All that is wrong with the world…

February 1, 2012

Australians in the UK

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 5:47 pm

It seems to me that the majority of Australians who end up going to the UK to work are bogans. Bogan is the Australians version of a redneck, chav, ned or knacker. I don’t know if it’s just my personal experience but it seems like whenever I go to the UK and Ireland all the Australians are people who saved up money from social security to get over there and then work minimum wage jobs just so they can buy all the cheap drugs and alcohol they can afford. They tend to be very loud and rowdy and tend to turn a lot of people away.

Many British and Irish people I speak to get the impression that these Australians are a representation of most Australians, which I think is interesting. If it’s true why are so many bogan Australians going to the UK? If little work and cheap drugs and partying is what is desired why not head to South-East Asia or Latin America. What is it that attracts the bogan types to the UK? Why so prevalently?

Why I don’t like the UK

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 3:14 pm

I don’t like the UK. I have lived there on and off for a combined total of maybe 2 years. The people are fine but it is just little things about the country that I find unnecessary, annoying or in some cases frustrating.

First, the culture. The tendency to be excessively polite which results in white lies. Saying you have plans to get out of something rather than just stating it directly…pretending not to be home when salespeople come round..all people do these things but I have the impression that it occurs at a much higher rate with British people. Or to put it simply, British people lie more often because they think it’s nicer to do so. Then comes the stupid slang. Calling the BBC the ‘beeb’…words like shag, snog, numpty, referring to all vacuum cleaners as hoovers…spelling ass with an ‘r’. I find all of that mildly irritating for no good reason. I know dialects evolve in different ways but I subjectively I feel much of the slang in the UK is just…silly.

Not to mention the people who call everyone mate even when they clearly don’t know or like the person. The overuse of the word ‘well’ such as “keep well clear” as opposed to simply “keep clear”. The overuse of ordinary words such as marvelous or brilliant when things are not at all marvelous or brilliant. Calling the main street in every city the high street. Again I can’t make any argument why it’s bad, I just look down on it.

Then there are things that tend to get less subjective and more objectively annoying. The comedy they gave the world…fucking Mr Bean. They almost redeemed themselves with Peep Show. Sorry to say that I think shows like Spaced, Monty Python, Faulty Towers and and The Mighty Boosh are vastly overrated. The tendency of Britons not to consider themselves European. The ridiculously oversized power plugs. The love of warm beer. The food…god, the food. Blood sausage, crappy little sausages..hash browns…haggis..spotted dick. Gah.

The censorship of films, music and the Internet. The continued and excessive harassment of photographers by policeman who don’t understand the law. Having a house of lords and a house of commons as opposed to a more neutrally named upper and lower house. Judges who employ “common sense” which is dangerous. Excessive surveillance. Britain has been having a lot more serious problems recently. Having to pay for restrooms in some public places such as bus stations. Having to pay a TV license just for owning a TV (I know it supports the BBC but that isn’t the way to go about funding). The one way extradition agreement that allows British citizens to be extradited to the US. Putting someone in jail if they can’t reveal their encryption password, assuming they can but won’t.

Aside from the things I just think are silly, there is too much that is actually worrying or intrusive for me to live there. It isn’t a place I would want to live and certainly isn’t a country I can respect. As far gone as the US is in some ways..it doesn’t have the problems listed in the last paragraph.

November 8, 2011

Is an American passport the best passport to hold for travel?

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , — allthatiswrong @ 5:17 pm

I was talking with a friend of mine recently who was sure that an American passport was the most powerful. I started wondering about this as while it seems reasonable, I don’t think it is actually so. It would seem that the commonwealth countries have a more powerful passport for a few reasons.

  1. The commonwealth countries are able to participate in Working Holiday programs run by most western governments pretty much except the US. Such programs operated on a reciprocal basis and since the US doesn’t want to offer working holidays, holders of a US Passport can’t do a working holiday on that basis.
  2. Less restricted travel. Holders of a commonwealth passport can go to countries that the US restricts its citizens from traveling to, such as countries like Afghanistan or Iran. To my knowledge most commonwealth countries don’t prevent their citizens from going to such countries, even if it is a warzone. Not to mention being able to go to Cuba without having to hide it.
  3. Holders with a commonwealth passport get longer in other commonwealth countries. For example most people from a commonwealth country will get six months in the UK, while holders of a US passport only get three.

I am unable to think of any advantages a US passport has over a commonwealth passport. I would have thought commonwealth passports were essentially equal to a US passport, but given the above advantages it would seem that are actually better to have. I would be interested to hear any thoughts on this.

September 21, 2011

Why I don’t like travel guidebooks

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , — allthatiswrong @ 7:52 am

I strongly dislike using any travel guidebook. When I first started traveling I couldn’t justify the price and didn’t want to carry it around however after years of exploring, using the internet and talking to local people guide books seem overpriced, factually incorrect, biased, subjective and out of date. It frustrates me when I see people traveling going only to places and only going to what is listed in their guidebooks. Even worse I’ve seen local people suggest things to see and people rejecting it because it isn’t in their guidebook. I don’t think guidebooks are completely without merit…they can provide interesting information on the culture and history of a country. It’s just when people use them as the sole authority on things to see or do and how to act that it becomes frustrating.

A good example of such people is over on the Lonely Planet travel forums. In particular the user bzookaj has little idea of what he talks about but gives advice with full authority. An American who has entered the US on a VWP, yet argues with those who have claiming to know better under the guise of giving advice. Such people are frustrating and anecdotally seem to be a main part of the demographic for guidebooks. I’d guess the remainder are people who just happen to buy them at an airport or bookshop and don’t actually rely on them.

So if you don’t use guidebooks, what can you do? Walking around and just exploring is a very nice fun thing to do and who knows what you may find? What people don’t understand is this is all the authors of guidebooks did; so why limit yourself to their discoveries when you can find your own? I’ve eaten a lot of delicious restaurants and found a lot of fun bars/clubs from doing this and haven’t missed out in the least, despite not relying on a guidebook.

The Internet is also obviously a great source of information. Various travel blogs tend to come up when searching various districts, cities or countries as well as websites like the excellent Wikitravel. Wikitravel is excellent source although much like Wikipedia less popular pages (destinations) don’t tend to be maintained as often as the more popular pages so can be out of date. Hostels and Hotels generally have a lot of good information as well that they are more than happy to share with you, although some business recommendations may have a commission motive. A lot of cities also have tourist information booths in prominent locations which is a good source of unbiased reliable free information.

As I said above guidebooks do have a place I think…not as a travel guide but more as a Cliffs Notes style book on a given destination. At a glance it can be nice to learn some customs and see some basic information, but having a guidebook dictate your trip or even be any type of authority is just stupid. I might have thought that with the current generation of travelers having grown up with the internet that guidebooks would be less popular but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It doesn’t seem to be an issue of people not able to use alternate sources to guidebooks but rather people being unable to think and investigate for themselves and deferring to some authority. I would have thought such a characteristic less likely among well seasoned travelers, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

August 11, 2011

A defense of American tourists

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 10:15 pm

In all my travels I have noticed a common recurrence. Namely unfounded criticism against American tourists. I hate this because it’s just so hypocritical. Europeans tend to be the worst, followed by Australians and New Zealanders. Despite never having gone to the US, they feel they can know the country authoritatively and by extension can judge people from that country. It was amazing to me when traveling through Europe how rude people would be when they assumed I was American by default, only to suddenly be helpful and apologetic when I made it clear I was not. A good example of this is when I was in Rome and ran out of money to get my bag out of storage. I managed to get access to my bag to get a carton of cigarettes which I sold outside the airport to get enough money to get my bag back. I tried selling to taxi drivers who simply insulted and laughed at me, however when proving I was not from the US they all bought a packet and so I was able to get my bag back.

It’s pretty bad in the UK and Australia as well. When American tourists ask questions or remark how things are different they tend to be insulted, like they should be expected to know these things. Yet, most people from the UK or Australia have no idea about the US except from what they learn from each other and the media, which is to say they have a wholly inaccurate depiction. Yet, despite not traveling they somehow feel superior to these American tourists being exposed to a different culture for the first time. The fuck?

When I’m in New York, I deal with tourists every single day in my job selling comedy tickets. There are a great many idiotic tourists from Europe or Australia. People who can’t figure out how the streets are numbered on Manhattan, people asking for directions to a store that has huge signs lit up right behind them, or the worst is people being convinced that selling comedy tickets is illegal despite us doing this every day and police standing near us and being on friendly terms with us. Honestly Australians can be the worst as xenophobic as they are in a city as packed and diverse as NYC.

The anti-US sentiment is some of the worst groupthink and idiocy I have encountered in my travels. Only 30% of Americans even have a passport, yet those who decide to travel and learn tend to be criticized by those who haven’t even left their own countries. I assume part of it is just being defensive….a lot of these countries are smaller and many of the people feel the need to prove a point, that their countries are not small or backwards as they think Americans might think, when that isn’t necessarily the case at all. It’s far less likely to be the opinion of those who actually travel.

Another example of this irrational US hate is a Taiwanese guy I met when I was in Canada in January was terrified of the NYPD despite never having been to NY. He was very happy with the Toronto police despite the huge criticisms against them and their history, such as the G20 riots. The NYPD in my experience have always been helpful and friendly. Sure, people will have different experience but on average it seems the NYPD have a better reputation than the Toronto PD. Yet, simply because it was American, this guy thought the NYPD were going to be far far worse.

Another example would be an Australian kid on a forum I used to frequent, who was convinced that Americans were offended by the word mate. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but he was convinced of this after he called someone mate and they punched him. I’m sure there was more to the story as this kid tended to be ignorant and argue for the sake of arguing about things he didn’t comprehend and someone probably had enough. To draw the conclusion that any American will be offended by calling them mate is just idiotic.

It’s amazing how little people know of the US yet they feel they can criticize it as an expert. Most Europeans or Australians have no idea just how diverse the US is with climate, culture, laws, language, cuisine and more. Many areas of the US have a strong dislike of other parts, to the point they act like different countries sometimes. The US is more than twice the size of the EU and the third biggest population on the planet, yet all too often people dismiss it as a homogeneous cauldron of stupidity lacking in culture what so ever. It’s this that I don’t understand.

Not to mention the ridiculous political criticisms. Yes, the US has many problems when it comes to politics, but so does the EU. From mass surveillance and limiting photography and journalism in the UK to out of hand censorship in many countries, France banning Burquas and privacy concerns raised by the Data retention Directive? The EU acts like a country without any of the checks and bounds a state provides, so I consider it worse in many respects. However, that is another discussion (and post) entirely.

I just wish the hypocrisy and unfounded criticism would stop. All countries are different, and many countries in Europe are backwards in several respects. Just as the US is. If a tourist makes an observation it can start a discussion or be a chance to provide information or correct an incorrect assumption. People need to stop the thinking all Americans are idiots and their countries are better than the US because they have socialized health care and lower crime rates. The issues are a lot more complicated than that and in any case, why does it make sense to judge people from a country because of the government that represent them? When someone travels and wants to learn about the world that is a good thing and should be encouraged. At the moment it would seem that many Americans might have the idea that people of other countries are ignorant, backwards and insecure. If people keep acting the way they do towards American tourists, then they would be right.

February 11, 2011

Thoughts on my 2010 and looking forward

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 6:16 pm

I meant to post this much closer to the start of the year but it is still early enough to count. Last year was a very interesting year for me. As long as I have been traveling I feel that it was last year that I realized some further things about myself and about people in general as well as understanding some personal issues with greater clarity and gaining the motivation to accomplish my goals which I had been lacking for several years.

After leaving Germany I went to NYC with a firm goal of trying to establish my business. I had been living in Germany for over a year after going to be with a friend. This friend was very deer to me and after a lot of drama I felt like our friendship was in danger and in any event wanted or needed to be in close proximity to her. After more than a year of sorting out issues I really thought we had solidified things and we were ready for whatever may come next. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

Anyway, after arriving in NYC in November and just getting settled in, really not doing anything towards setting up my business, I decided to go to New Orleans for NYE. Part of the reason was that I met my friend in NYC oh so many years ago in late December and didn’t want to be in NYC without her. Irrational, but there it is. The other reason is that being estrange from family and friends I often like to go somewhere for Christmas where I don’t know anyone, so I can force myself to go out and meet new people, which I did.

Staying a hostel I met a cool guy from San Diego and we hung out. I was quite grateful to him as I was completely broke, still waiting for money to come to me from Germany. Once again I was in an exciting place in the world while something interesting was going on without any money to enjoy it. Thanks to my new friend though, I was able to. After drinking hurricanes and watching fireworks on the Mississippi it was time to hit various clubs in the French Quarter. They were all pretty horrible or cost crazy amounts to get inside, but it was an interesting experience.

I had expected to be going back to NYC a few days after NYE was over but due to my lack of funds this was made impossible. I found some very cool people to stay with and ended up staying through Mardi Gras. Again which I had no money to do anything, although I did see a few parades which was fun. I got the impression however that New Orleans as a party town was severely overrated.

It was then time for me to leave the US or risk being there illegally, so off to Colombia I went, again with no money. I can’t even remember how I paid for the flight although I must have borrowed it from someone. During this time I managed to stay with some truly awesome people and see some local culture. I had a great time and 3 weeks later I was back to Florida.

My entry back into the US was the thing of dreams….I had no return ticket or proof of funds but was not asked any questions. The customs guard was smiling and stamped me in while wishing I enjoyed my stay. Amazing. Florida was interesting. I first stayed in Orlando with a guy who was overly friendly and loved debating although was not terribly good at it. It was strange for me as he was very friendly and hospitable but seemed a bit insecure about some things. I don’t think I was able to connect with him on the level he wanted which ended up making things kind of awkward.

Then I was off to Miami. I was quite excited to go to Miami as I had never been there and was interested to see the Cuban influence on the city. I was also interested to see what Spring Break would be like only having seen it in movies and TV shows. After walking for an hour at night at about 1am to my hosts place as I was told the busses were 24 hours I finally arrived. I got on really well with my host and ended up staying for around a month, which was an amazing help as I was still broke waiting for my German money.

I still had no money to get home to NYC and with spring break going on had no money to go out and revel in it. I did try, but by gosh it was not a fun experience. There were no parties on the beach…indeed, the beach closes at midnight. Everyone in the clubs seemed fake or stuck up unless you had money to flaunt. It seemed to just be normal going out, without anything special going on except many of the people were out of town. I mostly went to the Clevelander to take advantage of the lack of cover or sneaking in when they did have a cover and boy that was hard to meet people there.

There was another bar I went to that had cheap $1 beers where I met a few cool people, and the bouncer in particular was very cool. As I was out almost every night we started talking, and without even knowing me very well he lent me $20 so I would be OK. Thank you Billy, for being awesome.

It was also during this time that the end of my friendship with my best friend had started occurring. I had thought after Germany (in itself the result of a failed romantic relationship) we were OK. Back to being close friends and finally ridding the relationship of excess baggage. Only, this was not the case. I thought things were odd while we were talking via email as we just didn’t seem so close. I spent a few weeks making a card that I worked hard on which was barely acknowledged. There was no desire or interest to talk via Skype….I didn’t know what was going on.

After talking on MSN in Miami near the end of my time in Florida…I asked why it didn’t seem that we were close and was told that frankly, we weren’t that close. I couldn’t understand it and asked what happened since we used to be so close. Only to find out that we never really were. That was a horrible thing, to find out that the way I viewed the friendship was largely in my head. A delusion. I know that she cared about me to a great degree but…the fact that we weren’t the close friends I thought we were explained so much. So many times I was hurt by what was actually reasonable behavior for our friendship. I really couldn’t deal with this too well, as I had shaped many of my previous years around this friendship.

After my money finally came through I was able to return to NYC where I sent a letter formally ending our friendship. At least for a time, I think I left it open…I don’t know. Her reaction was amazing…understanding and respectful….but somehow this made me angrier…that she wasn’t fighting it more. I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly at this time. After being back in NYC for only a few weeks it was time to head out of the country again, so off to Costa Rica I went since it was the cheapest option. Of course before I went I ended up spilling Dr Pepper all over my laptop. Reaching for a glass and stumbling over a mouse in the dark ended in tragedy. The worst part was that I managed to clean my laptop and prevent damage…only to forget to disconnect it from the power and short it while cleaning it a second time. A stupid mistake.

I set my time in Costa Rica for two months as I wanted to ensure that I would have time to stay in the states after DEFCON. I knew that I couldn’t come back from Mexico, but if I had bothered to think my trip through at all I would have bought a cheap ticket to Mexico and traveled down to Costa Rica over two months. Still, it was an interesting experience. I stayed for a week in San Jose trying to work out what I would do with the lack of people to stay with and my lack of money. I managed to get a few nights free fixing computers but it was frustrating being unable to drink with everyone else.

While there I met a girl who was amazing. We talked and kissed and I hoped at the least we would continue to be friends. It was nice after recently ending an important friendship and longing for some sort of intimacy. Only she went somewhat insane and completely disappeared from Facebook.

