Couch surfers make landing, make friends

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011

They arrived Friday night with handshakes, in celebration of the upcoming July 4 weekend as part of their great Southern Road Trip.

Matt, a baker and musician who commutes three times per week to graduate school in Philadelphia, Pa., and Carrie, a school teacher off for the summer, had made it as far as Mobile, Ala. The trip had already taken them from Lancaster — in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country — through the Carolinas, a stopover at a state park in Georgia and now to South Alabama where they would couch surf for the first time.

The growing phenomenon — especially in a lousy economy — allows travelers to stay at strangers’ houses and sleep on couches. Hosts routinely show their surfers around town, not to mention saving money on motels. Websites match prospective travelers with hosts based on common interests. Either party can allow or deny any request.

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Worldwide, more than 2.9 million people are involved in couch surfing, the website reported. More than 80,000 cities are represented in 246 countries. The site claims to have generated more than 3 million new friendships. A testimonial on the website reads: “It’s a bit like when you sign up you make thousands of friends you never knew you had and all there is left to do is go meet them.”

By late Friday night, the strangers from Pennsylvania were no longer strangers. We talked of spending vacations as children in the same town that was home to our two surfers. We talked sports and homebrewing, the Alabama heat and Yankee winters.

We talked about the rest of their trip — to New Orleans, Cajun Country and Clarksdale. Both of them, Muppets fanatics, lit up with glee when told of the existence of the Jim Henson Museum in Leland. Memphis, Nashville and across the Mason Dixon Line are in their plans. When the trip is complete, they will have been on the road for nearly a month.

The American spirit of freedom and adventure is alive and well. Mark Twain had it when he floated the Mississippi. Lewis and Clark had it when they headed west. Now, a crop of new adventurers exists. They arrive as strangers in a foreign place only to leave as reunited long-lost family, all while surfing couches.

Matt and Carrie arrived on a Friday night with handshakes.

They left Monday with hugs.

Family indeed.

Sean P. Murphy is web editor. He can be reached at