Couchsurfing: 'Anyone at all can travel the world'

Couchsurfing: 'Anyone at all can travel the world'

EUGENE, Ore. - A mattress tucked behind a couch offers a home for the night for travelers who connect with Jack Jones of Eugene.

"Lots of times both the couches will be full," said Jones. "We'll have somebody sleeping here, two people on the mattress here."

Jones participates in couchsurfing, a global network of people who offer other travelers a place to sleep for a night.

"It really allows you to see that anyone can do it," Jones said. "Anyone at all can travel the world and meet new people and have new experiences."

Couchsurfing.org began as a small project in 2004 with four friends.

What started out as a group of students in Iceland gave birth to an idea that people anywhere can share their homes with strangers looking for a place to stay.

With a community of over 7 million people in 100,000 cities worldwide, Jones and others say the idea has caught on, capitalizing on the social aspect of traveling.

"I meet a lot of interesting people, while I was traveling, a lot of people showed me a lot of kindness," he said. "A lot of people extended their hands and offered me opportunities to work and live on their farms and have a warm place to sleep and hot meal. I really can't do anything but to extend that offer now that i have it to give."

Couchsurfing offeres rest for weary travelers - and changes lives.

"It totally opened a door for me," said Omer Orian. "It changed my life. This one experience, I mean - I don't know what would have happened if i didn't arrive in eugene and couchsurfed."

Couchsurfing introduced Orian to Eugene, where he and his brother founded Off the Waffle.

The experience introduced him to someone special, too.

"I actually ended up getting married to a woman, her name's Emma, and we've been together 5 years," he said. "We met at one of the first houses we couchsurfed at. We'd been friends ever since."

Some people point to possible dangers lurking inside a network of unfamiliar couches and people offering them up for free.

"I'm not sure there is a case where this would be a good idea," said Sgt. Dave Bones with the Lane County Sheriff's Office. "When you have unsuspecting people coming to you looking for something you can give them, a free place to stay or cheap stay, it may lead itself to a predator using that as an avenue to get you into their life."

Couchsurfing.org advises users to trust their instincts, be informed about the culture they're traveling to, and to review profiles carefully.

"It's extraordinarily safe," Jones said. "You can look at someone's profile and if they are going to be sketchy, you can tell from the profile 99 percent of the time."

"I think most people are good at knowing who they trust and who they don't," Orian said.

"If you feel like something is wrong or not quite right we'd recommend you act on your instinct and maybe choose a different option if you have one," Bones said.

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