A quick trip to Jaco which was not so enjoyable given unfriendly hostile reception and the place tending to be a bit of a dump, then it was back to San Jose. It was time to leave, and off to La Fortuna I went. Which was a pretty cool little town where I stayed due to it being cheap, and there being some girls that I got to make out with. Awesome. While in La Fortuna I met a girl who seemed very interested in me and we decided to travel to Monteverde together. It seemed we had the start of a friendship and she offered to host me when I came to California. Amazing. Except that while making plans to head to Peñas Blancas and onward to Nicaragua, they disappeared. I found out they left the next day with other people and I never heard from her again. The only reason for this I can suppose is that she didn’t like my opinions on some controversial topics, although she never even hinted at their being a problem. So be it.

Then an hour out of Monteverde while waiting for the bus to Peñas Blancas I met a very cool guy and girl, just friends who had met on the trip. We started talking and ended up going to San Juan del sur together and sharing a hostel. They went on to Granada and Ometepe ahead of me, but I knew I would see them soon. I struck up quite a friendship with the girl and while we seemed to hit things off…we don’t talk so much these days. Damn her busy schedule.

I stayed in San Juan del sur a few extra days as it was cheap before making my way to Granada. I was seriously low on money here, although it was nice to meet up with my friends again. The hostel I was staying at had a policy of paying upon leaving, so I was considering exploiting this due to feeling I didn’t have any other option. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be necessary. I managed to get work doing some programming and got my almost 3 weeks food and board in exchange. This saved me, as by the time I got back to San Jose ready to catch my flight back I was down to $40.

It was just before and while in Granada time that my feelings of hurt and resentment had been building towards my friend. We had not really talked since I ended things in May except when it was necessary and I just kept feeling angry and hurt. How could have everything have been false….how could I have been so stupid….how could she let me think this for so long? So many decisions I had made had been based around something false. I could have been getting my PhD or putting more effort toward my Business instead of accommodating her so I could spend time with her. Time and effort that I didn’t feel was appreciated.

Without anyone to talk to and everything just built up and I sent her an angry letter to vent out. Part of me wanted to hurt her as I had been hurt…but also just to let her know that I was hurt. I couldn’t understand anything anymore. It was a horrible letter where I ended things, and we have not talked since. Since then my head has cleared and I regret it and hope that somehow we can make amends….but only time will tell.

In Tamarindo only a few days before catching my flight that I had my first cougar experience. I had been unable to get laid the last two months as every girl I met was either too religious or too young or too slutty or just plain unattractive. The few I did meet that I was attracted to weren’t interested. Which…became frustrating. Still, it was an experience and I have the feeling that Cancun is going to make up for my lack of action during Spring Break and in Central America in spades.

After getting back to NYC where I again got greeted with a smile and a stamp it was time to prepare for my HOPE. The conference turned out to be a letdown for me, but it was still an interesting experience and I met some interesting people, not least some real life superheroes. It was so nice to be back selling comedy tickets, hanging with people I knew and being able to explore my favorite city. I was still having money problems and having to dispute a claim on my card took a lot of time. First it was approved then my account was cancelled…it took two months before I actually got my money back.

After an interesting 2 weeks in NYC it was time to head to Las Vegas. I hadn’t been there since I started traveling so I was interested to see it from a different perspective, as well as to see what it was like after having gotten into the TV show of the same name. I went to DEFCON which was a letdown for many of the same reasons as HOPE but was likewise an interesting experience.

I stayed with some very cool people in the first two weeks but it was the last person I stayed with that was the most interesting. I was able to stay until I got my money sorted out but we also hit it off as good friends. It’s rare to find people these days who can actually make an argument that isn’t from emotion or pride. While staying with this person I also got to make many new friends and party a lot, which was cool. Beer pong is a fun game that needs to spread to more countries.

I still didn’t have my laptop but decided to try and get it fixed under warranty…which amazingly worked. After shorting it out and spilling soda on it, it was returned like new. Amazing! I was still a bit depressed around this time what with things ending badly with my friend and just being uncertain of where I was heading. I tried getting back in touch with the girl I had befriended in Costa Rica who I managed to track down….but she didn’t want anything to do with me. Alas, it was out of my hands. I had considered returning home but new it would take me a while to get back to the US, which I didn’t want to do. Thus I started my trek to Canada with the goal of getting a US visa which would come back to bite me due to my lack of research.

Going up the west coast was uneventful as I had been to L.A. before and just wanted to get out as quickly as possible. I met up with my cougar again though…I’ve never been bought dinner before a one night stand before. A very nice experience. Then on to San Francisco where I had wanted to stay a wee bit longer, but I was having trouble finding rides to Portland. I ended up being there during a blues festival which was interesting to see and hear some good music, but I was unable to meet anybody. It was in San Francisco I realized I could not get a US visa as I was not a resident in Canada. Why oh why can you only apply for a visa in a country where you are a resident? What a stupid rule. Anyway I decided to get my Canadian visa which is a simple process for me, then with that I can apply for my US visa. Frustrating and a longer process but still cheaper and more interesting than a going home and back.

I then managed to find a ride to Portland for free, which saved me. I was excited when I arrived just to see the similarities to Springfield, as I know that many parts of Springfield were based on Portland. Aside from the street names I didn’t see that much despite knowing there was still a lot in common, although it was interesting to picture that this was how Matt Groening possible envisioned Springfield.
Going through Portland and Seattle up to Vancouver was not too interesting, although I came to realize this section of the world is by far my least favorite area of the world. It seems to be filled with anarchists, ignorant feminists, homeopaths, conspiracy theorists, vegan nuts and all kinds of willfully ignorant people. In Seattle there is Bastyr University which receives federal funding while offering courses in homeopathy, which is appalling. I do understand that my perception was limited by the people I met but somehow I got the feeling it seemed to be the unmistakable character of these cities.

Vancouver was interesting in that it seemed entirely unremarkable. Just an average city with a large student population. I stayed with a few different people and then met a person I ended up staying with for quite a while. This person and her friends were as frustrating as they were interesting to me. Very good heartfelt people….but so ignorant that it was painful. After witnessing the G20 protests in Toronto they formed the opinion that all states are evil and became anarchists. They are convinced that violence in video games leads to violence in real life and that games like GTAIV lead to an increase in rape. Thinking that companies like Facebook control all of your data and your life despite that being contrary to laws and practice. So many things and I could not discuss it with them, because it would be me against about 15 people…which is fine, but I felt that I would upset them more than anything constructive being gained, so I refrained. I was running out of money again as well, which was lame. After borrowing nearly $1000 to my friend from Las Vegas and not hearing back, I was starting to get worried.

I met a girl while I stayed in Vancouver who seemed interested in me, and we met for coffee a few times and I then ended up staying with her after missing a train. $200 for a ticket that Via Rail stated was refundable only for their shitty and rude customer service to deny everything. It turned out this girl was asexual yet in an open relationship with a big guy. Interesting development and unlikely to get laid. We seemed to talk about some interesting things, although she didn’t know some things. When trying to introduce her to new concepts she dismissed them as she thought she already knew them and was then surprised when she didn’t. For example, thinking an XSS attack was importing buggy code from another domain.

Still, it was interesting to see how she dealt with her jealous man-child of a boyfriend who agreed to an open relationship in principle but was quite opposed to the idea when he thought we were involved in some way. Still, they cared for each other and are still just kids, so I think they’ll figure it out. It was during this time that I won a competition for new boots…which was amazing. I have been needing new boots for almost a year or perhaps more and was planning to steal them…but now had them for free. Only that my package arrived after I had already caught my train. Sitting in a train chair for 4.5 days is an experience I hope not to repeat. Still, with more time than money, what was I to do.

The whole reason for my going to Toronto was that I had found out to get my Canadian visa I had to leave Canada and come back, as it is awarded at customs. If I had researched this I could have saved myself money by jus going to Mexico and flying back to Canada when I had been awarded my visa. But then, I would have not had the experiences I had, so I don’t regret it in the least. The biggest problem was finding a notary republic. $40 for certifying photocopies is fucking bullshit and I would have expected better from Canada.

The worst part was that as per a website set up by the Canadian government there are several agencies or professionals that could certify my documents that would also be accepted by the agencies in my country. When actually trying to confront these people to certify my documents they wouldn’t do it, being too fucking scared. Even the RCMP refused to do it, dramatically stating they could not sign their lives away. I understand it might be customary for people to go to a notary but it isn’t required, and when people don’t have money to do that and the police can do it, then the police should fucking know that they can do it. I got a letter after complaining which confirmed that RCMP officers can certify identity documents but they are not told this. Great.

In my country we have justices of the peace which are free and when I have gone to embassy before JP’s are available for no more than $10. Except for the embassy in Canada where they only use JP’s, where each document must be on its own page…which for me would have set the cost to $120 for five pages. Luckily I ended up finding a Commissioner of Oaths who did everything for $7. Finally I had everything I needed. I decided to send everything by priority mail hoping I could then apply for my visa before the 17th of January, so I could get in to NYC to see the King Tut exhibition. Not realizing it takes 10 days process to send out my license information and at least 4 weeks for my Canadian visa. Which I thought was money wasted, but after 3 weeks when my package was listed as only having left the post office, I found out that they don’t deliver to P.O. boxes. I had thought I had wasted money and it was lost, but because of the salesman’s incompetence in not realizing this I received a check back for a full refund. I got the check when I was already in NYC…but it will be nice to have when I go back to Canada.

Given that I wasn’t going to get my visa anytime soon I decided to go to Montreal for NYE. I partly wanted to go as my ex best friends best friend lived there….and I guess I thought maybe if we ran into each other or she saw me then it might stimulate my friend to talk to me. Crazy and irrational…but there it was. I think around just before Christmas I sent a short letter apologizing and hoping we could talk at least….and as of yet have not received a reply. I broke down on the 1st after a terrible NYE and sent her another short message telling her where I was…still no reply. Now it is Mid February and I can’t decide if I should send her another message or wait…wait until a year has passed. I can’t help but feel the longer I wait the less likely it is we can patch things up.

Montreal was an interesting experience. I stayed with a group that was more like a community; as soon as I arrived I was invited to a Christmas Dinner which was amazing. It was cool hanging out with all these people who were friendly and fun….somehow witnessing everything I felt like an outside, which was reasonable as I didn’t know them that well. It occurred to me that I may always feel like this…always traveling and not letting anyone get close. It is strange because the decision is mine, but I can’t seem to take the leap of faith required to form interpersonal relationships.

While I was in Toronto I met a girl on a dating site who I have been talking with pretty regularly, which is exciting. We seem to be hitting it off and while I don’t think any romantic relationship is a possibility I think I have made a new friend, which is nice. I contacted a girl in Montreal as I was interested in meeting some more people while I was there…only for her to cancel when I asked if we could compromise on the meeting place. I didn’t really have money for the subway and didn’t want to walk for an hour to meet her…yet simply asking if it was possible to meet somewhere else caused her to cancel. Why must there be so many idiots in this world.

I had been planning to go back to Toronto, but given the problems with my visa I decided to risk going back to NYC. I am not meant to be let on the VWP unless I leave North America, but decided to take a chance. I bought a flight out of the US saying I was only coming in to take a flight and hoped it would work. The guy a caught a ride with seemed very strange when communicating via email but turned out to be friendly. Luckily it worked! I got into NYC, albeit only for 2 weeks. Still, it was long enough for me to see king tut and meet up with some friends. It was an interesting two weeks which I will write about in a separate entry when I get time.

I had considered staying in the US illegally as I had places I could stay, and given my previous times in and out of the US they don’t seem to have departure dates computerized, only going by passport stamps. I probably could have but at the last minute I didn’t want to take the risk and so came to Cancun. This works out nicely as I can hopefully have a proper spring break, see some ruins, a necessary trip to Belize and maybe go to Cuba before going back to the US. Now I am in Cancun about to get a job where I won’t have to worry about food or accommodation for a while and will be able to meet new people every night. I am starting to look forward to it, which is an unusual feeling for me.

I also have so much planned for this year. It’s already February and I haven’t done as much as I had hoped, but I know that I am going to. I will actually have a US visa so I can live in NYC properly without having to leave every 90 days. I will perfect my business plan and make every effort to find investors and get something off the ground. I’m going to amp up my writing a lot. Articles on OS X insecurity, Linux being far from ready as a complete desktop OS, Feminism, Pedophiles, Piracy, Eminem, Scientology and more. Above all else though, the most important thing is to fix things up with my friend. She is part of my family….and there is nothing more important than the people who matter to you. I’ve forgotten that in the past which I now have to try and fix.

I’m going to learn another language to a passable language. Spanish at the least since I have every opportunity to practice, but also hopefully Chinese if I can stick to it enough when I’m back in NYC. I’m going to get back into martial arts so that I am doing some kind of exercise, as just writing and reading isn’t sufficient. There is so much that I still want to learn and I want to at least make some effort this year. Physics, the finer points of writing shellcode, various political ideologies, a lot more modern history…so much. It will be a year to start making good use of the amazing Khan Academy.

Overall it was an interesting year where I learned a lot and continued to be surprised at how people react and what they are capable of. I was introduced to Shopsin’s, witnessed the end of 24 and Nip/Tuck and the premiere of Archer(best new comedy!), got to see Miami and Mardi Gras….saw almost the entire coast of the USA as well as Canada and most importantly regained some confidence. I am still fighting depression….but I feel that I am making progress towards my goals because I have started believing in them again, instead of just wondering what the point to anything is.

This year has not started off to brilliantly what with the NYC blizzards, the Arizona shooting, the flooding in Australian or my lame NYE. Even so I have a good feeling about this year. I am at a low point right now where I don’t even have shoes without holes in them (well, not with me) or money to support myself or even get back to the US. I’m not worried though. I’ve landed a job in Cancun and will put all my efforts into making my business succeed…making something of myself. Or die trying. As of the 11th I haven’t received my license information but hopefully it is on its way otherwise who knows how long I will be delayed. Even if I am delayed further….I know that it will be interesting and I will get everything eventually. This is going to be a good year, or at the least an interesting year.

February 2, 2011

From NYC to Cancun

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 4:18 pm

So I have decided to try and write much shorter posts. I still have my travels in Canada and up the west coast of the US to write about, as well as my two months in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and even stuff from NYE 2010. Taking notes and working a bit at a time doesn’t work because I procrastinate and get backlogged, so let’s see if I can actually do it in blog format. I had to leave to Mexico because I didn’t get the full 90 days in the US as I came from Canada and Cancun happened to be the cheapest flight from NYC. I was forced to leave the horrible NYC winter and go to Cancun or I would be there illegally. What to do? It worked out well though as I had been wanting to come for a long time, and now I was on my way.

So, after coming back from Letty’s place, I ended up getting lost. I was sure that my friend I was staying with lived on Jefferson Ave, but no it was Jefferson St.
My friend offered me a subway card, although I turned him down as I was sure I had money on my card. I was wrong. The problem of course is that the Jefferson St Subway entrance has absolutely no way to purchase a ticket without heading to the other entrance, something I really didn’t want to do if I was already cutting it close. Luckily a friendly guy swiped me in, and I was on my way.

After transferring to the bus and thinking I had $2.50 worth of quarters in hand, it was when paying that I realized I couldn’t count and only had $1.50 in change. Then I started looking for dimes and shit in my huge pile of change in my wallet, and just started dishing it in. I managed to pay mostly with pennies which was nice, although I did lose a Toronto subway token in the process.

As soon as I arrived at the airport I got off, which was a stupid reflex as I had to wait for the free shuttle to take me to the right terminal. I made it just in time, getting to the counter right on the deadline for international flights if it was being enforced, although apparently it was not. What was very nice and a huge relief is that I was not asked for any information about an onward ticket. They just checked me in for Mexico, and I was on my way. It’s particularly annoying when Airlines try to play customs at checkin, especially given a nomadic style of traveling. I stayed up for a few hours making fraudulent flight itineraries to sate them, but luckily I didn’t need to use them.

I was interested to finally experience the full body scanners that received so much negative press, as the last time I flew was in July and they didn’t have them yet. However, it was still only metal scanners leaving NYC. I surrendered my toothpaste to avoid any problems, although left my cologne. This of course, was not detected. I normally don’t surrender my toothpaste either, but they occasionally check and it wasn’t worth any hassle.

After actually being through security and having the relief of already having my boarding pass to Mexico, I started to relax and prepare for my overnight stay at Fort Lauderdale airport. With my lack of mouse games were not an option so productivity should have gone up, although I was too tired to do anything. I watched some of Green Hornet, read various pages etc. I was terrified of falling asleep, as I have missed at least one flight from falling asleep before checkin. The airport seemed lonely, and apart from the cleaning crew and one elderly black guy I was the only one present. It was only when I got bored and checked upstairs that I noticed there were easily 30 or 40 people, which was interesting.

There still wasn’t anyone to talk to as they were all sleeping, so I went back downstairs. I managed to sleep a bit, and woke up around 4:30 and noticed the airport starting to fill with people. I considered going through security at 5 due to absolutely no line, although I didn’t want to throw away my coke and wanted to have a smoke…possibly. I was somewhat sad there was no Dr. Pepper, as I figured I would not have it till I get back to either NYC or Canada. I ended up going through at 8:30 and while they had the full body scanners, only one woman went through as far as I could tell. Of course my cologne was not detected again, further demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the TSA. I did notice one woman being patted down in a glass room….so much for privacy.

