I don’t cry often. Never in public. So, it completely surprised me when I broke down in the middle of my talk at the launch function of my book ‘Copy Right and Left‘ two weeks ago. Right in front of a packed audience. For a full 20 seconds (which felt a lot, lot longer, trust me !!).
It was an outpouring of relief. Authoring a book had been on my bucketlist for as long as I remember. I have tried many times and failed in as many times! Wrting a book is a long, arduous, tiresome, sometimes lonely journey. To cross the finish line and to see your baby come to the world is an amazing feeling. I just proved a point to myself. Guess, I got overwhelmed.
So good was the entire experience, I couldn’t wait to get started on another arduous, long journey! :) Especially, if its on a subject that is very close to my heart : Couchsurfing.
The book is titled, ‘COUCH : How a Simple Furniture is Helping World Travelers Save Money and Build Lifelong Friendships.” Read more about the book at http://Kiruba.com/couch
I remember the first time I couchsurfed. It was in Kuala Lumpur in May 2008. I stayed with a very friendly young Chinese guy, who was extremely hospitable. Two days earlier, I stayed in a plus 5 star hotel, courtesy of a large corporate who had invited me to speak at their conference. The stay at the 5 star hotel was luxurious but I enjoyed the couchsurfing experience more. I realized that it was the genuine hospitality, the kindness of the human heart and the opportunity to experience the local life is what couchsurfing so much more endearing. After my first experience, I was hooked. I knew this was my calling.
Since then, I have traveled to many countries which included USA, UK, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Croatia and South Africa. In each of these countries, I had wonderful experiences staying with the locals. Each of the experience had been memorable.
Being a guest can only be surpassed with the joy of playing host. Me and my family have had the privilege of hosting travelers from France, Belgium. Japan. Australia, Malaysia and other countries.
I have since been a big evangelist to the concept of couchsurfing. I have been encouraging my friends to open their doors open to strangers and to experience the joy that I have felt. This book is an extension of that.
I genuinely felt happy with the book project, the sort of exuberance that a kid has while waiting to watch a KungFu Panda movie. I actually woke up at 3:50 am when subconciously the idea of the title came up. I fell in love with it and immediately started to work on the outline of the book.
To me, this book is an escapism. Just like how people take a coffee break or smoke break to break the monotony, I take out time to write this book.
This book has practical advice from my own experience and from experienced couchsurfers around the world. We already have some awesome people on the Advisory Panel.
I have always enjoyed doing collaborative projects and in the same spirit, this book is being authored in an open, transparent manner. The book is written on a Wiki. You are welcome to contribute to the book. You are free to chip in and edit the book as you feel is right. Every person who contributes to the book gets mention both in the ‘Contributors’ section of the website and in the book.
Couchsurfing reaffirms my faith that people are good hearted. couchsurfing has taught me many life lessons and this book is my way of saying ‘Thank you’!
I was dusting up my Couchsurfing profile today when I chanced upon these photos of Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia Founder, at our home in Chennai.
This was taken way back in February 2007 when we organized WikiCamp in Chennai. Jimmy Wales had come down to Chennai to keynote at this event. I hosted him for two days at my home when he was in the city. By then, I was already fascinated with the concept of couchsurfing. Infact, I briefly ran a site called ExtraBed, which was on the same lines as Couchsurfing but much more low tech. It ran on a mediawiki.
It was a wonderful experience hosting Jimbo. I was already fascinated with open knowledge and sharing and this experience only make a deeper impact on me. You should read this blog post about my experience.
I also did an audio podcast interview with him when he was at my home. An Interesting listen.
As part of ‘Food For Though‘ Podcast series, D.Murali, a wonderful senior journalist with The Hindu Businessline newspaper, invited me for an interview. As part of the interview, he also me about Couchsurfing and why I’m passionate about it. This interview took place on May 8th, 2009. Can’t believe 2 years whizzed past so soon. Watch my take on Couchsurfing below.
There were two reasons why I took a break. The first was burnout. I was so active that at one time, I was hosting people almost back to back. My Mom and Wife are awesome hosts and they really go out of their way to make them feel comfortable. But too many guests can be very hard on them.
Second was the lack of space. With my parents and grandmom with me, we don’t have an extra room to spare. Hence, couchsurfers would literally crash on my couch in the hall. At times, mostly in the mornings when its rush hour at home trying to get the kids to school in time, it can seem very overwhelming for the guests.
Luckily, our next door neighbour moved out to his newly constructed house in the suburbs and we quickly rented out the place. This doubles up the living space and we spent spent a few months renovating our home. Now that we have a guest room to spare, its a good time to once again welcome the couchsurfers.
A lady rented out her apartment to another person using the site AirBnB, a site that helps home owners rent out an extra room or the entire house to a guest who is willing to pay. So, look at this as a commercial version of Couchsurfing.com.
Problem erupted when the house owner returned to find her house completely ransacked. She blogged about it and this started an avalanche of bad press for AirBnB, a company that has raised $120 million in funding at over a billion dollar valuation.
A quick look at the news about the news reveals that almost every news item points its accusing finger at AirBnB.
Here’s my take on this. AirBnB is a platform that connects hosts with guests. Its as much a responsibility of the host to do background check on the guest before letting out her home.
I feel that AirBnB is getting a raw deal here because they are a funded company. And there is money involved in the entire process. I know a few incidents that have happened at CouchSurfing.com and The Hospitality Network. I don’t see such a huge outcry against these sites because these sites are free and they work on trust. Hence, people have much lower expectations.But when you pay money to stay at somebody’s house like in AirBnB, you go in with certain expectations and anything that falls below will tick off people.
I mean, if a marriage happens via Shaadi.com or BharathMatrimony.com and the marriage sours up, would you blame the site? If you bought an item after watching a TV commercial and you are unhappy with the product, would you blame the TV channel? These are just mediums. You need to do your round of research, ask for recommendations, do background checks before you take the decision. Blaming the platform is stupid. You know whats even more stupider? Its creating a huge mountain from a molehill of a story.
I have been hunting for good videos that explains what Couchsurfing is all about. I feel good documentaries do a better job that me trying to explain it. So I spent time on YouTube and fished out four good videos that I found interesting. Here they are.
Here’s a short but nice TV documentary on Couchsurfing. Molly’s special report “Couch Surfing” won her 1st place for Feature News in 2008 for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism competition.
A nice 10 minute documentary on Couchsurfing.
A bunch of couchsurfers tell what the concept means to them.
Casey Fenton, the founder of CouchSurfing.com, talks about the incident that motivated him to start this website.