Sarah McKenna Brown wrote her 2010 thesis on couchsurfing culture: Travel as Homemaking: The Building of Mobile Intentional Communities.
This thesis is a product of my interest in movement and social transformation. I was drawn to the practice of travel because of my desire to learn about the world and myself and to do this learning in the service of my commitment to social justice. Travel is a profound metaphor for the work of personal and social change; the journey that takes individuals and groups from one ‘place’ to another is a movement that can be physical, mental, or spiritual.
This project is an account of a journey I undertook to participate in and observe the phenomenon known as couchsurfing. The people whom I encountered while couchsurfing were engaged in processes of re-finding, expressing, and creating meanings. In my movement, I am self-reflective, processing what I observe and who I am, then reflecting it to others so that we have the opportunity to see multiple perspectives. Couchsurfers, the Rainbow Family, artists, and activists seek to imagine themselves as creative individuals, knowledge-makers, and relationship-builders. As activists, they believe in a world that will never be fully realized because it is constantly being made.
It’s an interesting read, one that reminds me that it’s the happenstance of travel that I miss most dearly.
Sarah’s research was over a decade ago. Now the term ‘couch-surfing’ seems to be used or associated with homelessness rather than a reference to travel or ‘difference-making’ or explorative in nature.
Couch-surfing seems to have fallen out of popular culture due to the risk to personal safety - there have been cases reported in the media. There was a time, however, when a thumb stuck out from the side of the road would take you to new places where people would open their homes and you could stay for free. Were we really that invincible and adventurous and carefree?!
Youth continue to travel and to explore the world, and experience new cultures and ways of being for themselves and the greater good. They do take advantage of programs to study for a term(s) abroad through their high schools, universities and communities, such as those offered through Rotary International, Study Abroad and Homestay Programs, Canada World Youth, and WWOOFing et al.
I miss travel and exploring our world. Period.
As a datapoint - I work with two early 20-somethings, and both have mentioned couchsurfing, especially in these days of public personas and reviews it’s arguably safer than ever now.