On the plane, I noticed Spirit Airlines don’t require a signature when purchasing items with a credit/debit card. How very odd. There were so many cute girls on the plane…aye aye aye. The plane was actually less than half full…I guess Cancun is not a popular destination in Winter. Odd. After finally getting of the plane, which was a short 2 hours, it was such a nice smell. A lot of what I think about Latin America was caught in that smell…humidity, fruits, freshness and forests. Quite an awesome thing.

Immigration was easy. I had thought perhaps I would only get 30 days and my fake ticket was for 36 days…, however I got 180 days which was a huge relief. Nothing could stop me now. Just as I was ready to waltz through the doors of the airport into Mexico, I had to wait in line for the stupid customs x-ray scanners and metal detector. Aye. It was over soon enough, and then I was greeted by the biggest tourist center I have seen at any airport. So many cheery faces, although the girl I chose to ask about the bus was oddly dismissive, which seemed contradictory to the impression they were trying to give.

After having a smoke and changing my money, I saw a can of Dr Pepper for sale. My second favorite soda, so I went for it. I got 200 pesos for $20 USD, and 45 of that went to my soda. It didn’t quite seem worth it, but it was too late. Getting change in quarters really didn’t help things. I then bought a ticket for the bus…Cancun downtown leaving in 45 minutes. After waiting I ended up getting on the first bus that came after about 15 minutes…too late to realize I was heading to Playa Carmen. Aye. I talked some Australians who didn’t want to chat, and then that was it. Just waiting.

I had some time to think on the bus, wondering what it means to be so detached from the floods in Brisbane, the city where I spent much of my teenage years. Everyone I know is OK there, but at the same time I don’t really have close ties to anyone there. I don’t talk to my family much and I know they are fine. Perhaps it is just a sign of my having left it behind. It is interesting to compare to my thoughts in 2005, where I was still very interested and keeping track of what was going on.

My thoughts then wandered to my former best friend…I had not spoken to her since before Christmas, hoping to be able to fix things, and then another message on the 1st of January, where I let her know I was in Montreal. I couldn’t help wondering if she would have checked if I was OK as she thought I was going back before we parted ways….if I hadn’t told her I wasn’t, would she have checked? Or are we really that far apart now.

I managed to get back to Cancun, at this point already having spent $15 of my $20. Le Sigh. After a taxi to the supermarket where I was planning to meet my hosts, I settled in. Their cell was not answering, so I waited. And waited. And waited some more. It got to about 7, and I started wondering that 4 hours outside a supermarket was too long, interesting as it was. I sent an email, although I didn’t hear back and the cell still weren’t ringing. I decided to wait just two more hours until 9.

So during this time, a friendly girl at the call shop was very helpful, and let me try the number for free a few times throughout the day. We could not understand each other in the least, but it was nice to meet someone so friendly. While I was waiting on my bench a guy came over and was friendly and talking to me…I was unsure if he was hitting on me or not, but he left after I pretended not to understand what I thought was an to go to his house. It was a long time waiting, but it was also interesting just to sit and watch the culture for a day.

I went into the supermarket to buy a drink, and it was interesting that they take your bag for you before you go in. I guess it is an easy solution to stop shoplifting, the same as in Costa Rica. I bought a 600ml Pepsi for 8 MXN, which is about 80c which is quite a difference compared to $4.50 for a can of Dr Pepper. I then bought a cigarette for 40c…I don’t know why. I have not bought a pack of cigarettes since August bar NYE, yet the last two weeks in NYC I have been smoking around 3 a day. It just seemed like something to do in the several hours of nothing.

Where I spent my first day in Cancun

I did see a young guy/teenager staring at me kind of strange. He actually came over and was grabbing a red cloth or shirt, and I could not help but wonder what if he had a gun or something in there…what if he just decided to kill and rob me and this was it? Completely irrational, but interesting thoughts nonetheless.

I then started thinking about being back in Latin America. Whenever I am in NYC I feel like I have made it, even if just there temporarily as this is the place I keep trying to settle in. So far when I have been in Latin America it has been because I am forced to travel and I can’t help but feel I am getting further from my goal, as well never having money to go out and do things is frustrating. Hopefully this should be the last time, as I won’t be leaving until I get my Canadian visa.

I was planning to go to a hostel at 9, but thought I would try the internet one more time. An additional 50c if wasted couldn’t really hurt. My host got back to me and her phone wasn’t working and she hadn’t checked her email. She was very apologetic and sent her partner to come and get me. No worries, and now I could wait knowing I would be meeting someone soon. I was also pleased to find out my credit card disputes had been settled in my favor. I had already spent the temporary credit, so it was nice to know I was not in debt. That’s what you get Via Rail Canada for fucking over customers.

While waiting I tried a Mole de Pollo Tamale which was ok. I was not sure what Mole was but it turns out to be a traditional Mexican sauce made from chilies and various things. I still don’t care for Tamales though…no matter how often I have them they always just taste bland. A bit later I tried a hamburger which was quite good for just $2. A patty, ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato, quite good. I communicated that I wanted it for take away and received it on a plate wrapped in a plastic bag. As I walked away it seemed a bit odd, and I threw it out in another ladies trash, only for her to rescue the plate and return it to the guy I bought it from. Very strange.

I decided to get another smoke, this time it only cost 30c…just something to do while passing the time. Earlier on before I paid for internet I tried seeing if there were any crackable wireless networks, there was only one which was too weak to bother. It seems just as in Canada one of the ISP’s ship out WEP as the standard security on all their wireless cable modems. How very lame.

I then decided to buy another drink, and opted for a bottle of Pepsi for 600ml. Who knew that hitting a picture of a bottle of Pepsi would yield a can of 7up? Well, whatever. Then one of my hosts came and at last I could leave. He was so very friendly and bohemian…very hospitable and making sure I was looked after and providing me with a beer on arrival at his home.

Then my other hosts arrived home who is from Europe originally. I think it is so cool when couples end up together being from opposite ends of the world. It is always interesting to speculate how that happens, although it could have been as simple as meeting at a hostel such as with my former best friend.

I was so looking forward to a hot shower after such a day, only to find out there is no hot water in Mexico. Alas. It’s true you don’t really need it during the day, but it is still might nice sometimes and would be nice at night when it is chilly and so the water is cold. I’m still too much of a wimp to fully get under freezing water…damn it.
I notice they have a cooker which is just connected by host to a tank of gas. I have no idea how to turn it on despite it being simple…simple things like this kind of scare me as I grew up with electric. If I smell gas at all or it doesn’t ignite instantly I worry that it is a huge danger, despite knowing better. Then I was greeted with the familiar shoddy electronics in this part of the world, sparks flying as I plugged in my laptop and was thankful the curtain didn’t catch fire. Such a setting would be perfect for something out of Final Destination.

Finally, it was time to relax by catching up on some news and downloading the latest episode of Chuck, being one hour into February in Mexico. The next day I caught up on sleep, and didn’t really leave the house till 4:15…which I found out was actually 3:15 as I hadn’t set my clocks yet. I had been meaning to do some writing all day, but ended up watching the end of Green Hornet(a truly forgettable movie), Chuck, and then Fast and Furious.

I went to a food place next door that my hosts recommended, and didn’t see the menu at first. I was offered some kind of stew which I said OK to, and then saw the menu and ordered Fajita de Pollo, which I assumed, was a chicken fajita. I wasn’t sure if I was still getting stew at this time or what was happening. I ended up getting some red drink (despite asking for cola), and some fried chicken with rice and beans. I was quite sure that a Fajita needs some type of bread and Wikipedia confirms this, so I am not really sure what I got or if Fajitas are just open to interpretation. It wasn’t a bad amount of food for $5.

One thing I do find annoying is that I think Mexicans have smaller appetites on general. I have a huge appetite and know how to stuff myself on $5 in western countries. Here, it isn’t so easy, or at least I have not figured it out. A bit more procrastinating and watching movies, and then I decided to go and buy another drink and a cigarette, and take a picture of where I spent my first day in Mexico. A chevez cola for 10 MXN…interesting, as normally the local brands are cheaper than Coke or Pepsi.

Then my hosts came back, and we talked for a while. I noticed while trying to find where I was on Google Maps how strange the addresses in Cancun were. Instead of street numbers and post codes, there were section numbers and then lot numbers. Apparently this was because Cancun was designed purely as a tourist spot and spiraled out of control with a local population. Quite interesting.

I then went out with my hosts to get some food, and got a torta for $3, with Chorizo, Jamon, American Cheese, eggs and Salchicha which was quite delicious. I then shared Buritos with one of my hosts which was nothing like the Buritos in the US. Apparently Burritos are a US invention, however they exist in Mexico and are more akin to a soft yet crispy tortia. It was here I realized that they put the plastic bag around a plate to avoid having to wash the plate. Nice.

I was meant to stay with my hosts for only 2 nights, but ended up being able to stay much longer which is nice, as it gets annoying to move around constantly. Hopefully I will be able to repay them with some website assistance. Somehow I was too tired from doing nothing all day, so went to bed fairly early, too tired even to watch the terrible terrible show which is V.

The next day woke up and started doing some writing, and then my hosts made breakfast with tortias and Carnitas. Carnitas is apparently a type of shredded pork, although according to my hosts it also contained various organs. I think this is the first time I have knowingly ate the organs of various animals, which while I always thought was somewhat gross it didn’t actually bother me. The only time I ate something that exotic was in Taiwan, where I had pig blood jelly.

Then my hosts are off to the beach where I will join them as soon as I finish this article. It has been an interesting few days for sure, and I wonder what the next month will bring. A lot happened during my two months in Costa Rica and Nicaragua which I never expected, so I will see how this simple trip to Cancun turns out.

One thing I do notice is that I have not been able to get my ex best friend of my mind. I miss her so much and know I did the wrong thing and just hope somehow we can reconnect at some stage. I think it is unlikely she is reading this, but if she is…please know that I am dreadfully sorry and miss you excruciatingly. Aye.

So much seems so familiar from my time spent in other Latin American countries, so I am looking forward to see what is unique to Mexico and experience the differences. It is amazing to me that I was in Latin America in in June and July, more than six months ago, yet it still seems so recent. I think this time I will try to actually learn some Spanish. I rejected it the previous time because I wanted to focus on learning Mandarin…but I have squandered too many opportunities to learn native langues while in places, so will try more actively this time. Mandarin isn’t going anywhere soon.

I am really hoping to find a way to get to Cuba, as I would like to see it before they have some kind of revolution which I believe will occur in my lifetime. As well, I don’t believe I have been to a communist country yet, so that should be interesting. The problem is that it isn’t easy to stay with people as they have to have a licence from the government or I need to find someone I can stay with who is willing to take a risk. As well there are no boats and the flights are far more expensive than they should be…so I will see.

I originally decided to go to Canada and get a WHP visa as it was cheaper than a flight home. Due to not doing my research and such with my various travels around the cost has gone to $520, with another $300 or so for visa stuff. Still a few hundred cheaper than a return flight home and it’s been a far more interesting trip so far.

Now off to the beach for the first time and then when I get home, hopefully I will finish my HOPE and DEFCON article which I have been working towards since August, then some smaller articles…then I can start preparing for the larger articles. I need to balance my writing with enjoying what I can in Cancun as well. We will see.

September 22, 2010

Two months in Vegas

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 6:28 pm

So, a lot of interesting stuff has happened in the last two months or so. It’s been a very interesting year what with Central America, personal relationships, traveling and such, and now I plan to write about it. I don’t know how many people will care to read this, but it’s interesting for me to have an outlet which can serve as a record.

I have my laptop back!

So, I got my laptop about a week and a half ago. It was pretty damaged, and now everything has been replaced with brand new parts and it works beautifully. I’ve been without it since the end of May, just a few days before I left for Costa Rica and Nicaragua for two months.

It was such a nice feeling to have it back. I’ve felt quite lost without it. While traveling, it is my primary source of communication, entertainment and work. There has been so much I have wanted to do and write, and have been unable to without it. Well, now I can, so I can finish the 20 or so articles I have been planning – hopefully before the end of the year.

I honestly thought I was going to need $300 or so to repair it.., what with spilling Dr Pepper over it, breaking several seals when cleaning it and finally shorting it out due to forgetting it was still plugged in. Add to this the fact that it was purchased overseas and no longer had a serial number or proof of purchase with it. $300 isn’t much…, but at the moment without income and limited savings, it is a significant amount. It’s kind of sad, but getting it back for free was definitely the best thing that happened to me this month.

The only difference now is that I have a US keyboard. This doesn’t matter and I’m quite used to it, although I had gotten used to having access to pound and euro symbols, not to mention a lot of now wasted effort to get my Alt+Gr key working properly under Linux.

One thing I was worried about was that my trial of Windows Server 2008 R2 had finished, and Windows was now reporting it as not genuine. I would not even consider paying the $700 or so for a license, and the last crack I tried, ChewWGA ended up leaving me with an endless reboot loop. That may not have been ChewWGA’s fault, but I couldn’t find out what the cause was. This time, I tried RemoveWAT which I had used successfully on installs of Windows 7. I am happy to say it worked perfectly, and I now have a fully functional install of R2.

Recently when trying to access one of my external hard drives…it failed. Having a hard drive on top of everything else in a suitcase and having it fall forward…the full weight of a suitcase pushing it to the ground, is not a good thing. I was somewhat dismayed, as despite making sure to copy my lists of movies and all my comics across all of my hard drives, I apparently never bothered to backup my photos, the one thing not replaceable. I had thought they were gone for good, but this was OK as I thought it was only my Europe and USA photos that were on there, which I had copies of somewhere. However, when trying my hard drive again a bit later…it works! Not great, but well enough for me to copy 8 GB of photos from a clicking sorry sounding hard drive with robocopy.

It’s actually a nice surprise, as I forgot all about my photos from Egypt, Brazil, and other places that I definitely did not have copies of anywhere. I can’t believe how well that worked out. Now to send it back under the awesome 5 year warranty, and start downloading all those classic TV shows yet again. What was also interesting was my collection of music videos I had on there. All 232 of them. I remember how nice it was to have all the latest singles that I could play whenever I liked, back in 2002/3 or so. I completely forgot about them as YouTube has made them completely irrelevant, something I thought was interesting.

Post DEFCON

With that out of the way, I’m going to write about what has happened in the last month and a half, because I think it has been interesting, as my life so often is. After DEFCON finished, I literally had nothing to do. I didn’t have my laptop so couldn’t really write stuff, I was still waiting for some bank stuff to be sorted out so didn’t have any money, and didn’t really know anyone here. I was staying with a cool girl I met, which was a burden of my mind that I didn’t have to worry about accommodation.

It was nice to just chill out for a few days, trying to work out what I will do next. I spent quite a lot of time playing counterstrike 1.6 with my friend’s friend’s son. It was nice to play what is now a ‘classic’ game with one the next generation. Spending my days talking philosophy and politics had to come to an end however, as my friend was going overseas at the end of the week and I had to find somewhere else to stay.

I managed to find a couple to stay with, which was a relief. They were a small family, and pretty chilled out. Again I didn’t really have anything to do, and didn’t have my laptop, so spent most of my time reading or watching movies or just finding a way to procrastinate somehow. I talked a lot with one of my hosts, who I shall refer to as Mary. Mary was a very hospitable host, very kind and generous, but I found that I couldn’t talk to her for too long. The reason being was that her beliefs were basically completely ignorant. Beliefs such as raw milk can cure cancer and such are bad enough, but then trying to tell me that quantum physics is defined as the ability to alter reality based on will alone? Fail.

The thing with these types of people is that explaining why/how they are wrong will do absolutely nothing. Its one thing to believe that you can alter reality based on will alone…fine – but to label this quantum physics when quantum physics is well defined as something completely different and scientific is just…dumb. It’s impossible to help those who are not willing to help themselves. Which is truly sad…what is left of the optimist in me believes there must be some way as I can’t understand why people would bury themselves in ignorance to that extent.

The other interesting thing I noticed was Mary’s kids. Mary’s kids had absolutely no discipline. This is not a criticism of Mary or her husband by any means, but it seems all the parents I meet of kids these days refuse to discipline them in any way. Of course it is better if you can reason with your kids and not have to resort to some sort of punishment, but there is nothing inherently wrong with punishment either. While it is completely anecdotal, I think it is interesting that all of these kids who grow up without discipline assert themselves over their parents, and do what they want to do. Since the parents won’t use discipline, they don’t seem to have any way of actually stopping them from misbehaving.

I started looking for someone else to stay with, as I didn’t want to feel like I was imposing on a small family’s residence. I started looking frantically for someone to stay with as my money was still tied up, and no one seemed to be responding. I managed to find someone to stay with eventually, just out of dedication to basically messaging what seemed like everyone.

A few nights before I switched hosts, I went with Mary and her husband to a poker night. I couldn’t play, as I was unwilling to gamble even $5 from what I had left, instead I just watched and talked to people. This is where I ended up meeting CT. CT was an interesting guy, very charming and generous and promised to put me in touch with investors I could show my business plan to, as well as hook me up with some acting gigs.

