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Couchsurf’s up

When the popular site wiped out, its members didn’t

BY Krisztina Kun
Illustration by Rob Elliott/Swizzle

When, a website that helps travellers link up with locals for free places to stay, suffered a massive crash last summer, users sprang to action. After hearing that most of the site’s data had been lost, they took it upon themselves to rebuild the site—more than 100 met in Montreal to recode and recreate the virtual community. People flew in from as far away as Finland, with most meeting physically for the first time. Within a week they had the site back up and running.

Casey Fenton, a 28-year-old self-taught programmer from New Hampshire, was proud. After all, when he created the non-profit site in 2003, his goal was to facilitate strangers helping strangers.

The idea for came from a trip Fenton took to Iceland in his early 20s. He had found places to stay by sending spam email requests to over 1,000 Icelandic university students; he was amazed how willing people were to open their homes to him and take him around town. As a result, he saw a side of Reykjavik most travellers could never find on their own. “I’ve always wanted a way to get right to the heart of our culture, to seek out knowledge and to locate the most interesting people and situations this world has to offer,” Fenton offers on his website.

The site has grown—approximately 2,000 new users sign up each week, looking for places to crash on couches in over 200 countries—and it does more than just find people a free place to sleep. Asking users to “participate in creating a better world, one couch at a time,” the site aims to build community around the world. And it’s working. On message boards, members invite fellow couchsurfers out for hikes and pub gatherings in locales from Delhi to Minnesota. “Couchsurfing is how everything should be,” says Geordie Dent, a member since the beginning, “except for the painfully hard couches and hosts whose snoring could wake the dead.”


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