Accommodating Strangers: Writing about Couch Surfing

 02 June
 Stamford Room 1, Brasenose College
  - - -
 Monique Ma-Velous
As part of the Oxford Travel Cultures Seminar Series on Travel and Consumption, I'm giving a talk about the book I'm writing on Couch Surfing. All welcome. It would be great to see some friendly faces. ABSTRACT: Couch surfing is changing the contemporary landscape of travel consumption, radically undermining the search for a “pure” or “authentic” native culture to be consumed by the traveller. My project explores this new terrain through a personal account of travelling across Europe, spanning nine months and thirty-eight couches. The intense interpersonal exchanges of couch surfing can be funny and eccentric, poignant, and extremely stressful, but they also involve constant self-questioning and re-evaluating the way travel experiences are consumed. In exchange for free accommodation, couch surfers provide food, entertainment, gifts, or some kind of skill. This is worked out differently in each home. Guests bring their own culture and way of life into their host’s home, meaning that both host and guest are equally engaged in the creation and consumption of the travel experience. This shifts the focus away from the consumption of public spaces and architectural exteriors, towards a personal engagement with private and domestic interiors. Most couch surfers see travel as a way of life, uniting people with a focus on free hospitality and shared humanity, and offering an alternative to the perceived “scripting” of tourism where cultural events are “staged” for visitors through a formalised mass-tourism industry. While sharing hospitality with strangers is not in itself new, the website makes it accessible to new groups of people on a global scale.

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