This was awesome news, as I am always looking for investors I can show my plan to. I’m extremely interested in getting into acting as well, so hookups in both of these areas would have been amazing. Unfortunately it seemed the guy was full of shit. I tried contacted him after that night, and when he finally replied he insulted me for not knowing who I am, and then said he had no time to be my agent. What a shame.

My new residence

A few days later I changed hosts to stay with a guy I’ll call Zane. Zane is a very interesting guy. It is nice to meet someone interested in arguing who can actually do so properly and support their points or admit when they are wrong. The first night I came over Zane and a friend were smoking a hookah, which I joined in. The last time I smoked a hookah was in Tokyo back in 2005, which made it easy to drift back to then.

Zane’s roommates were interesting. A gay couple who stayed to themselves in one of the bedrooms, and who I didn’t really talk to. A girl we can call Tori was by herself in another of the bedrooms. Tori was very interesting. She was about three months pregnant and still agonizing over whether or not to have an abortion. This seemed pretty wrong to me. I’m for abortion, but not when it’s kicking and clearly a human being. She then went on to profess how the moon landing was clearly a fake and talk about just how stupid the rest of humanity was, equating them closer to dogs. Amazing. Lastly, there was Frank, who lived on the couch. Frank seemed cool enough, but as I would find out later there was a lot of drama going on in the house.

The next few nights were interesting as I settled in and met Zane’s friends and roommates. One of the most interesting things was the whole communal nature of the apartment. Anyone was welcome to take anything from the fridge or pantry.., it really didn’t matter who it belong to. It was a share and share alike culture. This really wasn’t working out too well for Zane, as instead of the communal environment that Zane had wanted, it was more the case of everyone taking advantage of Zane’s generosity. The main reason for this was that his other roommates were on average 10 years younger than him and just expected things handed to them.

One of the main things about Zane’s apartment…is that it is/was a party zone. There were always people over and drinking and games and much fun. Despite having a computer to use and internet for the last six weeks, I’ve barely written anything. By the time I wake up each day and check email and read gossip, maybe watch an episode, it’s time to start drinking again. I’ve basically secluded myself after getting my laptop back, which is the only reason I have been able to write anything. Since I don’t like the new roommates, it makes it easier.

Ahh yes, the new roommates. The whole thing with the old roommates getting kicked out was quite a bit of drama. First to go was Tori, who no one seemed to really like. Zane and she had some sort of argument, and he basically told her to get out immediately, although ended up giving her a few hours. What I found interesting was that both Zane and the manager of the apartment complex were positive that he could kick her out immediately and take control of her belongings simply because her name is not on the lease. Either they were both wrong, or Nevada law fucking sucks. If you are paying rent for a room then you are a tenant, and failure to remove your belongs by a certain time does not imply abandonment of those belongs. At least under any sane law system.

Then the Frank situation got interesting. Frank was a cool enough guy, but apparently had a history of alcoholism and being less than respectful. The guy was staying on the couch for free and not paying bills, yet demanded certain things like the AC stay on all the time or that he be allowed to have sex on the couch. Quite a nerve and I wasn’t surprised when he was forced to leave. It’s a shame because he was a smart guy, but was just making some really dumb choices.

So, then came the new roommates. First there was Ruddy, who picked up and left the east coast without any money or plans. AT just 20, he was very much a kid and acted like it. His only source of income was a credit card that he somehow got approved to and had no intention of paying back. I quite enjoyed him treating me and everyone else to whatever we liked. If he wants’ to be stupid, he has to learn one way or another.

Then came Bob. Bob was just 19, and one of the more annoying people I have met recently. He has an opinion on everything, and is totally convinced he is right. The only way to shut him up on stuff when is clearly so very wrong is to bet money, which he backs out of embarrassed. Everything he says is literally “that shit is tight dog, I’m not gonna lie” or “nah dude, you trippin”. I have never met anyone who actually speaks like that constantly before. The kid is like a living cartoon.

Lastly there was Rowan, a pretty cool guy. Very friendly and engaging, but has one very annoying characteristic. I don’t know if it is because the guy is studying acting or not, but he wants to act out everything. Instead of just having a conversation, he sets up a scenario and acts it out as different characters, for even the most trivial of things. This shit is annoying. He also has a habit of touching people….hands on shoulders and such. A very annoying person, yet at the same time very generous. Aye.

Now, while not anew roommate, Bob has some friends. Bob’s friends are idiots. Bob isn’t an idiot as such, but Bob’s friends certainly are. One big guy just 18 called CK is so very annoying. He walks in and acts like he owns the place. If you’re playing Xbox against a friend he just expects you to give him the controller so he can take over. When playing a game he just arranges the rules or whatever best suits him. I guess it was just another example of the lack of discipline in children these days, but it’s aggravating. The roommate situation went from having two guys who stay in their room all the time, to a semi cool guy on the couch and a lot of friends coming over; to barely twenty year olds who think they know everything. Gah.

One of the more annoying things was how often they ask me to buy them alcohol. I don’t really mind doing this, as Ruddy was paying for food and Dr.Pepper and basically whatever I wanted for near a month, so it seemed a fair tradeoff. Of course, now that his card has run out I can’t really be persuaded to go these days. They really shouldn’t be drinking anyway. They can be high all the time as they are without having to be drunk as well, I mean, they need to save some money for Doritos.

One night out in Vegas

One night I got bored of hanging with the kids at the apartment, and decided to go to the strip. I was hoping something interesting might happen…meet some random girls, win large amounts of money…, meet some random supermodels. Something not unlike any episode of any TV show where someone would go to the strip themselves and have amazing things happen. Unfortunately, nothing like that happened at all. The first mistake I made was going too far on the bus. I guess I kept seeing the strip ahead out the window, and when we got to it took me a while before I realize it wasn’t ahead anymore, and realized it was behind me. Lame.

A bit more walking and then catching the bus again, to at Las Vegas Blvd. Which, only technically is the strip. I was too poor at this time to take the Deuce bus, which is a rip-off as it is. It took me about 20 minutes to walk to the stratosphere and then another 30 to walk to the area around Caesars’ Palace. There were many hot girls around, but none easily approachable simply walking the strip. I went through a few casinos, until I ended up in Caesars after walking past Pure and not wanting to pay the $30 or so cover. I put my only $20 in a slot machine, and watched it go down to nothing before getting back up to $26, a win of $6! I decided to leave, as I now had enough for at least one beer, somewhere.

After some more walking around and trying to figure out what there is to do being over 21 and by myself on the strip, I ended up in the Mirage, where I again played a slot machine. This particular slot machine ended up taking the rest of my night, and I believe I played it for over two hours. The thing with this machine was, I became obsessed with getting the free spins. 300 free spins were possible apparently, although the most I got out of this was 20. With 4 out of the 5 free spin bars, it was still only 20. During my quest for the free spins…I got as high as $70, back down to $20 or so, then as high as $96…then back down to…0. Nothing. Just enough money to tip for a free drink and catch the bus home. So very lame. Although as the $20 came from Ruddy, I managed to stop myself from feeling too bad. I ended up catching the bus home and walking through the sun, and so ended my attempt at a night out in Vegas.

Not feeling too well

I’ve been really quite depressed for the last month. Well, longer than that, probably this entire year. Things worsened at the end of May as I felt I had to end my friendship with the only person I considered to be my real friend. Part of that reason was finding out that a lot of what I thought was true in the friendship was false, and worse that my friend did not want the same thing as I did out of the friendship. Despite telling me that they did for two years, and me moving to a different country to try and work on things. Lame. I’ve been thinking about them a lot..we have not been in each other’s live for a few months now, and I can’t help but wonder what they are up to, and if they wonder about me at all. Missing someone can be consuming at times, and its lame. Very lame.

At the same time, I was struggling with whether or not I should return home. I have not been home in basically four years, and since it was quite possible my sister was going to die, was thinking about it. I’m glad I didn’t end up going as she was fine, but I was actually considering not going anyway…what kind of a person does that make me? I’m not close to my family, even so, I surely would have regretted not going back had something happened. Yet.., I wanted to focus on setting up my business, getting investors and my visa and such. A lot of what I can do I can from anywhere, but it’s important for me to return to New York as that’s where I want to have things set up….having to return home would have been such a setback, having to raise the money to come back to the US and everything. I guess a part of me wanted to avoid having to go home at any cost, to face the fact I’m not close to anyone there.

I really don’t have many friends at all. It’s a side effect from always being on the move, and at some low level the entire reason I travel so much is probably based on the fact that it stops me from being attached to anyone. I don’t talk to my family, and don’t have any friends I really stay in contact with or can rely on. It puts a dampener on things. Then for the rest of the year my money has been tied up for most of the time, making it near impossible to even go out and meet people. Even being at home all the time and having a lot of free time, I have not had the motivation to write as much as I want to. It took me almost two weeks to write this article, when it should have taken two days.

Suffice to say…dealing with such loneliness and other feelings of depression is hard. It is quite the burden. It gets to the point sometimes where I can’t help but think of suicide. While it isn’t something I think myself capable, I still think about it. I feel like telling people, but I don’t want to worry them for no reason, as I know it isn’t something I would do. It seems to be a way for me to better examine how I feel by exaggerating things.

When going out grocery shopping one night for alcohol and various foods, I decided to take a free blood pressure test at the grocery store. Not for any reason and expecting it to report me healthy as they generally do. Alas, this time it reported I have stage 1 hypertension. Not good…not good at all. Considering I live off fast food and drink copious amounts of Dr Pepper, probably inevitable. The interesting thing is how this has affected me. I basically have no motivation to do anything about it. While I could never commit suicide, letting my body deteriorate until it takes care of itself seems like the solution. I am consciously aware this isn’t a healthy train of thought, and despite having no motivation to do so will go to a doctor and get some advice when I can.

During all this time, since the end of DEFCON, I had resolved to try and quit smoking. As I get older the risk to my health just gets worse. It’s an unnecessary expense which didn’t really worry me, but saving money is a plus. I still expect I will smoke socially, as it is one of the easiest ways to meet people. Traveling around the world by myself, that’s a useful thing. For whatever reason, I don’t think my body develops much of an addiction. I went from smoking a pack a day of cigarettes with 1.6 mg’s of nicotine to maybe one a week to none for the last month…with no noticeable difference except the odd craving. I certainly don’t notice everything tasting better as many people stated was the case. Having said that though, I’ve been smoking hookahs every few days each week since moving in with Zane…

Trying to make some new friends

I liked meeting a lot of Zane’s friends. They tended to be a bit younger, but it was fun to hang out and drink and play beer pong….it was somewhat similar to a frat house experience I imagine. There was one girl in particular, Aimee, who was somewhat odd. She would call everyone an affectionate nickname, and tended to jump to conclusions. After being alerted to the fact that she liked me I made an effort to talk to her one night, and some secrets were shared and such. It was a few weeks later I found out she somewhat complained about what we were talking about. Why would you carryon on a conversation if it made you uncomfortable? Sigh. I’ve been away from adults for far too long.

It was also the first time that I have heard Americans say that a different accent is incorrect. I mean, seriously? Some of these kids are the same people who thought Australia was in Europe. I just can’t get my head around that. If they went to the UK or somewhere would they still think everyone around them was pronouncing everything incorrectly? That level of arrogance and ignorance boggles my mind. I don’t know which is worse, thinking other accents are wrong, or thinking Americans don’t have accents. Aye.

About a week ago some friends came over, Max and Rachel. They are a pretty sweet couple, and I could sense a lot of genuine feelings for each other. Unfortunately, Max is just too damn stubborn and believing the worse. He became convinced that Rachel was cheating on him because of stupid shit like a friend leaving her a voice message saying let’s get fucked up or her sleeping platonically next to a friend. It made me sad to see a relationship end for no good reason. I honestly hope that they work it out, and Max learns to trust Rachel. It’s kind of necessary for any relationship to work.

That whole dating thing

I met up a few weeks into staying with Zane with Lisa for what turned out to be a date. This was one of the most interesting dates I have ever been on. I thought it would be just two friends meeting up briefly…, but it ended up being a date. What was interesting about this…was the amount of offending things being said which were not meant to be offensive, resulting in awkwardness. Lisa is a great girl, but I honestly don’t understand why she wants to date me. We have no common interests, quite opposite personalities and possibly get on each other’s nerves. I think it’s nice to try and make new friends, but I don’t really understand it unless you instantly like the person…

When I was in Costa Rica, I really hit it off with this girl, let’s call her Nancy. We talked for a few hours and seemed to have a good chemistry, and this then progressed to kissing. We added each other on Facebook after she left the next day, and I thought at the last I made a new friend. Apparently though she felt guilty about the whole thing, may have been seeing someone back home, and ended up disappearing completely from Facebook. This disturbed me, as I really hit it off with this girl. I couldn’t find her on the internet at all, and messaging her friends to get her to contact me didn’t work. Knowing a paper she published, and her university managing to have a predictable pattern for student email addresses I managed to find her after many hours on Google. She basically said she went through a bad time and removed everyone as a friend, and politely denied my request to be friends with her. I find this sad, as I think we would have been amazing friends, but I guess there isn’t much you can do in such situations.

Of course, Nancy was not the only girl I wanted more to do with. Aside from many anonymous online dating girls, there was Marsha, who I met in Nicaragua. We really hit it off, and I know I made her laugh all the time, and she seemed attracted to me. We were talking late one night and she even said she just prefers occasional casual sex instead of relationships, like me. So, I couldn’t help but be…miffed, when I couldn’t get her into bed. I blame it all on me being depressed, us being in a hostel, and her being with her friend. Lame. Even so, I really did have a fun time talking to her…and would possibly like her as a friend, but have to make the effort. Random Facebook chatting is not the best way to get to know someone. Still, I will see where it goes.

As I knew I was heading to LA soon, I tried arranging to meet up with some of the girls I met in La Fortuna in Costa Rica. They were young, but obviously old enough to travel around Central America by themselves. Of course, I got knocked back which was kind of annoying. All of these people I met while traveling and I can’t stay in contact with any of them…it’s always my problem. Of course, that isn’t quite true.

I’m still in contact with Megan, an amazing girl I met en route to Nicaragua. There was a lot of flirting and a lot of intellectual arguing, and just chemistry in general. We really hit it off, and I plan to visit her in November. We’ve been talking sometimes online, which is nice. Even so…, I feel such an urge to try and build friendships with these other girls. I don’t know why…perhaps because it’s a challenge and something to fill the void…it’s a strange feeling. I guess also that having more people couldn’t not hurt…at the moment I have like 3, and I’m not that close to any of them, so building more seems to just make sense, if not only as a contingency plan.

Feeling lonely as I was and with my complete lack of money, I thought I might try some online dating sites. This really didn’t work out so well. I filled out my profile all thoroughly and with photos, and a got a great many views and winks or whatever. However, it didn’t matter how many girls I started talking to…the conversations never really went anywhere. I just don’t know how to keep a conversation going days apart.

I went out on another date with Lisa a few days ago…; we went to see a movie, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. I persuaded her she would like it as I had heard nothing but good things about it, and had wanted to see it myself. In any event, it certainly beat the alternative to Lisa’s pick, Cats and Dog’s 3D. It was interesting hanging out, and making jokes of the awkwardness. I mean…, its one thing when someone’s knowledge is based entirely on stereotypes and you can’t shake them from it, but it’s another when that person is somewhat condescending and insulting without meaning to be. I don’t mind hanging out with her but…It’s just strange. At the same time here is someone making time and effort to see me and I can’t see the positive things here. I am aware of that, and not really sure how to change my outlook, or if I want to. If people annoy me, they annoy me…anything else would seem to be burying that annoyance for the sake of…what exactly?

What next

I just found out yesterday that all my money has come through. I now have a few thousand dollars to secure me for the next few months, hopefully until next year as I find some work and settle on setting up my business. Good news and a huge weight off my chest. Who knows, perhaps my blood pressure has gone down as a result.

I’ve also been trying to work on my business plan for a long time now. I have a pretty awesome idea and solid plan. However, I know almost nothing about business plans, accounting, financial projections etc. I’ve read a lot on it, but there is a lot of conflicting stuff. So, back in 2007 or so, I decided to hire someone to help me. Well, I got fucked over, as all I got sent was automatic output from the Business Plan Pro software, which is extremely useless. Two years later my business plan is still a horrible hodgepodge, with horrible redundancy and inaccurate information and a confusing structure. Even with a computer to use, I haven’t had the motivation to deal with it, and the person I hired this time round to help me has not really gotten back to me. I may not succeed with my business, but I have to try. There won’t be much worse than seeing my idea in common place and knowing I could have been the one to cash in on it and make it a reality.

My time so far in Vegas was not the sex crazed topless pool constantly drunk crazy adventure I had secretly hoped for, but it was interesting in and of itself. I met cool people and had a place to stay and feel secure while I worked out my money issues, and get in touch with people and try and come to grips with stuff. One of the more interesting aspects that I could have been anywhere. Las Vegas is like anywhere else, except for the strip, and I only went there during DEFCON and my failed night out. Somehow I feel like things would be different back in NYC even though they probably wouldn’t be, and there is just as much chance for random adventures and encounters. Even so, it’s been an interesting two months and I’m ready to make my way up to Canada, and see what adventures I will encounter on the way.

