Published on 2/1/2010
“A world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter.”
At a time when it was considered dangerous for Westerners to visit Egypt, I traveled there and had a truly life-changing experience. One evening I was welcomed, along with a friend, into the home of a woman and her three daughters. We didn’t know them, they didn’t know us, and we couldn’t speak the same language. Yet, they fed and entertained us, and gave us somewhere to sleep. Why did they do that? Why did we trust them? If everything we’re taught to believe about ‘other’ people is true, we should have feared each other for our differences. Instead, we ate and and took shelter together. I got to see an Egypt I would never have otherwise seen, and to meet people I would never have otherwise met.
The experience showed me that people are naturally curious, and that if we provide them with the right tools, they’ll actively seek to meet those different from themselves. Two years ago we wrote out a very specific vision statement. I’ve seen it in action, and I believe it’s powerful and speaks clearly to what we’re aiming for as a community at Couchsurfing.
Our vision says we want people to explore, connect and have inspiring experiences, and that we believe this will help create a better world. An inspiring experience is fun, or “magnetic,” but also provides the opportunity for personal growth. Sharing an experience with someone who is similar to you might be magnetic, but does it challenge you or help you grow? What about sharing experiences with people who are different from you? I believe the more familiar we become with diversity, the more likely we are to approach strangers with curiosity rather than fear. The more friends we make with people from different countries and cultures, the more understanding and compassion we will have for those differences. In a world where people have many different friends from all over the globe, what do you imagine will happen when conflict arises? Will we react towards our friends with fear and anger, or with a desire to understand them and find a peaceful resolution? I think that with each inspiring experience Couchsurfing helps create, we move ever closer to achieving our vision of a better, more understanding world.
But, creating inspiring experiences isn’t always easy. My trip to Egypt was so wonderful that I thought all travel would be like that. I visited a many US and European cities in the early part of 1999 and found it difficult to make any connections. I left feeling unfulfilled. It turns out I had been very lucky in Egypt — inspiring experiences don’t just happen. I realized then that it takes the right combination of people and activities to make them inspiring. Is it possible for Couchsurfing to do this on a scale large enough to reach our vision of creating a better world? I’ve been asking myself this question since Couchsurfing first launched back in 2004, and I believe we can.