Have you ever heard someone impart words of wisdom to you in the form of, “Always travel. Travel helps you grow.” They probably were not lying. Travelling is a great way to interact with people with varying thought processed, to get introduced to different cultures or just bask in the beauty of the place.
In the olden days, travelling was in fact an indispensible milestone of someone’s life, where one had to travel to a place and make oneself thoroughly versed with the culture of the place-its language, food, art and architecture.
Such was the obsession with travel that Bengali poet, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, the much revered author of Pather Pachali [later adapted into a movie by Satyajit Ray], without having travelled far used his powerful imagination to weave stories around far off lands.
While such an exercise runs the risk of being tainted with romanticism, like the myth of El Dorado which ultimately led Latin America into a state of massacre, it goes without saying that men and women since genesis have been driven with the hunger of unravelling the unknown.
Hotels offer to the knowledge hungry traveller a cold, impersonal touch and more importantly, nothing unique to the spirit of the place itself. On top of that, they are not as cheap as some would prefer it to be, dragging one back to square one. It is here that two new age solutions, Couchsurfing and Airbnb seek to change the face of travelling as we know it.
Travelling the world, from couch to couch
Already hailed by many as a gamechanger, Couchsurfing was founded in 2004 by Casey Fenton, Daniel Hoffer, Sebastian Le Tuan and Leonardo Bassani da Silveira.
As the website states, “An email to a group of students in Iceland gave birth to the idea that people anywhere would want to share their homes with strangers (or, as we like to call them, friends you haven’t met yet).”
The idea is simple – you open your doors to host a complete stranger from any part of the world and invite him to live in the exact fashion as you do. He/she gets in touch with you through the organization and, after thorough background checking and with your approval, they crash on your couch. The idea does appear outrageous at the beginning but a closer look would reveal it to be not as alien as it seems to be.
— Abhi is not Home (@doodle_india) August 5, 2015
As Francesca Baker, a freelance journalist with experience of Couchsurfing puts it, one has often crashed at a friend or a friend’s friend, making room on the living room sofa. She in fact writes about how this way of travelling is much more enriching than being scooped away in a dreary hotel room,
“Having someone to show around your home and its surroundings is often a thrilling and liberating experience for the host. For all the talk of staycations, few people really explore and relearn the location in which they live. Routines are established, favourite haunts founded and a settled way of life begins.”
Another great thing about Couchsurfing is that it’s absolutely free. As for the host, the only thing one is required to share is “stories, songs, food or your favorite coffee shop, Couchsurfing is about sharing and connection. Be open to giving, receiving, and discovering the unexpected.”
How Airbnb-ing promotes sustainable travel
Airbnb was founded on a similar concept, only with a little bit of additional benefit for the host-in lieu of the hospitality offered the host charges money though a very nominal amount. Founded in August of 2008 and based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world – online or from a mobile phone. Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point, in more than 35,000 cities and 190 countries. Sure, the sustainability would depend on whether you choose to sty in an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month.
In July last year, Airbnb released a new study quantifying the environmental benefits of home sharing for travellers. Conducted by Cleantech Group (CTG), this study found that Airbnb promotes a more efficient use of existing resources and is an environmentally sustainable way to travel. Travelling on Airbnb results in significant reduction in energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste, and encourages more sustainable practices among both hosts and guests.
“Resource sharing is rapidly growing across a number of sectors including hospitality, consumer goods, and transportation,” said Michael Ellis, EVP Advisory for CTG. “Cleantech Group’s initial analysis demonstrates some of the improvements in environmental resource efficiency that Airbnb’s platform delivers.”
While Airbnb encourages more people to travel and to stay longer in the cities they visit, the study found that the environmental benefits of home sharing far outweigh the impacts of this induced travel. The results suggest that Airbnb’s new model of sustainable tourism conserves precious resources even as more people have memorable trips.
Airbnb in fact has been playing a massive role in saving energy, amounting to 63% in North America and 78% in Europe.
With the ever evolving industry of tourism and hospitality, organizations such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb seek to break barriers, not only economic, but between people of two widely different cultures so that we can once again reclaim spaces as that of warmth and kindness, unmediated by material hindrances.