February 16, 2010

From New Orleans to Bogota

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 9:59 am

What a hellish few days I just had trying to get to Colombia. My flight to Colombia was on the evening of the 14th from Orlando, and I had a flight from New Orleans to Jacksonville on the 13th. I had planned to take the train from Jacksonville to Orlando arriving with plenty of time to spare and get to the airport. What should have been a simple trip turned into a stressed rush to make sure I got to Orlando in time to catch my flight.

Firstly, my flight to Jacksonville was cancelled. This flight was from New Orleans to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Jacksonville. The Atlanta to Jacksonville flight was cancelled because of the unexpected snowstorms. Now, this was worrying as I did not have the funds to purchase a new flight to get to Orlando in time, and did not look forward to perhaps having to hitchhike or find some other way there.

Before going through security in New Orleans I asked at the delta information desk who advised I should go through security and take the flight to Atlanta, because I would have more options available to me to help me get to Atlanta. So, I went through security, only to end up waiting about 3 hours because that flight was delayed.

Now, this was all fine, but I thought I would make sure what was happening with my flight and see if there was any chance of getting a new connecting flight to Jacksonville or Orlando. Upon inquiring I found out my entire flight had been canceled, even the flight from New Orleans to Atlanta. Wow, thanks for checking that for me Delta employees at the information desk. It also would have been nice if I had received some sort of notification, instead of just letting me print my boarding pass and informing me that only the Jacksonville flight was canceled.

However, waiting as I did actually worked out to my advantage as I ended up being put on another flight to Atlanta and got a connecting flight to Jacksonville. This was a big relief as I didn’t have to worry about getting to Orlando from Atlanta at night…only from Jacksonville, a mere 2-2.5 hours away. To keep with the pattern, after arriving to Atlanta the flight to Jacksonville was delayed for about a further 2 hours because of a flight attendant running late. However this went smoothly and I arrived at Jacksonville without issue.

I was unable to find any suitable accommodation in Jacksonville, and there was no night transport so I decided to just stay at the airport. Free WiFi, warm inside, comfy chairs and no one else around helped 6 hours to go by fairly quickly. In the morning I went to catch a bus to town, and then to the Amtrak station. Due to it being a Sunday the next bus was not until 7:47 A.M. As luck would have it, the driver of that bus was new to her job and was running 10 minutes late, which led to me missing the connecting bus to the Amtrak station.

After verifying there was no bus getting to the Amtrak station before my train was set to depart, I looked for a taxi. After finding a taxi I realized I could not take it, as the driver was unable to accept credit cards. After calling another taxi that could, $10 later I arrived at the Amtrak with about 45 minutes to spare. Only to find out my train had been delayed for just over 3 hours, again apparently because of snow.

This was no good, as getting to Orlando at 5 P.M. would definitely have led to me missing my flight. So, it was back to the bus station on a public bus this time with a new goal of catching a Greyhound bus. After asking various people where they Greyhound station was and getting slightly differing responses each time, I eventually made it. On the way however, I ran through church central. There were almost 10 Baptist Churches all next to each other, and with all the church goers out and about looking to hand out free bibles or some such. Sheesh. At this time I had been awake for just over 30 hours…dealing with religious nuts was the last thing I needed.

After finally arriving at the Greyhound station at about 11 A.M. I promptly purchased a ticket to Orlando, set to arrive just before 4 P.M. Now, I was none too pleased with this since that would not give me much time to find a taxi and get to the airport…leaving just about 30 minutes to get through lines and make sure I could check in on time. I had absolutely no other choice however, so I had to take my chances.

At around 12 P.M. however, a bus pulled up and let about 40 people of. All who were going to be catching the same bus as me, heading towards Orlando. Until this time I had been the only person waiting for a bus…the sudden influx of passengers did not worry me, as I assumed that the bus would still leave on time. Waiting around for the bus to leave was OK, and I even made a potential business contact.

However, when I was still in line at 1 P.M. for a bus that was meant to leave at 12:30…I started to get worried. I still had no other choice…and there was still a chance that I would arrive at the airport with 10 minutes to spare. However, a sudden change of luck resulted in the line being divided, with one bus stopping at all stops along the way, and another bus going direct to Orlando, meaning just a 2-2.5 hour trip.

Yes!

I ended up arriving just before 4 P.M. and managed to get a taxi straight away which ended up costing about $40, and arrived at the airport at about 4:30 P.M. There was a short line, and I had my boarding pass by about 4:45 P.M., 15 minutes before checkin closed. I went through security without a hassle, and my flight boarded rather quickly…indeed, I was among the first passengers able to board.

I was comfortably sitting in my seat, the worst of it over where I took advantage of relaxing and watching some TV shows before managing to sleep for a few hours. I arrived in Bogota at the expected time, got through customs without a hitch and found my accommodation. After 42 hours without sleep and an extra $100 later, I was now in Colombia, ready to being the next branch of my adventure.

January 24, 2010

A criticism of CouchSurfing and review of alternatives

Table of Contents

Introduction
Free Accommodation
The “CouchSurfing Spirit” and Super-Hippies
Problems with CouchSurfing
……..Fraud and illegal behavior
……..The Verification Scam
……..Privacy Concerns
……..References and the lack of a dispute resolution process
……..Censorship
Alternatives
……..Hospitality Club
……..GlobalFreeloaders
……..BeWelcome
……..Tripping
……..Crashatmine
Conclusion
References

Introduction

For the last six years I have been traveling a lot, being in a different place every few months. Early on when I started my travels I was made aware of GlobalFreeloaders, and at a later stage CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club. The concept behind these sites has is referred to as hospitality exchange. The general idea behind hospitality exchange sites or communities is that when you visit a country, you find a host you think you will get on with and stay with them, instead of at a hotel or hostel, the advantage being that you get to save some cash while getting a more accurate taste of the culture as opposed to what most tourists get or perhaps want to see. Hospitality exchange sites have a long history starting with the Servas Open Doors association founded shortly after WW2. This was the first true hospitality exchange program with the goal being to help build understanding and peace. Servas is certainly the oldest hospitality exchange community, and is the most official with it being recognized by the UN. Membership is taken a bit more seriously with an interview being required before being accepted to join.

Before the internet was as popular as it is, there were other sites that offered hospitality exchange although it was arguably not the main focus. Examples would be student exchange programs and hitchhiking communities. In 2001 or so the first of the current hospitality exchange sites launched, which was the start or an irreversible trend. Now thanks to the internet anyone could join and find people to host or stay with and due to the larger network of people references could be left which would work as a form of verification. Currently there are three primary hospitality exchange sites with a fourth still in development. While each of these sites share the same basic principles they tend to have many important differences in practice. CouchSurfing is certainly the most popular and well known of these services with some 1.7 million members to its name. CouchSurfing also has the nicest website and has gotten the most media coverage, however it also has many disadvantages that people may not be aware of. In this article it is my goal to give my experiences with Couchsurfing while listing many of the serious problems that have plagued CouchSurfing almost since its inception, in detail, while providing as many references as possible. I hope to raise people’s awareness and so that they will be aware of the risks of using CouchSurfing and perhaps petition for the truth and a change in policy. I also review the other hospitality exchange sites and why I consider them to be preferable and will try to encourage their use since they do not have any of the problems attributed to CouchSurfing.

Free Accommodation

There can be no question that one of the things all of these hospitality exchange sites have in common is free accommodation. One of the most common reasons people use these services is to save money by staying with a host for free. Meeting people, hearing about their travels and making lasting friendships is an awesome opportunity that is possible through these kinds of sites, however for most people it is not the primary goal but more of a positive consequence. This is of course true only for people traveling, for people hosting it truly is about meeting new people and learning new things or perhaps reciprocating to the community. If most of the people who use these services could afford to stay in Hotels for much of the time, they would probably meet up for coffee instead of staying on peoples couches.

Not everyone will use these sites for the purpose of free accommodation but the majority of people surfing do, at least to varying extents. I myself look for free accommodation first and foremost and anything I get after that such as a great cultural experience or a friendship is an amazing extra. There are some people on CouchSurfing however that completely deny that they use these sites for free accommodation. I suppose for some people this is true, however for the majority that state this it is very clearly not. There are people on CouchSurfing who blatantly deny that they are using the site for free accommodation, despite the fact that as unemployed students they would not be able to do their world travels if it were not for the charity of the people hosting them. They may have chosen to travel to meet new people and be exposed to new cultures, but if it were not for the free accommodation provided through CouchSurfing, they would be homeless in the street.

One rather blatant example of this was a guy who claimed that using the site for free accommodation was very wrong and not at all what it was about. It was interesting to see after he had a problem accessing his account that he completely freaked out because he wouldn’t have anywhere to stay. These people are the same type I described below – Super-Hippies. There is no shame in acknowledging that the reason people use these sites is for free accommodation. It does not have to be the primary reason, but to deny it all together is just wrong. Traveling in different countries with limited budgets that don’t take accommodation into account while saying it is not important and then furiously messaging 20 people a day to make sure they have somewhere to stay? Is there any other word to describe this behavior other than hypocritical? Unfortunately I have met many CouchSurfers like this (not a majority) and it only seems these people are unique to the CouchSurfing community.

One of the most disconcerting things about CouchSurfing is the pressure to hang out with people when you would not otherwise want to do so. Not in a positive way as in talking to people you would not normally talk to and gaining new insight, but rather a pressure for people who simply don’t get along to pretend they like and are interested in learning more about each other. Every user is encouraged to fill in their profile with as much detail as possible not unlike a MySpace page. The majority of these details have absolutely no relevance to requesting to stay on someone’s couch for a few days either from a hosting or surfing perspective. This is actually enforced in some ways with quite a few people stating that they will not even consider hosting you unless your profile is substantially filled out. Didn’t list your favorite movies and books? Then forget it. It is this need and want to know everything about people that strikes me as being so very hypocritical and fake. If you want to get to know someone then talk to them when they arrive; don’t use their lists of favorite movies and books or philosophies and political opinions as the only indicator.

The level of emphasis that these different sites place on free accommodation is perhaps where they differ most. For CouchSurfing while free accommodation exists as a point, it is not at all defined by it and it may well be a minor point. There are a great many people on CouchSurfing who are using the service to save money even if they don’t say so. For GlobalFreeloaders the emphasis is without a doubt on free accommodation. This is evident in the lack of profiles and general philosophy of the people on the site. Instead of checking out individual profiles, you mass mail the people in any city you think may like to host you, and anyone interested gets back to you. Personally, I find this to be a whole lot more honest and refreshing than the somewhat forced “let’s be friends!” philosophy pushed by CouchSurfing. For Hospitality Club the emphasis seems about equal to that of seeing new cultures. I have not had a chance to use BeWelcome or Tripping however at a glance they seem to have a similar philosophie to Hospitality Club.

Meeting new people, sharing a new culture, seeing the parts that tourists tend to miss out on; these are all amazing benefits of hospitality exchange programs. For many people on these sites money is tight, and free accommodation which allows them to save money so they may keep on traveling is an amazing advantage. There should be no shame in admitting that this is a part of the reason you use the site, even if it is not the priority. To deny it completely is just dishonest except for a minority of cases.

The “CouchSurfing Spirit” and Super-Hippies

Sometimes on CouchSurfing there will be a reference made to something referred to as the “CouchSurfing Spirit”. This spirit is consistently described as something unique to CouchSurfing, and something the other hospitality exchange sites lack. The “CouchSurfing Spirit” is defined then as the idea of trusting people you have never met, letting them into your house or entering theirs and sharing in their life and culture while being generous, open minded and hospitable. The thing is, this “CouchSurfing Spirit” does not exist! At all. The people who talk about the CouchSurfing spirit are the same people that completely reject the notion that the CouchSurfing project has anything to do with free accommodation, rather that it is about making new friends and being exposed to new things. The other hospitality exchange sites are simply more honest in acknowledging that free accommodation is a major if not primary aspect of the service. Wanting to see the sides of countries and cities most tourists miss out on is in no way unique to CouchSurfing, but is common to all of the hospitality exchange sites. It doesn’t matter which way the “CouchSurfing Spirit” is described, it always refers to basic human trust and altruism. I have had people on GlobalFreeloaders and Hospitality Club offer to take the day of work and drive for hours to come and get me from an airport, all who are on that site for free accommodation – at least in part. Did these people not have the spirit? I have also found people on CouchSurfing who didn’t want me in the house if they weren’t there and were not interested in sharing anything; did these people have the spirit?

What the “CouchSurfing Spirit” seems to refer to in practice in a close-minded, naïve and unrealistically optimistic outlook on life. Without exception, every single person I have met (a considerable number) who claims to have this spirit is under the impression that the spirit they believe defines the site has also been a Super-Hippie. These are the type of people who preach open-mindedness while having firmly made up their minds about the other hospitality exchange sites without ever having used them, and will dismiss any criticisms of CouchSurfing as being due to a bad experience, even if they have considerably less experience with the site then the person making the criticisms.I don’t think it is a question that this subset of the CouchSurfing community exists regardless of if my views of them have any credibility. Despite my views, I do not mean for the term “Super-Hippie” to be insulting, I just feel it is an accurate term that perhaps these people would even agree with. There is nothing objectively negative or offensive about the term hippie, and Super-Hippie refers to an exaggerated version of the hippie stereotype.

These people tend to have an unshakable and ultimate faith in the pure goodness of their fellow man. They say that they appreciate each and every person for who they are, no matter their faults because everyone is different and you can learn something new from everyone. These people might be the real deal but all too often they will be saying how much they like you and appreciate your viewpoint while obviously getting pissed off and frustrated, and preaching how open minded they are while completely dismissing your input if you point out that current science contradicts their Super-Hippie philosophies. Coincidentally, these are the same people who tend to organize the community events and encourage the spirit and so are becoming the ‘voice’ of CouchSurfing – if they are not already. Probably at least 2/3rds of the active CouchSurfing member base would be just as at home on BeWelcome or GlobalFreeloaders as on CouchSurfing. Indeed, many members are on all the sites. The people who go on about this spirit are the minority, but they are without a doubt the most vocal as their events and opinions tend to get media coverage and thus, in a way, characterize CouchSurfing. These particular members are not indicative of the larger community although they likely soon will be.

I cannot stand these people. I can’t stand willfully ignorant people. I can’t stand fake or phony people. I can’t stand blatantly hypocritical people. I can’t stand liars. These people may not mean to be these things intentionally, but it doesn’t change that they are. The “CouchSurfing Spirit” does not exist except in the minds of close-minded people who like to pretend that the reason they all use the site has absolutely nothing to do with free accommodation. Bullshit. Some of these people activley discourage or will not tell other people about CouchSurfing because they don’t share the same Super-Hippie views. I have made many great friends on CouchSurfing and I like to think the people who have hosted me have also gotten something positive out of it, yet if it were up to these Super-Hippies I would never have been admitted to the site. Super-Hippies are the types of people who believe almost anything they are told. Their entire view and understanding of the places they travel to is based on what people tell them. They entirely lack the capacity to think critically and see that one persons experiences are likely not representative of their entire country or city. These are the types of people that will assume that if the windows where they stay are double glazed, all the windows in that country or city will be double glazed. If the kebabs they purchased tend to come with chili sauce, then typically all the kebabs have chili sauce. While it is great to be open-minded and want to learn as much as you can about new cultures and places, it is even more important not to limit your knowledge to assumptions based on your personal experiences. Keeping an open-mind requires critical thinking, and not simply accepting everything people say at face value. I just can’t understand people who would take a single view as authoritative rather than developing the skills to assess what they are told critically.

Too many of these people want to be involved in every aspect of your life as soon as they meet you. Hanging out constantly, doing the same activities together under pressure…many profiles actually say if you stay with this person they will expect you to join them in all of their daily activities. Wanting to see and experience local culture is one thing, having to shadow someone out of a feeling of obligation is quite another. If I go to visit rural Texas I may want to see cattle farms and farm life, and would be happy to help with chores but I wouldn’t expect that all my free time would expected to be spent doing as farmers do. I like to explore on my own, see what the community and society have to offer and have interesting experiences. There is nothing better than knowing you can come home to someone friendly while in a strange city and share a meal and interesting conversation. That has to happen naturally however. Far too many people, mostly Super-Hippies – try to force this issue. Their profiles will be amazingly filled out and expect the same of you. When I look to stay with people, I don’t expect to have to share my life story, I just want to know that we will get on OK, and if any friendship develops it will be amazing, because it happened naturally. Learning everything you can about people from their profiles and 20 questions and sharing activities is not the way to make friends. It can make for interesting experiences many of which might be positive, but why try to force the issue? Why not just meet up and let things happen naturally? What kind of person actually stipulates they anyone they host must join them in all of their daily activities while staying?

