Couchsurfing in Lebanon…

A website promotes inviting strangers to your house – and it’s catching ground in Beirut

Have you ever heard of couchsurfing? No? Well, it doesn’t involve standing on your sofa pretending to be riding the waves on a Haitian shore. Instead, couchsurfing is the latest trend among backpackers, or anyone who believes that traveling on the cheap is not only easy on your budget, but actually enables you to have a more ‘authentic’ experience of the people and places you are visiting.
The idea is simple: you register on the website, couchsurfing.com, and state whether you are generally willing to host another member at your place for a short period of time, or whether you are yourself looking for a place to stay over in a destination of your choice. According to the website, the mission the creators have set themselves is to “create Inspiring Experiences.” They then go on to explain the term: “Inspiring Experiences are fun, exciting and accessible experiences that stimulate people to learn and grow.”

Among travelers from Europe, the Americas and Australia, the concept has already established a wide following. For many of the typically young explorers, the ultimate Holy Grail of journeying is establishing a connection with the locals they meet, one that will hopefully change their outlook on life, widen their horizon until it finally stretches across the globe, and provide them with enough profound experiences to last them through the eight years of medical school looming at the end of their journey. Needless to say, exchanging the often dingy hostels that backpackers were forced to put up with until now for the opportunity to stay in an actual local’s house, free of charge, fits that concept like a glove, and couchsurfing has already become a fixture in travelers’ vocabulary.
But how is the idea catching on in Lebanon? In a country where people with money are expected to act the part, how are young people responding to the idea of hosting complete strangers in their homes?

For the moment, couchsurfing is still relatively small in Beirut, with only 130 members offering to either “definitely” or “maybe” accommodate someone. One of the reasons might be that the youths who actually have the means to go traveling and be potential members of the backpacking legions are already pretty well accustomed to being abroad. It is not at all uncommon for a Lebanese middle class youth to have spent five years in Paris, ten in Toronto and begun a job in Abu Dhabi at the age of 22. Some of these people might even consider only a journey that goes through without too many “Inspiring Experiences” a complete success. But as more and more couchsurfers make their way around the world, and with some of them deciding to stay in the places they have visited, Beirut might yet become a couchsurfing hotspot.