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couch surfing also couchsurfing or CouchSurfing

noun [uncountable]

staying the night at the home of another person, especially a stranger, for free

couch surf also couchsurf

verb [intransitive]

couch surfer also couchsurfer

noun [countable]

'Traveling abroad can get expensive. To help cut the cost, some travelers are turning to couch surfing – a free place to stay on a stranger's couch.'

NECN 21st January 2010

'Using his aunt's home in Munich as a base, the 19-year-old hitchhiked and couch surfed, going to Paris and Switzerland and Slovenia, meeting new friends and visiting old ones along the way …'

The Statesman 24th January 2010

'In the pre-Internet days, pen pals were people's window to the world. Pals from different countries exchanged cultural details in letters. Couchsurfers do the same thing now by actually landing up at your doorstep and exchanging notes with you while you have dinner together.'

Times of India 23rd January 2010

Just how comfortable is your sofa? Would you be prepared to let a stranger crash out there for the night? And, on the basis of a bit of email correspondence and seeing a photo of the sofa belonging to 'A. N. Unknown', would you travel halfway across the world to do the same? It might sound crazy, but this is exactly what millions of people have done whilst participating in an activity known as couch surfing.

as well as the financial advantages of couch surfing, participants also claim that the practice gives a more authentic travel experience

Couch surfing is travelling on a budget, using a broad network of contacts in order to get overnight accommodation for free, or at as little cost as possible. Participants, dubbed couch surfers, join dedicated websites, providing as much information about themselves as possible in order to make others feel comfortable hosting them, or using them as a host. Various safety features are generally available in such online networks, like verification of names and addresses, personal references, and 'vouching for' a particular member as a reliable host or guest. Couch surfers span a range of nationalities and even ages, though the majority are younger people originating from the USA, Britain, France, Germany or Italy.

As well as the financial advantages of couch surfing, participants also claim that the practice gives them a more unique, authentic travel experience, allowing them to experience culture and cuisine through the locals, rather than from the confines of sanitized tourist accommodation. Among the most popular couch surfing destinations are New York, Melbourne, Montreal, London and other large European cities such as Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Barcelona and Istanbul.

Background – couch surfing

The term couch surfing (and related forms couch surf, couch surfer, etc) first appeared in 2004 with the launch of website www.CouchSurfing.org, the brainchild of American web consultant, Casey Fenton. Fenton's inspiration for couch surfing came from the experience of finding a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland, and then randomly emailing about 1,500 Reykjavik students to ask if they'd put him up on their sofas. The result was more than 50 offers of accommodation.

Although the capitalized variants CouchSurfing and CouchSurfer are registered trademarks of the website, the lower case variants, either as open or closed compounds, are now regularly used. Though the website led to the coining of these terms, the underlying concept is nothing new. The practice of finding accommodation through a community of like-minded travellers – usually referred to as hospitality networks – dates right back to the late 1940s. Among the first web-based networks was The Hospitality Club. Web-based hospitality networks have brought the terms couch surfer and couch surf into the public eye, though another popular interpretation of these expressions is in the context of homelessness. People who have unstable, temporary living arrangements are often described as couch surfers.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 16th March 2010.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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