Personally I feel these people are only damaging the hospitality exchange communities and don’t tend to help society in general. Such blatant hypocrisy and close-mindedness will only hold back these exchange programs and more generally. If you preach that you want to learn and experience new things, than that also means being able to challenge your core beliefs. It doesn’t just mean being willing to try a new food which is what many take it as. To those of you that meet this criteria do yourselves a favor, educate yourselves. Engage in debate and try and back up your viewpoints, don’t simply dismiss anyone who questions them. Engage in debate and actually learn new things about yourselves and others, and most of all be honest. As amazing as you consider the world to be, it has layers that you have not even imagined that you are missing out on while you continue to limit yourselves.

I don’t know if this belongs in this section but it seems appropriate. It is important to note that many CouchSurfing members cannot handle any criticism of the project at all. They have a lot of love for their community and oppose anyone who would ask questions or demand answers. This is a shame, as most of the time these people raise valid points and just get attacked by the more rabid members. It is yet another example of supreme close-mindedness.Yes the community may be great and you may have had amazing experiences, this doesn’t mean their isn’t cause to investigate or report certain behaviors and actions.This devotion is somewhat errie and almost implies a certain dependence on CouchSurfing, as though they could not cope if it were taken away. The organization and community need to be open to criticism because it is the only way to move forward and grow. If things continue as they are then CouchSurfing will come to resemble a cult rather than an amazing open community they they believe themselves to be.

Problems with the CouchSurfing organization

The CouchSurfing service is plagued by problems that most people are perhaps not aware of. These problems range from defrauding and scamming users, illegal behavior, gross violations of privacy, a complete lack of any real appeals or dispute resolution process and censorship. Many of the members were so frustrated that the OpenCouchSurfing was started as a result. A plea for an open and transparent organization without all of the secrecy and deception that plagues the current incarnation of CouchSurfing. Also interesting is a small list of people stating why they refuse to volunteer for CouchSurfing. Searching around the web will yield many stories of negatives experiences with CouchSurfing, not with bad hosts or guests but with CouchSurfing directly such as deleting peoples accounts for no reasons while silencing critics and illegal behavior. One interesting question to ask of those who advocate the CouchSurfing Spirit – do you think the following behaviors and actions of the organization what the community believes to be the spirit? Please keep that question in mind while reading ahead. There seems to be a very large gap between what the users know and understand and the organization itself. This has to stop.

Fraud and illegal behavior

CouchSurfing have engaged in much questionable behavior almost since their inception as an organization. The most obvious and perhaps controversial of these behaviors is their management of donation money, and the fact that they have referred to themselves as both a charity and as a non-profit organization in the past misleading many people. They state that being a non-profit is essential to their mission and guiding principles, and that they rely entirely on the voluntary donations of members. I have no issue with them being a non-profit, but for them to have received charity status is crap. CouchSurfing is not a charity, in any sense of the word except legally. They do not directly provide any services or do any charitable actions; they merely offer a service so people can offer charity to each other. They are the enabler for people to provide charitable services, they do not provide any charitable services themselves. CouchSurfing should have their charity status revoked after a full investigation of what the charitable services they actually provide is performed and they are shown to only offer a website, and use donation money to pay for rent and food of staff members.

A problem at the moment is that CouchSurfing is a currently registered charity organization and they may have obtained this status status on false grounds by misrepresenting the organizations role in the community, and that the organization is not compliant with the various reporting and disclosure requirements for charities. As per a message on a CouchSurfing mailing list, CouchSurfing was due to file a tax return in 2009 along with an independently conducted financial audit. This is required to be made public yet four months later nothing has been released. The problem with CouchSurfing not releasing the information as they are required to is it becomes difficult for people and organizations to verify that the donation money that people give in good faith is being used in a responsible way. Given that all of CouchSurfing’s behavior indicates they have something to hide and the fact that the organization can not be said to do any charitable work I think this is the most likely situation. In which case as above I think a full investigation should be conducted before the organization is allowed to continue soliciting donations. Later on in the same CouchSurfing thread I linked to above, a rough analysis of CouchSurfing’s legitimacy as a charity organization is performed by Margaret using the Charity Navigator methodology as a guide. According to Margaret’s calculations 69.87% of the donation money CouchSurfing receives allegedly goes to administrative costs involved with running the website (suuuure) which going by Charity Navigator’s guidelines would place CouchSurfing squarely in the runaway category.

It is also important to to mention that from 2003 – 2007 CouchSurfing’s structure as an organization was illegal. The reason for this is that Casey had himself listed as CEO as well as the chair of the Board of Directors. This arrangement is illegal under New Hampshire law and so any donations taken during this time and any contracts CouchSurfing entered into may not have been valid. If it turns out that charitable donations of time and money made to CouchSurfing when it did not exist in the correct form legal are invalid, then CouchSurfing should be made available for any loss suffered as a result. Based on the evidence I have seen and what is publicly available, it appears the only reason CouchSurfing is looking to be a charity/non-profit org is to get tax exempt status. That’s it. To keep living a certain lifestyle funded by a deceptive verification scheme without ever having to pay taxes. Casey Fenton (the founder and leader of CouchSurfing) has to either clear up these misconceptions or be held accountable.

Regardless of the credibility of CouchSurfing’s charity status it appears that the legal requirements have not always been met, and were even knowingly and willing broken. Quoted from a message by user Pickwick : “New Hampshire law does not allow the chairman/president of a charity to be an employee at the same time. So when Casey as chairman/president signed his own employment contract he violated that law, and for this reason alone the contract may be invalid.“. There is no question that Casey is an employee of CouchSurfing, receiving a salary of some $70k per year. Casey also seems to be without a doubt the leader and president of CouchSurfing. When Casey was on the Board of Directors and also an employee, then this was illegal. Not only was this a violation of law this would also be a case of Casey committing perjury. The implications of this are significant, as all employment contracts would be invalid, all contracts and legal agreements would be invalid, further laws would have been violated etc…

Of note are the application forms originally submitted by Casey to get nonprofit status. It is evident in the original filing (the first link) that Casey was listed as the President, Treasurer, Secretary and head of the Board of Directions in violation of NH law. I don’t believe that their have been any ramifications for CouchSurfing having an illegal structure for four years. The second link shows the reasons CouchSurfing used to obtain charity status. CouchSurfing is organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational and scientific purposes? I think not. To internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding? This is more acceptable, however out of those that are actually obtainable CouchSurfing is not the facilitator. They offer a website which enables others to organize such exchanges and offer charity without having any direct involvement themselves. Looking at the CouchSurfing Terms of Service, they state that “Many in-person meetings are held by groups of interested members and are not sponsored or organized by us.”. If RedCross ran a website that enabled volunteers to help those in need without doing charity work themselves or putting their donation money to good use, would people still support them and give donations so readily? Lastly the second form states that “No part of the net earnings of the organization shall inure to the benefit, of or be distributable to its members, trustees, officers, or other private persons…”. Well a quick look at CouchSurfing’s financial information shows that not being honored.

This really needs to be properly and thoroughly investigated. There are some very serious and obvious discrepancies that need to be sorted out. The financial statements and registration information made available through the organization and the website do not match those provided to the New Hampshire authorities. What exactly is going on? The most recent financial information has not been made available when it should have been and it is now almost a quarter later. At least some people before have been disillusioned, with CouchSurfing even being reported to the New Hampshire District Attorney in 2007. I am unclear what the outcome of this was, and suspect the investigation is ongoing.

Now, to examine the financial information. It is important to note here that despite a legal obligation to do so, the financial records for 2009 have not been released, so I will be going by the records for 2008. The net income for 2008 was $ 128,455.55. The total income was $788,297.70, with $783,977.23 coming from contributed donations. This can be read as the income from the verification process. Somehow, a not for profit organization that boasts about having a virtual office managed to spend the majority of this income, despite not paying to organize events(the members organize these out of pocket) and not having an office. Looking at the expense, the aside from salaries, the majority of the rest of the money goes towards travel, rent and food. Those four expenses account for more than a third of the total income, with nothing to show for it.

A not for profit organization or charity should not be using income to provide food and rent for its members, and doing so does not qualify them as a charity. Since CouchSurfing provides the food and rent expenses for members, their salaries should be adjusted accordingly to reflect they have no cost of living. There are numerous messages on the CouchSurfing mailing lists pointing out that the income has not been reported as is legally required, and that the income seems to be used for alcohol and drugs and not anything of actual value or related to work. Almost every way you look at it, it appears the contributed income is being used to perpetuate the lifestyle of Casey and friends rather than being put back into the organization. In fact at the moment Casey and his friends are all living in a sharehouse in Istanbul with the donation money paying for their food and travel. They don’t do any work, at least not that anyone has ever seen evidence off and get to lay around each do doing what they like. Clearly this is not how the people who donated money to CouchSurfing expected their donations to be used. There have been several allegations by volunteers and members that at collectives and CouchSurfing meetings there are dedicated “sex rooms”, something that was also mentioned in Bryan’s resignation letter. It is worth mentioning here the leaked minutes from a 2009 meeting of the CS staff. Nothing pertaining to CouchSurfing is discussed or how things could be improved. Instead ways to have more fun are discussed and given a priority. The suggestions for improvement include more pillow fights and to give each other more massages. The general managers only goal is to “find knobs to twiddle”. This is where people donation money is going. A search through the CourchSurfing mailing lists(as well as some of the discussions I have linked to) will show discussions on this point. Given how they conduct their meetings I don’t find that idea hard to believe, when in fact the notion should be absurd. To quote from the CouchSurfing About page: “CouchSurfing’s non-profit status legally mandates that all resources must be spent directly on achieving the mission”. This does not seem to be the case and I doubt that anyone who made a donation would approve of this.

Even so, the remaining net income does not seem to be being used in any meaningful way. Having it as an emergency fund is not good enough. There are problems that could be fixed, and this is where the money should be going. The rest of the expenses are dubious as well. The salaries for staff in 2008 more than doubled than the amount in 2007, despite the amount of staff not increasing. What did increase was the amount of contributed income which was also more than double than the amount in 2007. The greatly increased salaries for staff seem to correlate with this. Somehow the verification and postage expenses are more than $34,000. In 2007 the expense was only $10,000. Considering the user base has not tripled from 2007, and the costs of postcard production and mailing have not tripled, why have the expenses tripled? The cost for servers is some $50k, while hosting is a separate some $20k. Both of these expenses are not necessary…it does not cost $50k for servers where you would not have to pay for hosting, and it is doubtful the cost for hosting is $20k. Given how closely the expenses seem to use up the total income, I genuinely believe that these financials are doctored. I would expect expenses to increase somewhat with a user base, but not by the shown percentage when there has not been any additional work or staff intake. How can this not be considered suspicious?

Much of the material on the website appears to be written generically to satisfy authorities or investors without having any real relevant to how the organization actually works or what it is said to represent. No heart has gone into writing these texts and it is quite likely most people never read them. They have not been updated in a long time and no not reflect reality, but boy do they look good on paper.

The CouchSurfing Staff page(now mysteriously removed..) stated that “large salaries aren’t what it takes to find and retain talented team members. Instead, we’ve designed a system that gives our staff intangible rewards that can’t be found elsewhere”. Yet, the salaries are large, and they get salaries in addition to free rent, food and travel. There are numerous reports on the CS mailing lists that states that no works seems to be done at collectives. Nevertheless, this is the official development process of CouchSurfing, i.e. there isn’t one. Another point to consider is the treatment of volunteers. Again, there are many, many messages on the mailing lists with volunteers resigning because of the poor treatment they receive. CouchSurfing seems to recruit people with a genuine enthusiasm for the ideal, and secure in the knowledge that there seems to be a near infinite pool of volunteers to recruit from has no motivation to reward them or treat them with a basic level of respect. These are the people who mostly make CouchSurfing function, and they receive absolutely nothing for their work. Which is fine, it’s kind of what being a volunteer means, but they certainly should not have to put up with being dismissed and disrespected for all the hard work they put in. I have not talked about CouchSurfing’s treatment of volunteers in detail here but a cursory search will reveal many stories of woe which fit a recurring pattern.

Another point that is quite interesting is that CouchSurfing was pretending to be a charitable organization, a 501(c)(3) back in 2004. 501(c)(3) status is important for many reasons. It is what all charity organizations should eventually seek and shows that the charity has been vetted by the IRS and has been audited. CouchSurfing has already been rejected in their application for 501(c)(3) status, if and they do not gain this status soon they will be unable to remain as a charity in North Hampshire. This means CouchSurfing will no longer be able to accept donations or sponsor volunteers as they current do. There is a good discussion of CouchSurfing’s 501(c)(3) status on the Brainstorm: Redefined group. CouchSurfing claiming to be a 501(c)(3) was originally pointed out on the OpenCouchSurfing website which linked to archive.org. Now, for some reason, CouchSurfing has denied archive.org to archive the contents of the CouchSurfing website. There is absolutely no sound reason for CouchSurfing to do this, as archive.org is a free service and actually benefits the internet community in many ways. The only reason to do this, is because they do not want people to see what they used to say on their site, before the project was more famous. We can just add this to the pile of actions taken by CouchSurfing showing them to be deceitful and untrustworthy.

CouchSurfing as a charity organization should be working to further its cause, and doing charitable things(of which feeding its employees does not count). As a charity they have certain legal obligations which have apparently thus far not been met and may have been willfully violated. More than this they have a duty to the tens of thousands of people who gave donations and became verified in good faith not to abuse their donations. The organization has a duty to responsibly disclose its financial information and to ensure that its organizational structure including the board of directors meets the legal requirements. This may mean Casey and friends have to sacrifice their lifestyle of no work and travel, but it is the ethical and legal thing to do. I genuinely hope that a lot of the accusations that have been made are wrong and that there are perfectly good explanations for everything. Personally I think this is unlikely, and I hope to see the Organization and Casey be made accountable for their illegal actions and failing the community.

The Verification Scam

The CouchSurfing verification system is a scam and nothing more. It is fraud – plain and simple, and CouchSurfing should be held accountable for this. Both BeWelcome and Hospitality Club provides verification of all user accounts for free, and actually verify that users are real people (although not that they are trustworthy, which is impossible). There have been many untrustworthy people on the site who use the faulty verification system to their advantage to pose as trustworthy individuals. One recent and extreme example of this is the rape incident that occurred via CouchSurfing. Now obviously this is a problem that could affect any of the sites. The difference here though is how the other sites would react to the problem and how CouchSurfing reacted to the problem. It seems that the victim reported the offender to CouchSurfing in March, who chose not to react and left the profile enabled for many months until August. That really is unacceptable, and at the least an investigation should have been conducted. I am aware that the offenders profile was not verified, however if CouchSurfing cannot bother to remove the offenders when people actually report issues then how can they be trusted to vet new members of the community? There is an interesting discussion with more links on the OpenCouchSurfing website.

The verification system is completely useless as all it does is process a credit card payment and send a postcard. There is absolutely nothing stopping me from staying at someone’s house and using a stolen credit card sent to my hosts address. Unless that $25 charge is reported as fraudulent I will have been considered verified. Otherwise I could legally use a prepaid credit card at an address I was staying at and be considered verified? The system verifies nothing and scams users, however since it makes money for CouchSurfing it is treated as a priority. To quote from a volunteer who felt he had to resign because of the dishonesty: “The push to hit up members within their first few hours of joining is an attempt to raise funds, not to make the system safer. Period. It’s for money.” Casey wrote a statement as a follow up to Bryan’s resignation letter, a copy of which and subsequent discussion can be read here. To then quote from the CouchSurfing Terms of Service : “Because user verification on the Internet is difficult, we cannot and do not confirm each user’s purported identity.”. That seems reasonable and may be fine, except for the fact that every new user is pressured after joining and logging in to pay for verification, and informed that “Getting verified means that CouchSurfing has checked your identity and confirmed your location. It allows members of the community to feel more confident hosting you or surfing with you.”. Quite different from the reality and very obviously false and misleading. This is obviously fraud, the only question is whether or not it is intentional.

This is clearly wrong as CouchSurfing is charging for this service they should actually have a responsibility to provide a service. I genuinely hope they get taken to court at some point. Their verification system is nothing more than a way to enforce a mandatory donation veiled hidden under a false sense of security to suck in new users who are excited by the idea of hospitality exchange. People who don’t know any better will assume the CouchSurfing staff have actually done some verification, when all they have done is successfully process a credit card payment. I think the vouching system CouchSurfing has is far superior to their verification system and should be expanded, rather than defrauding naive users out of their money. It costs nothing ans is far more reliable than the verification system they try to push on everyone. Unfortunately at the moment it is very limited given the amount of members CouchSurfing has. It is also interesting to note the the verification fee is charged on a sliding scale. Oddly enough this does seem to have good intentions behind it, with the only problem being it is treated exactly like a donation rather than the safety measure it purports to be. If verification is going to be charged on a sliding scale then it should be based on the incident rate of countries that would affect travelers, not the countries PPP which is meaningless to individuals.

It is also prevalent on CS that some younger people will only host people of the same sex. This can be quite frustrating when someone agrees to host you and then has to rescind that offer because their roommate won’t host people of the opposite gender. There is nothing open minded or inviting about such a backwards attitude and it has no doubt developed because of the people that try to use CouchSurfing just as a dating or sex site. If the verification or reference system were worth anything, this attitude would probably not have developed on CouchSurfing, going by the fact it seems almost non-existent on the other hospitality exchange sites.

