Frequent Flyers and Couchsurfers Share a Common Enemy

Remember Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing was all the rage back in the early 00’s – with the kids at least. The idea was that you could find people to stay with – for free – in cities across the world. It wasn’t a business transaction so much as it was a cultural exchange and a way to meet new people and develop friendships.

It was perhaps the first step along the way to today’s “sharing economy”, which has evolved to include Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and others.

And what became of Couchsurfing as these other companies – in particular Airbnb – came along and stole its thunder?

It’s membership grew. In fact, it grew a lot. The community now boasts 9 million members, represented in more than 120,000 cities worldwide!

Over on the Lonely Planet forums, muteki posts a lengthy and insightful Couchsurfing 101 tutorial outlining the state of the community today, as well as dos and don’ts of Couchsurfing and how people are still using it to expand and enrich their travels:

Based on this discussion, the big debate/concern within the Couchsurfing community today is whether or not it can survive the “freeloaders” and retain the qualities that made it so successful (in concept at least) in the early days of the movement:

Couchsurfing is a great idea as a way to exchange cultural knowledge between people and that is where the emphasis should be understood to be in the mind of anyone contemplating Couchsurfing. The ‘freeloader’ mentality is Couchsurfing’s biggest enemy and the most likely way to discourage people from hosting. ~peripatetic1

CS is a community, not a resource. If you’re new to it, then try and join it just like you would join any other community. ~chris.kesihai

Its a shame that CS is getting ruined for some by others not making of it what they should. ~jake.s

Now, I realize most of ThreadTripping’s readers are probably not Couchsurfers. But as frequent travelers, and presumably readers and participants in frequent travel communities, does any of this sound familiar?

Try replacing “Couchsurfing” and “CS” with “frequent flyer”, “Manufactured Spend (MS)”, “bonus promotions”, or the name of your favorite travel community.

It is the classic debate in the travel community. Idealists believe that resources, knowledge, and deals should be shared freely and completely openly, with no expectation of receiving anything in return beyond karma points. Purists feel strongly that sharing should take place, but in a protected, somewhat secretive way that benefits the community as a whole – as opposed to any particular individual or group of individuals in the community. And pragmatists argue that whatever anyone hopes and wishes for, resource and information transfer will take place and some will profit from that transfer, and it’s wishful thinking to believe the world works otherwise.

The above list is not intended to be all inclusive 🙂

No matter what side you take, the Couchsurfing discussion is an interesting one. As is the future of Couchsurfing itself. Is it destined to become the travel community equivalent of MySpace to Airbnb’s Facebook? Or perhaps it will continue to co-exist in the sharing economy – different but intertwined and forever linked with similar ventures.

Sort of like travel forums and travel blogs.

I am really opening a can of worms with this one aren’t I.

Read the thread in its entirety: Couchsurfing 101

Image: “sjm_sleeping_red2” by Michael Mandiberg. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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