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Now it’s not the easiest time to embark on a global backpacking trip. There’s less in our wallet these days, and the cost of international travel remains high.

So you need to be pretty resourceful. And one of the big phenomena of recent years is Couchsurfing, online networks that links you up with someone in a far-away place willing to let you stay in their home — for FREE.

As you can imagine, some locations are rather more in demand than others.

So the BBC’s Howard Johnson reports now on how the scheme works in Tokyo, one of the world’s most expensive cities.

According to recent headlines, the era a cheap travel is over. Rising fuel surcharges and the collapse of airlines is increasing the cost of holidays.

So where does this leave the money-conscious backpacker. Well the answer could be in Couchsurfing.

The premise of Couchsurfing is simple: much like any of the other social networking sites such as Beebo or Facebook, you post your details online for other members to have a look at.

People will then request to stay at your home — free of charge. You participate in the hope that one day, one in the community will return the favor.

The number of people couchsurfing has grown rapidly this year with an average of 10,000 people signing up to the website every week.

Dan Hoffer, Scheme co-founder: “We have been somewhat surprised by how much Couchsurfing has grown.

But at the same time, when you realize that Couchsurfing can apply to any traveler around the world, the potential for growth is pretty unlimited.”

Meet Brian from California. He’s traveling through Europe as part of a round-the-world trip. I’ve agreed to put him up for two nights at my flat in London.

So what’s he make of it all?

Brian: “Well I decided to try Couchsurfing because I met other Couchsurfers traveling all across the world. And to me, it presented a really unique opportunity. You save a little bit of money.

But really what you get is a taste of the local culture, the hospitality, and you really get a better feel of the city as opposed to staying in a hostel, or a guesthouse, or a hotel, or something.”

The great thing about hosting Brian is that he’s now given me a positive reference, which allows me to go couchsurfing in one of the most expensive cities.

And fifteen hours later, I’m here in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, where a night in an average hotel will cost you upwards of 150 pounds.

So I’m off now to meet my Couchsurfing host, Shitaro.

Journalist: “Oh wow. What a great room. Fantastic.”
Shitaro: “This is traditional Japanese bedroom.”

Shitaro is a 21 year old student. He’s offered to put me up for one night, sleeping on a traditional straw-mat in living room.

Later on Shitaro took me around the famous Shibuyu District of Tokyo. I asked him if he was concerned about putting up complete strangers.

Shitaro: “There must be pictures and references and other people’s comments. And the important thing is to share the idea of couchsurfing.”

Couchsurfing with Shitaro has proven to be an excellent experience. Not only have I had a real insight to Japanese culture, but I’ve also managed to save some much needed yen.

So with the savings I’ve made, I can go out and explore more of this fascinating country.

Howard Johnson, BBC News, Tokyo.

And if you’re interested in couchsurfing, if you type the words “couch surfing” in any search engine, you’ll get several options in terms of websites.


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1. It’s becoming more difficult to travel. Is this true or false? Why is it more difficult to travel these days?

2. What is Couchsurfing? How does it work?

3. Has the number of Couchsurfers remained flat or is it increasing rapidly?

4. Did Brian discover Couchsurfing through Google? Does he prefer couchsurfing or staying in 4-star hotels?

5. Shitaro lets anyone stay at his home. Is this correct or wrong?

6. What would have happened if the journalist had stayed in hotels? If the journalist had stayed in hotels,

7. Middle-aged and old people are the most active members of Couchsurfing. What do you think?
A. Have you couchsurfed before, either as a Couchsurfer or a host? What about your friends or colleagues?

B. What are the disadvantages of couchsurfing?

C. If I were “rich” or upper-middle class (with a big home), I would host travelers. Yes or no?

D. What do you think will happen in the future? Will hotels go out of business?

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