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LondonStudent · 1st March 2010

Theremay be no such thing as

a free lunch, but possibilities for a free bed abound. Now in its sixth year, the website Couch- is a hospitality net- working site with an online community of about 1.6million members in 230 countries and territories all over the world, fromAruba to Zambia.

The travel network works

purely on goodwill.Members offer accommodation – anything froma spare room, an extra bed, a couch in the living room or a sleeping bag and some floor space. The website came in handy

when I decided to whizz my boyfriend Jos off on a surprise hol- iday. I had planned for the trip a month ahead and hadwhittledmy ideal destinations down toNice or Lisbon. After checking the air- fares however, my bank balance looked too dismal to take another beating from hefty rates for a


hotel roomor rental apartment. So I posted a note on the online no- tice boards of both the cities’ Couchsurfing communities pro- posing the idea of an apartment swap. Iwould offermy flat inLon- don to anyone who could spare us an apartment in their hometown for the weekend. About a day later, Crisitian and

Joanna, a Romanian couple living in the heart of the old town ofNice took up my proposal and we were set. The idea was this: We would arrive in Nice on Thursday, swap our keyswhenwemet in their flat, which we would exchange back when they returned on the Mon- day afternoon before Jos and I would fly back to London. While the thought of h a n d i n g

over one’s house keys to complete strangers may seem daunting on my previous travels around Eu- rope using the Couchsurfing web- site, I have met interesting hosts ranging from single mothers to Rastafarians to transgender ac- tivists to lonely hippie grand- mothers – many of whom have handed me spare keys to their apartment within minutes of our firstmeet. One host in Antwerp even told

me I could eat anything in her kitchen, use any of her toiletries before promptly handing over her keys and moving to live with her boyfriend for the duration of my visit.

Fellow Couchsurfers offer sto- ries of penthouses in New York and apartments along the Champs Elysees…As a student in London with few valuables in my flat be- sides the odd toaster or printer, what did I have to lose? That is not to say that the ex-

perience is totally danger-free. The website hopes to help mini- mize any risk with a section pro- viding personal details, including profession,

languages spoken,

hobbies, travel history and photos, and on each participant’s profile is a reference section, where you can read what their previous hosts or guests have said about them, in- cluding negative references detail- ing bad experiences. More seasoned users of the

website can even get their profiles ‘verified’ by paying a small fee to show their com-

mitment to the project and also to help keep the website running.

DTravel · 25


Festival of Colours

1st March: By the time you read this it may be too late (although in some countries the celebrations can last for up to 16 days) to celebrate the Hindu festival of Holi, the Festival of Colours. But if you stumble across photos and news broadcasts featur- ing laughing people covered from head to toe in powder paint, then you’re probably looking at coverage of the Holi celebration.

The festival which celebrates the

beginning of Spring is particularly en- thusiastically celebrated in India and Nepal. Next year’s festival falls on 20th March 2011. For full details, check out



a y b e a c o s t l c o u c h s u r fi n

y b o

With many London students

living with flatmates and in pri- vate tenancies that discourage overnight guests, it is of course wise to check with one’s flat- mates before agreeing to a swap or hosting arrangement of any kind. As not everyone is com- fortable with having strangers live among them – even if only temporarily – I have found that the best policy is honesty.

Convince your flatmates that

you have done the necessary back- ground checks on your guests and browse through the guests’ profiles with your flatmates if necessary. Though I have always found an

unspoken rule upheld, it would not hurt, if it gives youmore peace ofmind, to clarifywith guests that they would have to bear the costs of any damages to your flat while

Interesting hosts ranged from single

mothers to Rastafarians to transgender activists to lonely hippie grandmothers

they are living there. For the Nice-London apart-

ment swap, Cristian seemed like a very patient host according to his previous guests; whose profiles I had also checked out tomake sure they were not bogus ones. He had taken the initiative to send me some photos of his flat andwe also spoke over the phone about our flight times before actually mak- ing the booking. It was a chance for both of us to prove to the other that we would be responsible guests The most important tip for a

Couchsurfing experience is to keep an open mind and a healthy sense of humour in light of the un- expected and just in case, itmight also come

in handy

research one or two hostels in your destination as a Plan B.

A freak snowstorm in Nice halted all flights out of the city, in- cluding our host couple’s flight to London. But goodwill prevailed and they decided to drive to Barcelona for the weekend and leave us their apartment as prom- ised. Their one-bedroom apartment

in the Old Town ofNice had a full kitchen, was lovely, warm and walking distance to everywhere, saving us even more in terms of transport and dinner costs. Touched by their hospitality, we gladly offered to chip in and pay for a portion of their hostel fees in Barcelona. Total cost of our five-day trip:


Less than £120 each.And priceless memories in a beautiful but other- wise expensive city.

Want a FREE summer holiday? Bored with being a beach bum and fancy doing something different? If you’d like to try sailing, surfing or camping in a yurt for free then look no further.

The charity Sense is offering stu-

dents a free holiday if they volunteer for a week, helping deafblind children and adults to enjoy their summer break. Sense is looking for reliable, fun-loving students to help out at their summer camps whilst having the op- portunity to have a go at canoeing, dry-slope skiing and horse-riding. If you’re up for the challenge then check

out teering

Onefor theroad#10

Live your Tarzan fantasies and monkey around in your very own tree house holiday accommodation. Better known for static caravan parks, Key Camp has introduced tree-house accommodation at six of its holiday parks across France in- cluding two parks in Brittany and one close to Paris

For more information, you should

visit ...but you might want to wait until the weather warms up!



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