Asia couchsurfers travel cheap, face culture clash

Tue Dec 23, 2008 3:56am EST
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By Laurence Tan

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - It's great for soaking up the sights on a shoestring budget, but as some Asians have found, "couchsurfing," or staying at a stranger's home, can be a culturally jarring experience, especially if you reciprocate.

The recent economic downturn has given a boost to Couchsurfing, a global online network that allows its members to request a place to stay from fellow "surfers" and to get a taste of the local culture while sharing their own.

But for some Asians from traditional families, the experience is sometimes uncomfortable and inviting strangers back home is not always easy.

Juana Jumat, a Muslim from Singapore, was offered a breakfast unlike any other during a recent holiday to Germany.

"My hosts fed me breakfast with their local beer at 8.30 in the morning and I told them I can't drink, but the host's mum told me "you are in the Bavarian Alps and you should drink,"" said Jumat of a recent "couchsurfing" experience.

And when the time came for her to play host, Jumat had to persuade her conservative mother of the benefits.

"Initially my mum was like, why are you hosting people whom you do not know and simply asking them to come to our house?" said Jumat, who has since hosted 50 couchsurfers, mostly from Germany and Australia.

Couchsurfing started in 1999 when its American founder, Casey Fenton, spammed over 1,500 students for a place to stay after purchasing a cheap ticket to Iceland. After the trip, Fenton decided he would never pay for accommodation again.   Continued...