Privacy Concerns

One of the most disappointing things about CouchSurfing is their privacy policy. Their terms of service are remarkably abusive, granting CouchSurfing complete control of all of your private messages, photos or any uploaded contents for any use whatsoever, for the rest of everyone’s lives. It is bad enough that CouchSurfing will take control of your data this way, but what’s worse is that there is absolutely no warning or notification at all. If I upload photos to any site, I expect to retain control over them unless that is an unreasonable expectation, depending on the site. For a site like CouchSurfing, it is not at all an unreasonable expectation, yet they have unreasonably defied it.

What is more is that you have no ability to remove content once it is uploaded. There is absolutely no way to permanently delete messages sent on the site. People may have every expectation of privacy, when sending private messages to other members, yet there is no way to delete these messages and ensure that they remain private. It may be acceptable to retain messages for a fixed amount of time for legal reasons, but there is no reason CouchSurfing needs to retain your messages from 5 years ago. I have to wonder with all the financial fraud going on with CouchSurfing, if data is being collected just so it can be sold at a decent price.

I am aware of at least one instance where this became a problem. There was a user accused of stealing from a host who may or may not have done so. This user had a great many positive references and just this one negative reference. Despite no police report being filed, this user’s account was deleted. There was no right of appeal; the word of the user who made the claim was accepted regardless of any evidence. Now this user was left with his photo and name appearing in search engines accusing him of a crime, with no recourse to defend themselves. It was only by making legal threats under the DMCA and contacting CouchSurfing’s hosting provider that the damaging material was able to be removed.

If people have a problem with a user breaking the law they should go to the authorities, not sully their reputation with lies on a social networking site. I don’t blame CouchSurfing for the fact that some people will do this, however I do blame them for condoning and allowing this behavior. If CouchSurfing deletes a profile, then they should delete the profile in its entirety. Simply barring access to it and allowing for people to leave whatever references they likes is bad situation which basically amounts to slander. I have heard of many variations of this happening and it needs to stop.

The privacy page has obviously not been updated since it was originally written as it still refers to Netscape Navigator as a primary browser. Is this further evidence of money not being spent properly? Surely with the some $20k that goes toward legal expenses they could make sure to have an updated Privacy Policy? The Privacy policy states that “If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as your zip code), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us.”. This obviously contradicts the experiences of the people above, and more importantly contradicts the terms of service where information will be retained perpetually. If this a further example of fraud and misleading people, or just incompetence?

When a user on the site who does not know any better uses the site to send or delete a message, or upload a photo, they have a reasonable expectation that their message will be deleted or their photo will not be abused. I’m sure many people would be surprised and rightfully angered if they realized they had no way to delete messages, and that any photo they uploaded could be used any way CouchSurfing desired, against their wishes. At least a warning that you sacrifice all control when uploading a photo would be nice.

References and the lack of a dispute resolution process

Another large problem is the current referencing system. If it were left alone then it would be useful, as people would be able to judge a person based on the references left to them. As it stands however it is all but useless, as the ambassadors and volunteers will remove the negative references that any of their friends ask them to. Likewise if you are a new member with none or very few references and wish to leave a negative reference for an established member, it is almost a certainty that your reference will be removed while their negative reference will be allowed to remain. Despite all the talk of an open community this is the exact type of behavior that keeps it closed and untrustworthy.

There is a quite recent example of the problem I am describing here. In this situation a user with many positive references and an excellent track histories profile was deleted without any chance for appeal, and without bothering to hear both sides of the story. There is one idiot ambassador in New York, Rachel, who tends to delete profiles of anyone her friends ask her to, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she was at fault here as well. There is also a good example here as well as an interesting discussion about account deletions on CS. Basically the policy CS has in place is not to delete an account unless they have some notification from the police. To quote from the FAQ on member disputes: “If we receive a police report about another member, we are obligated to remove them from the community.”. This does not have to be a police report nor does there have to have been an actual investigation – all they require is that the authorities were contacted in some form. This policy shows all signs of being in place to protect CouchSurfing, not the members who invest time and money in the site. With the current policy anyone could go to the authority’s and file a complaint, true or not and this would be sufficient to have their account removed. There are a great many users who have almost all negative references and are a bane on the community, but people with many good refereces can be removed simply because someone made a nonsense complain to a police mediator? This is not acceptable – a community as large and dedicated as CouchSurfing’s deserves a proper dispute resolution process with a right of appeal.

Another good example of this is Thomas the Australian who was based in Edinburgh for a while who I am sure many people are familiar with. Thomas was verified and had many positive references. Thomas would tell anyone and everyone they could stay, because he was hoping to get many good references for an upcoming trip around Europe. When these people turned up and were turned away because he had nowhere for them to stay, or every girl got sick of him trying to have sex with them, they rightfully left a negative reference. However because Thomas was verified, and had positive references he managed to get these negative references removed. Here this faulty cash based verification has replaced the more natural and accurate personal reference validation system. If Thomas’ many, many negative references had rightfully remained then people would have stopped wanting to stay with him and having their trips ruined as a result. The cash verification system would have shown to be as useless as it is. This behavior is just unacceptable. How can anyone trust this site if all it takes is a convincing lie to get someone’s profile removed? How can anyone expect to take the site seriously without any kind of appeals or dispute resolution process? For a site with almost 2 million users that really is unacceptable, especially when many of them have probably paid something towards the site. The most recent example is from the 30th April. A female CouchSurfing member in Iceland had her profile deleted due to a misunderstanding, despite being verified and having a great many positive references and being vouched for. I contacted Sabrina who confirmed that she was not contacted or given any warning, and given no opportunity to give her side of the story and try to resolve any misunderstandings. To be so invested in a community to just be removed at a moments notice without any sort of due cause should not be acceptable. Sabrina’s account has actually been restored a few days later, in large part I believe because of the pressure my article has generated.

I also hate the hypocrisy of the current reference system that exists in part. Such a huge emphasis has been placed on the current reference system that people are encouraged to leave overly positive references for each other, even if they only talk for a few minutes. Collecting positive references has become some sort of obsession for a lot of users on the site. With positive references being handed out freely just for saying hello, and negative references removed as long as you know the right people how is the current system to be trusted at all?

There is no avenue of appeal. It is completely CouchSurfing’s right to run their website and community however they like. However simply kicking people out of the community for no other reason than because a high ranking member dislikes someone is just lame. This has happened in many instances, with accounts being instantly deleted without explanation, without any avenue for people to defend themselves or tell their side of the story. All it takes is one member to be friends with any of the volunteer admins and an account can be removed. Any community as large as CouchSurfing should have some sort of decision checking in place rather than simply allowing people to be kicked out for no reason. If I put time and effort into a community and get attached to some of the members of that community, I would like to think that my position is somewhat safe – which is reasonable.

Much of the community feels the same way and there have been calls for a long time now for a transparent and democratic organization. I don’t think that the organization has to be democratic to work but it certainly should be open and transparent, even more so if it is allegedly operating as a charity. A necessary part of having an open and transparent organization would be a trustworthy dispute resolution process. The current system of one person make an emotional opinion after hearing one side of the story isn’t sufficient, not for an organization approaching two million members. All parties must have the opportunity to present their case and the opportunity for appeal. However, CouchSurfing has consistently ignored the calls for these or similar measures to be implemented, which is another reason the alternative sites are so much more attractive.

Censorship

Recently in December 2009 one of the prominent CouchSurfing ambassadors decided to resign, citing many of the problems and dishonesty of the organization as reasons he felt he could not continue. In his original post he outlines many of the problems with the volunteer system, the abuse of funds, the useless verification system and the reference bias that exists.

This post above was basically deleted, with people being told it was moved to the Ambassadors Private section of the site while Ambassadors were unable to access the message. Only due to people’s outcry and the damage already done was the message restore. It is however a fantastic example of the organizations behavior. A great many more messages and people are removed if the organization does not like what they have to say, and all too often they get away with it.

Alternatives

There are three alternative hospitality exchange sites to CouchSurfing, each of which differ in significant ways while still sharing the same basic principles. I have had extremely positive and quite negative experiences with each of these websites including CouchSurfing, all of which had to do with the particulars of the person I decided to stay with. It is always important to note that the particular experiences you have with the people you host or stay with from one site are likely not indicative of the rest of the people on that site.

One point about all of these sites with the exception of BeWelcome is that they are all under the control of a single individual, or a very small group of people. CouchSurfing is under the near exclusive direction of Casey, while Veit runs Hospitality Club and Adam looks after GlobalFreeloaders. I don’t actually have a problem with this, except in the case of CouchSurfing – only because they are less than honest about it. If the project is going to be run by a single individual then do so, don’t pretend you have a legally composed board of directors who oversee things and make decisions for the good of the community.

Some of these sites are more in line with my own views and philosophies than others, but none of them force any view on you and you can meet people of all types on each of the sites. I tend to prefer the people on GlobalFreeloaders as in my opinion they are more down to earth, but then I have had great experiences with Hospitality Club and appreciated people who were excited to share their culture without forcing it.

One interesting thing to note is the age demographics for the different projects. CouchSurfing has a user base with about 70% in the 18 to 29 range(coincidently the ideal super-hippie age), while the rest of the projects have a far more diverse member base. While I generally do prefer to stay with people closer to my age, it is always a pleasant surprise to learn from someone quite a bit older, or teach someone quite a bit younger or vice versa. I somewhat feel this is less of a possibility with CouchSurfing as despite all their talk of meeting different kinds of people, it is the most vocal CouchSurfing members that are serving to recruit like-minded people.

What is interesting about each of these sites is that their popularity differs by region. CouchSurfing is consistently popular everywhere, simply because people hear about it more often. GlobalFreeloaders seems slightly more popular or equal to CouchSurfing in many cities in Australia and the UK. When I was in Greece a few years ago, Hospitality Club was without a doubt the most popular. Looking at the BeWelcome countries list they seem to be most active in Western Europe, with France and Germany alone account for almost a third or their entire membership base. I think it would be interesting to try and work out if there is any reason for this or if it is just dumb luck.

Hospitality Club

Hospitality Club was the first of the current hospitality exchange sites to launch in 2000. There had been other sites offering hospitality exchange before, but none of which were purely hospitality exchange focused as the current sites are. The site currently has 328629 members and has a very active volunteer base. Hospitality Club seems closer in spirit to GlobalFreeloaders then CouchSurfing while still allowing for more detailed profiles and people to be messaged individually. The web interface is very simple and gets the job done, although does seem out of date when compared to the newer sites.

The profile pages on Hospitality Club are quite detailed, allowing for a photo, residence and contact information as well as a short section on hobbies and interests. The majority of the profile is information that is relevant to staying as someone’s guest or meeting them, with the personal information being an indication rather than a life story as it is encouraged to be with CouchSurfing. One thing I would like to see added is that profiles become deleted or inactive if they have not been used for six months or so. If someone is not actively hosting or surfing then it doesn’t make sense to contact them, and at the moment that can be hard to establish.

The advanced search function of Hospitality Club works OK, but is nowhere near as flexible as the CouchSurfing search. It allows for you to search 3 fields at a time from a long list of fields, such as street, name, birthday…basically any of the fields in a users profile. This works well enough for finding specific users, but for searching potential hosts it’s pretty horrible. The way Hospitality Club interface is designed, it works much better to browse by country as users are listed with a short description. However, due to the lack of a mass mail option it can be tedious to contact users and establish if they are able to host you and if they would like to or not.

Hospitality Club does not have a reference section as such, but simply a comment section that can serve the same purpose. It works fine and can give people an idea how people perceive a particular person, without being divided into positive and negative references, as we have seen the problems that that creates. One thing I did notice was the password reset form, which is just a horrible design. You have to remember both your username and email address…if you forgot either one the form will not work, and you will have to wait several days to hear back from a volunteer.

One excellent feature of Hospitality Club has is that every registration is verified by a volunteer. This means that everyone on the sites is a real person with a real address. What’s more, you don’t have to pay anything to prove that you a real human being. Imagine that. Having said that, it was quite frustrating trying to sign up without a permanent address. Whoever was checking my input would not respond and I kept getting sent back a standard form reply regardless of what message I posted. I ended up putting an address I no longer used, so obviously the verification process does nothing more than satisfy the Turing Test. Honestly however, I think that is sufficient, with the members themselves bearing some responsibility for who they decide to trust.

Hospitality Club also has a unique feature in that there is a field for passport verification when you send a message to stay with someone. I’m not entirely sure what asking for the passport number is meant to do, and if someone is using a fake passport it will do absolutely nothing. However, in years of using the service and stay with people I have never once had anyone ask to check my passport. What might work better is if as part of the free verification process (which could go for the other sites as well), is if you must submit a scan of your passport or other ID upon joining. It is not a privacy concern, as no additional information is being provided, just authentication of information already supplied.

An interesting bit of side trivia is that when Hospitality Club initially launched they actually tried to merge with the GlobalFreeloaders project, thinking it would be better to have one large project. Personally I am glad they stayed separate and that a project like GlobalFreeloaders exists.

Hospitality Club also provides a very basic forum for members to post on although in general this does not seem to be very active. If Hospitality Club updated their website and had some more modern features and a nicer interface I think it would be a main contender against CouchSurfing and BeWelcome. While it may have a dedicated volunteer base it is inevitably going to be outpaced by the alternatives due to the easier to use interface and added functionality. I would like to see all of the websites become more popular and the different communities evolve and interact, but if Hospitality Club does not update their site I feel the prettier alternatives will replace them, simply because people tend to be superficial and the prettiest site will win.

It is important to note that many people have accused Hospitality Club of censoring information, specifically for a while removing any references to CouchSurfing or BeWelcome. Another main criticism is that everything is controlled by Veit, although I don’t think this is a necessary a bad thing. I have personally never had any such experiences when using Hospitality Club, so I cannot comment too much. I will however point out the OpenHospitalityClub website and allow people to make up their own minds.

GlobalFreeloaders

GlobalFreeloaders was the second hospitality exchange site to launch after Hospitality Club in 2001. GlobalFreeloaders currently only has 74455 members, calculated from here. That page also shows the different registered members per country, which is interesting to see. No doubt one of the reasons GlobalFreeloaders has the smallest user base is due to the simple interface and lack of media attention. In a world dominated by flashy websites and Web 2.0 GlobalFreeloaders seems out of date. Considering that the site works perfectly and the member base is considerably down to earth and friendly, I think it is fine just the way it is.

In my opinion GlobalFreeloaders is the most honest of all the hospitality exchange sites in some ways. It is a no fuss and no frills service that offers exactly as the name implies. An easy way to find people to stay around the world with for free. Along with this comes all the benefits of any of the hospitality exchange sites, but the emphasis is clearly on free accommodation. I really do like this site, and have made many great friends through it. One thing I do feel is an advantage of GlobalFreeloaders is that when friendships happen, they tend to happen naturally. Rather than reading MySpaceesque profiles and stay with people you think you might like GlobalFreeloaders encourages the type of friendships that occur by talking to them, not just liking the same things or having the same opinions.

One of the very best features unique to GlobalFreeloaders is the ability to mass-mail the people in a given city. The way the interface works, you read a short description of each person and check the box next to the name if you would like to try and stay with them. At the end you write a message which is sent to everybody you checked, and the interested people write back. It is a very simple system and works amazingly well. The other sites only allow for individual messages at the moment, while many people on CouchSurfing expect a individually tailored message.

This is simply ridiculous. In many cities there may be at a minimum, 50 people available to host that you think you will get along with. Are you really supposed to write a unique message to each of these 50 people? There are only so many ways you can rephrase your introduction and ask to stay with someone. Besides, nothing is gained over the mass mailing approach except that people get to feel a bit special. Some people may point out that if you are going to stay with a person then you should take the time to write an individual message. Nothing is preventing you from doing this with the mass mailing system, as it is only the initial “are you free to host” message which is sent. When people reply back a private conversation is started and people can get to know each other this way.

I really would like to see this system adopted as it saves a lot of time and cuts to the chase, without losing any of the advantages of private messaging. For those that have a problem with this an opt-out option could be made available. This really is the best of both worlds, as the people who prefer to mass mail the initial message are probably going to get on better with the people who don’t mind receiving a mass mailed message and wouldn’t get on with the people that need to feel extra special.

BeWelcome

BeWelcome seems to be a very promising alternative, with the potential to deliver a service with the good qualities of the CouchSurfing interface without the invasive terms of service or fraudulent and abusive behavior that has come to define the CouchSurfing organization. BeWelcome promises democratic decision making and financial security – quite the opposite of the other hospitality exchange sites .BeWelcome only has about 8000 members at the present time, however looking at their stats page this number seems to be doubling roughly every year. BeWelcome was originally started by disgruntled Hospitality Club volunteers and was later joined by members of the OpenCouchSurfing project. There is quite a good history of how BeWelcome started on the BeWelcome’s History of BeVolunteer page. As with CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club several serious allegations have been made against BeWelcome, although BeWelcome is kind of unique in that the allegations mainly comes from a rival hospitality exchange site. Since BeWelcome forked from Hospitality Club it did not leave the best impression with some Hospitality Club members and the BeWecome.info page exists to tell a different side of the story. As above I have no personal experience and so cannot really comment on the situation but by providing links to the various sites people can make up their own minds. One thing I will note is that on the BeWelcome.info page the website design and code is considered stolen despite the fact that all code is open source. Is there any technical reason Hospitality Club cannot still make use of the code?

