Us Now is a fantastic documentary created by Banyak Films. Exploring new forms of social organisation and the empowering of the individual, the video provides excellent insights into new possiblities of the digital sphere. Linux, Couchsurfing, Mumsnet, Meetup and Zopa are just some of case studies presented alongside an interesting debate of the future of political and social change.
I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel. I’m not a fan of handing money over to hotel corporations for a lot of reasons, though most of my reasons aren’t actually the fault of hotels themselves – I just happen to prefer the alternative places to stay when I go traveling. I have been a proud member of Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club networks for years now and have had so many positive experiences through them that I rarely feel the inspiration to go back to the old ways of staying places.
The thing that stirred my attention recently is Airbed & Breakfast, a social network of people willing to share their homes for money in return. Prices are usually cheaper than those of hotels and as with Couchsurfing you get a chance to connect with locals that can keep you company or at least direct you to sites and events you may never find through guide books. You can rent a room, an entire place or simply stay on someone’s couch. In the US prices per night start at around 20 dollars and go as high as you wish – an average room will be around 80 dollars. You can view pictures of places and owners and also see the exact location on a Google map. Users are also reviewed by people who stay with them, which can build some credit of trust between members.
The old question is whether you’ll be comfortable to stay at a stranger’s house or host one yourself – in principle there is no way to track the new users, but it so far seems like the site is creating a strong community of users that track one another. I’ve dealt with these questions myself before traveling to different countries via Couchsurfing and hosting travelers at my home last year, but after years of using the network I don’t have a single bad experience in my records.
Personal experience? My history with couchsurfing includes four nights in the centre of Moscow (with a set of keys and a beautiful bedroom) and a night in Vienna in one of the most retro-styled apartments I have ever seen. Everyone I have ever met through this website was welcoming, well-traveled, and honest. This is not to say that I would necessarily be ready to do it on my own with any given member, as this gives a lot or room for error, but I think that if you’re traveling with a friend and find someone who has a very good record – well, for me it’s a why-not kind of thing. When I first used this website I was (and still am) completely taken aback with people’s ability to open their homes to almost complete strangers. I find it truly remarkable that so many people from all over the world have created a network of give-and-take of trust and hospitality.