Saturday, November 21, 2015

Couch Surfer Extraordinaire

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with a young American woman, Chris Kullstroem, about her extensive travels staying with hosts around the world through www.couchsurfing.com. I've long been intrigued by this site, but she is the first person I've met who has actually used it.

And has she used it. She has stayed on couches or other accommodation in private homes in 20 countries over the past six years. In addition to four places in the U.S., she has surfed in Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Scotland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Chris recently completed a round the world trip to research a book she is writing on haunted attractions, and did it mainly by using couchsurfing for accommodation. What are haunted attractions, you may ask. In addition to the usual haunted houses which can be found in many locations, they include places known for their grisly history such as the Tower of London, Dracula's Castle, etc. as well as festivals celebrating death (the Day of the Dead in Mexico, for example) or devilry (Krampus festival in Salzburg.)

Haunted attractions are a branch of dark tourism, which I had associated mainly with visiting places like Auschwitz or the gulag camps, war zones or extreme dictatorships like North Korea.

Chris said the majority of the hosts she has had live alone, and they are often people with similar interests to hers. Her best couchsurfing experience was meeting a host in England who has become one of her closest friends. Her worst was being told to leave summarily by a host in Germany who seemed to be mentally unbalanced. She has also encountered her share of grubby places. But on balance her experience with couchsurfing has been very positive, because she tries to get to know her potential hosts quite well through email before she arrives.

I asked whether she would continue to couchsurf if it were not for the monetary advantage, and she said now she would, because she enjoys having a local guide and meeting potential friends wherever she goes. Couchsurfers generally stay only three nights, but she has been able to stay much longer in some places. Hosts all speak English at a beginner level at least, and Chris said that practicing English is often one of the reasons they welcome guests.

To learn more about Chris Kullstroem and her adventures, you can contact her through her Website www.MonstersAndBooks.com.

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