Like Hospitality Club each new user account is verified by volunteers. This service is provided for free, and it actually verifies that it is a real person opening the account, and that they are who they say they are to an extent. This is a great advantage in that it is considerably less likely that there will be spammers or significantly untrustworthy people on the site. Of course it is not failsafe, but it is far, far better than verifying anyone who has access to a credit card.

The entire BeWelcome interface is very snappy, looking very aesthetically pleasing while being simple and clean. I really like the BeWelcome profile page for users. It is very simple, clean and effective. You can see a photo, accommodation offered, contact information and languages. There is also a comments system similar to that of Hospitality Club which lacks the positive and negative classifications that the CouchSurfing system has. This is a good thing. The extra functionality that the BeWelcome site offers really is quite impressive with support for a photo gallery, blog posts, a fully featured forum and trip organizer all of which are nicely tied into individual profiles.

The BeWelcome search is also very good. The advanced search allows for options like gender, minimum and maximum ages, how active users may be, and what type of accommodation if any they offer or if they are available to meet for showing around or a coffee or such. It also allows for sorting the results by various criteria such as last login or newest members. What I find amazing is that almost all of the functionality of the CouchSurfing search is replicated here in a much simpler and cleaner interface. The BeWelcome search page provides access to everything you would need to find hosts or guests while being remarkably simple and easy to use.

While GlobalFreeloaders and Hospitality Club have their own advantages, control of the projects rest with a few people. I don’t necessarily see a problem with this at all, however having an open community where changes can be voted on and implemented also has its own advantages. Out of all of the hospitality exchange sites, BeWelcome is the only service to promise this and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Tripping

Tripping is the newest of the hospitality exchange websites having only launched in December of 2009. Despite this I feel that Tripping is the most interesting and promising of all the hospitality exchange sites. It has a very nice interface and feature set despite only being in beta, and best of it is completely fresh – It isn’t tied to any of the existing networks. The reason I feel this is a good thing is because the other sites have all mostly had their own political scandals and interactions with each other which can give a bad impression and subtract from getting things done. Tripping is completely independent and growing fast without any of the infighting or politics which have held back the other hospitality exchange sites from unleashing their full potential. They currently have approximately 2000 members and appear to be growing fast.

Tripping does not currently have any kind of verification system as with CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club, although this is not a bad thing. A verification system in the style CouchSurfing implements is pointless except as a fund-raising exercise. Having additional checks such as including your passport number with requests as Hospitality Club provide little additional protection in practice. The best way form of verification for any hospitality exchange community is to allow the community to vet their members. Tripping facilitates this quite well with members being able to leave references to each other that can be marked as positive, negative or neutral similar to the CouchSurfing system. Tripping has also implemented an innovative confidential rating system. What this means is that if someone has a bad experience they can report their experiences or the person involved without fear of consequence. The rating will not be publicly available which helps to protect against false reports. Tripping will take all reports seriously and will investigate each one. I am unsure what type of dispute resolution Tripping has in place, however I think it is likely that all people involved in a dispute would be able to state their side of the story without fearing a random and not necessarily justified account deletion. I actually hope that Tripping modifies their current system to just having a comment system for profiles without weighting in order to avoid the sycophantic attitude towards references on CouchSurfing recurring, where they are treated as a commodity to be exchanged rather than a useful indicator of someones trustworthiness. The confidential ratings system is sufficient for dealing with troublemakers, while avoiding all of the problems associated with CouchSurfing’s system.

Tripping is also implementing the TripSafe program. The idea behind TripSafe is to eventually have a 24 hour hotline available to help Tripping members in emergency situations. If someones host doesn’t show up or is behaving inappropriately then they can contact the hotline and Tripping members will do their best to help. At the moment the program exists just as a contactable email address, although this will eventually be expanded as the site and community grow.

The Tripping website is very aesthetically pleasing and efficient, embodying everything that is positive about Web 2.0. I especially liked the signup page as an introduction to the site. It was very short and to the point in a good way, and had an option to identify yourself as a nomad. As someone who travels a lot and doesn’t always have a permanent residence that is quite a nice feature to see. The impression I got from the site straight away is that it is very simple and easy to use which is exactly how such a site should be. Tripping also has a very nice forum section with different forums for places and topics. As the site expands I have no doubt such basic features as chat and a photo gallery will be added – and I can’t wait. I was also very impressed with the Tripping profile pages. It shows a photo that fits neatly in with the rest of the page, as well as short sections for basic info such as occupation and hometown and room for a personal description or list of places visited. The profile page has tabs so you can see a persons references, photos or friends. It states very clearly if you are available to host people or not, as well as your Tripping rating – although I am unsure what this refers to. Overall very intuitive and easy to navigate without having to give your whole life story.

The Tripping search function is very simple and efficient, allowing you to search by gender, age, location, name and to limit results to members with a photo. You can filter by recent activity, join date, age, name or country. This is a very simple search that works quite well for finding hosts. Tripping does not currently have an advanced search function, although I can’t really think of any functionality that is missing from the basic search. The search results show the members photo, gender, age and if they are available to host or not. It would be nice to have the ability to limit searches to people definitely available to host or not, but this is not essential. As with BeWelcome almost all the search functionality available in CS is available but in a much simpler and efficient interface. The one feature I do hope Tripping adds is the mass mail feature. It would be ideal to be able to check many similar people who may be available to host to see if they are interested, rather than having to contact them all initially with the same basic request.

Tripping is currently in beta which means they are still developing their website and community, and people are still joining. For a brand new site and community they are doing remarkably well, and I am excited to see where they will be a year from now. The site is very active with contests and charity work. A recent example is Tripping organizing aid for people stranded due to the recent volcanic activity in Iceland. It’s nice to see an organization actually coordinating this effort with the money they have, as with CouchSurfing where people do the work and the organization gets the credit.

I asked a query about Tripping using the contact form and got a reply in less than 24 hours, which was a very nice surprise. This may be due to Tripping being quite young and so it is easier to respond to individual requests, however given the existence of the TripSafe program I think it is likely fast responses to suers questions or problems will be a priority. I really am excited about what Tripping represents, which is an opportunity to be the most comprehensive CouchSurfing site out there. It’s a chance to do everything right this time, and to be everything that a site like CouchSurfing should have been. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Crash at mine

I saw reference to this on the OpenCouchSurfing website, however I could not find any information on the project and it does not seem to exist in any meaningful way. It was said to be in development parallel to the BeWelcome project. From the name it sounds like it may have more of an emphasis on free accommodation in the same vein as GlobalFreeloaders, which I think would be a great thing. The more community and people orientated people could stick with BeWelcome and people more interested in saving some money and doing their own thing, while both groups would be part of a larger overall community.

Conclusion

Despite my criticisms of CouchSurfing I have had absolutely amazing experiences through the site and have met terrific people through there. It’s a certain subset of the community I have a problem with, and to a far larger extent the actions of Casey and the organization itself. While I may not be able to stand Super-Hippies, I can always ignore them. I can’t ignore watching people think they are paying for a service and giving to a good cause and just watch them be taken advantage of. Due to the lack of transparency and legal questionability it is hard to recommend CouchSurfing at this time. Unfortunately sometimes that is hard to do because the massive user base is just too attractive. In which case at least be careful how you use it. If you upload photos, upload photos with someone else in them who didn’t agree to the Terms of Service. Exchange and communicate via E-Mail or IM almost as soon as making contact through CouchSurfing. Don’t pay for CouchSurfing verification at all, and rely on references. Just say hi to someone at a gathering and you’re sure to get quite a few. If at all possible, use the other sites until the numerous issues that plague CouchSurfing are resolved. I really hope that it won’t be too long before I can make a follow on post celebrating the fact that all of the issues have been resolved, and I can happily recommend the site to everyone.

References

  1. http://www.servas.org – Servas Open Doors
  2. http://www.couchsurfing.com – CouchSurfing
  3. http://www.hospitalityclub.org – Hospitality Club
  4. http://www.globalfreeloaders.com – GlobalFreeloaders
  5. http://globalfreeloaders.com/memberlocations.php – GlobalFreeloaders members and locations
  6. http://www.bewelcome.org – BeWelcome
  7. http://www.tripping.com – Tripping
  8. https://www.tripping.com/about/help/volcano – Tripping organizaing aid for those stranded due to the Icelandic volcano activity
  9. http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2010/04/20/travelers-stranded-by-volcano-creatively-cope-with-lengthening-d/ – An article mentioning people getting help from Tripping while stranded due to Iceland’s volcano activity.
  10. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org – OpenCouchSurfing
  11. http://wiki.opencouchsurfing.org/en/One_page_OpenCS – A list of volunteers and their problems with CouchSurfing
  12. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2008/02/15/john-casey’s-style-indirect-manipulative-pulling-strings-from-behind-the-scenes/ – Interesting comments from a former volunteer about the organization and Casey’s influence.
  13. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2007/09/23/the-casey-fenton-show/ – Evidence of CouchSurfing pretending to be a 501(c)(3)
  14. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2009/12/01/verification-team-leader-resignation – The resignation letter of a volunteer, attacking Casey and the organization
  15. http://blog.steinwachs.net/index.php/2010/03/15/couchsurfing_a_terms_of_service_review – An interesting review on the CouchSurfing Terms of Service
  16. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1840044 – An example of someone experiencing the worse side of CouchSurfing
  17. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=1906&post=3916983 – An example and discussion of CouchSurfing’s account deletion policy
  18. http://www.couchsurfing.org/mdst_faq.html#complaint – The CouchSurfing FAQ for member disputes
  19. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=4446104 – A copy of Caseys statement in reply to Bryan’s resignation letter, and a subsequent discussion with many people calling out the organization for being the sham that it is. That entire thread in fact is worth reading as it shows many members being fed up with the constant lies.
  20. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=5423780 – Margaret explains CouchSurfing’s current charity and legal status on the Brainstorm: Redefined group in response to my original article
  21. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=5423780#post5521000 – Margaret talking about Charity Navigator and calculating CouchSurfings rating as per the Charity Navigator methodology
  22. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=33 – The methodology Charity Navigater uses to evaluate charities, and which Margaret used above.
  23. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=4446104#post4450387 – A post from someone pointing out how useless verification is and the legal questionability of CouchSurfing’s actions.
  24. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3926698#post4434383 – A detailed post talking about the legal concerns about the Board of Directors.
  25. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=4446104#post4461122 – A post talking about the way donation money is used to buy beer.
  26. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3926698 – A post showing the frustrations of volunteers and their continued resignations.
  27. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=429&post=628471#post630656 – A message talking about CouchSurfing’s violations of New Hampshire law
  28. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=429&post=430011 – A message talking about illegal behavior and notifying the NH DA
  29. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3966676 – A discussion about CouchSurfing’s 501(c)(3) status on the Brainstorm: Redefined group
  30. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=512&post=5590686 – A very recent example about a members profile being unjustly deleted

Update 1 – April 8th 2010

I have substantially rewritten and expanded the article giving far more details on the criticisms of CouchSurfing as well as providing references where possible. I have also written more in-depth reviews of the alternative hospitality exchange sites.

Update 2 – April 12th 2010

I updated the article just to fix links that were corrupted due to non-latin quotation characters corruping the markup.

Update 3 – April 23rd 2010

I have updated the article to correct CouchSurfing’s status as a charity organization and to incorporate Margaret’s Charity Navigator results. I have also corrected the origin history of BeWelcome as diverging from Hospitality Club rather than being an initiative of OpenCouchSurfing and corrected the fact that Hospitality Club was the first of the mainstream hospitality exchange sites, not GlobalFreeloaders. I also reviewed Tripping as an alternative hospitality exchange site as I was not aware of it when I originally rewrote the article a few weeks ago.

Update 4 – April 25th/26th 2010

I have updated the article again – hopefully for the last time. I have made miscellaneous spelling and grammar corrections and added a review of Tripping, corrected the origin history of BeWelcome as well as including information on the allegations against Hospitality Club and BeWelcome. I also added more information to the fraud section based on Margaret’s postings in the Brainstorm: Redefined thread. I have added links to the original forms filed for CouchSurfing’s nonprofit status as well as further criticisms of the verification system. I also added a disclaimer about the term Super-Hippies, quotes from the CouchSurfing Terms of Service, information on the rape that happened via CouchSurfing, mentioned the “sex rooms rumor and added senteces mentioning the extended functionality of BeWelcome, Hospitality Club and Tripping. Lastly I added further information and an example regarding CouchSurfing’s account deletions policy and subsequent behavior.

I would also like to make a disclaimer. I did not post my article on any of the CouchSurfing groups – I had no need to. I had enough people searching for things regarding CouchSurfing who were finding my article that made it consistently one of my most popular. I don’t know who posted the article to the CouchSurfing group but I thank them, as it resulted in a lot more traffic and an interesting discussion as a result.

I noticed that on one of the groups someone referred to my use of the term Super-Hippies as an ad hominem attack.; I think this person needs to read my Stupid uses of English article.

I also found it interesting that many people were simply dismissing my article as someone who had had a bad experience and needed to vent. I think that this is just sad. I make several points in the article and I have a pretty clear divide between my opinions and the facts I present. To dismiss what I say because you simply dislike what it implies or what the truth may be is the exact behavior I attack in my article as being a problem in the CouchSurfing community. Just because someone does not like something does not mean they don’t have valid reasons to attack it – how does that line of thinking even make any kind of sense? I have to wonder if the people who defend CouchSurfing as soon as anyone says anything remotly bad about it are just suffering from horrible confirmation bias. They have invested either time or some amount of money in the site, and can’t allow anything to threaten their current view of the site. For some of these people the cost of even considering the site is not what it appears far outweighs the benifit of being able to continue thinking positive thoughts, and that’s just fucked up.

Most of the CouchSurfing groups had some very interesting discussions and input, and it was interesting see what everybody thought. While many people did not agree or felt I was wrong on some points they did so in a mature way or gave counter-arguments. Unfortunately this cannot be said for the New York group. The New York group acted in a very childish manner simply dismissing what I say and resorting to attacking me personally.

The worst thing about the New York group was that the general attitude can be summed up by one of the posters in that discussion: “I wouldn’t care if the founder of CS uses all of the money from verifications to buy cocaine. What I do care about are the amazing friends I’ve made from this website.” It saddens me that people cannot see what is wrong with that line of thinking. It seems that as long as everyone gets something good out of the site they don’t care how many other people get conned or disadvantaged. It is amazing how people can appear so selfless and trusting but when push comes to shove, it is shown they are only interested in what is good for them. Which is just a shame.

Update 5 – April 30th 2010

I have updated the article to include a reference to yet another case of an account being deleted without any due cause or process, despite this member having done nothing wrong, being verified and vouched for and having a great many positive references. This was mentioned on the Iceland CouchSurfing group on the 30th of April. A few hours after I updated this page with a link to the thread an ambassador posted a response stating that while it was regretful what had happened, fair warnings had been given months in advance and the safety team certainly does not remove accounts without really investigating things first. Going by everything that I have seen and heard, I find this really hard to believe. The person who started the thread is adamant that the user was not adequately warned or given a chance to tell her side of the story. Regardless of if the account removal was justified or not the user should have been able to give her side of the story. It would be nice to ask the member howself if she had a chance to give her side of the story and if she felt she had been warned or not. This example shows again why there is a need for proper dispute resolution available to CouchSurfing users. At the moment it is not enough to simply take the word of CouchSurfing that they thoroughly review all cases and give warnings given their past behaviours and everything else weighing against them.

Perhaps it is time to start a CouchSurfing Watch or something….

Update 6 – May 2nd 2010

I have modified the article to reflect the fact the the last example of an account being deleted is no longer accurate, as the account has been restored. I know that this is not the normal behavior for when an account gets deleted and I would like to think that part of the reason this happened is because my article has generated some pressure. It is worth noting that I contacted Sabrina herself( the owner of the deleted account) who stated that she had received no warning and her account was simply deleted. After creating a second account to try and explain the situation, this account was removed also. If I had not written this article, then I think it would be unlikely that Sabrina’s account would have been restored.

I also added a link to the allegation of “sex rooms”, updated the details of the rape incident with a more specific timeframe and removed the contest refer request for Tripping.

Update 7 – May 4th 2010

I have given a link to Casey’s reply to Bryans resignation latter directly after where I mention it in the article text. I removed the link from the OpenCouchSurfing website titled “Why sponsoring CS doesn’t work”. The account given as an example is available for viewing here and is clearly not verified at all. I could have sworn it appeared to be when I included it but it clearly is not now.

I also posted a single message to the Europe group on CouchSurfing. Many people have been creating fake profiles to post my account, and I was sick of the allegations that it was me. I have posted a response to some of the claims made against me, and used the opportunity to correct some misconceptions about myself or my intentions and to respond to some of the negative claims made on the groups in general.

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