introduced me to a friend of hers, a third-generation sandalmaker who custom- made me a pair of sandals for a bargain price. When I told friends and family I intended to my way through Europe for three weeks, forgoing cheap hotels and hostels in favor of sleeping in the homes of strangers, I witnessed a full range of reactions, from fear to envy. Most were unfamiliar with the concept of couchsurfing, which matches hosts with travelers via the www.couchsurfing.com website. A global community The site operates much like eBay; users create profiles that can include photos, personal information and reviews posted by other users. In the Twin Cities metro area alone, there are more than 291 couchsurf- ers and hosts, and numbers are growing.
To date, the proj- ect has nearly 134,000 couch- surfers in more than 200 countries, and boasts more than 38,000 successful couchsurf- ing experiences. Couchsurfing is more than free lodging: more like having the best guidebook money buy. Hosts take pride in sharing their knowledge of their hometowns great restaurants tucked into hidden alleys, artists who create one- of-a-kind treasures and cultural diversions you might not ever encounter on your own. Couchsurfing offers a firsthand experience of how locals live. Susan Purcell, a widowed mother of nine grown children who lives in London, England, gave me a hug when she greeted me at the door, then kissed me on both cheeks.
She helped me plan my days over coffee and breakfast, and she did my laundry. While I stayed with her she exposed me to a feast of English foods. To this day I feel like I have my own in London. In Amsterdam, host Anna Sanders led me around the city for two days. While hiking through town we passed a tour group.
got a private tour Sanders bragged to the passersby, who looked on with envy. Shared advantages Hosts expect no payment in return for their kindness, though couchsurfers often bring gifts from their native countries. For my hosts in England, Greece and the Netherlands I brought bags filled with goodies. Purcell had asked me to bring a local specialty ingredient to make a dish for her. I chose Minnesota wild rice, and cooked up some soup for her and my fellow couchsurfers.
They were astounded by the dark color of the rice, and the dish was a hit. Couchsurfers show their appreciation in other ways too. Some help clean house, run errands or assist with small remodeling projects. On occasion, buy coffee or dinner for my hosts, though it was more common for them to treat me, as if I were an honored guest rather than someone just crashing on their couch. I say that couchsurf- ing was always comfortable.
Sometimes my hosts stayed up much later than dictated by my Midwestern sensibilities. All of them smoked, and as a nonsmoker I sometimes struggled for clean air. Their homes were modest, and personal space was at a premium. Two of them cooked on glorified hot plates, none had a clothes dryer, one washed all of her laundry by hand. I count these as snapshots into their way of life, experiences I would never have had if aimed for comfort rather than couchsurfing.
Charish Badzinski, a native of Brainerd, is a freelance writer in La Crosse, Wis. COUCH FROM G1 HOSTS TAKE PRIDE IN SHARING THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR HOMETOWNS GREAT RESTAURANTS TUCKED INTO HIDDEN ALLEYS, ARTISTS WHO CREATE ONE-OF-A-KIND TREASURES AND CULTURAL DIVERSIONS YOU MIGHT NOT EVER ENCOUNTER ON YOUR OWN. For home delivery, 612.673.7999 Scene is filled with things to occupy your time. Like movies, clubs, concerts, theater, art, TV, videos and CDs. Hang out with it every Friday.
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