Two of the most interesting things that the internet has brought forth over the last years are, in my view, so-called "social networks" and "interactivity".
Personally, I am mostly fascinated by virtual/real life crossovers. CouchSurfing is such a virtual network that is actually enhancing the real life.
The basic idea is rather simple: who better to show you around a city you visit? And why not help travellers out with a place to sleep? So, on CouchSurfing, you can find people who are willing to figure as some sort of travel guide for their place, or people who are willing to let you sleep in their place. And the only thing that is asked in return is that you are willing to do the same to others. No money involved, no difficult transactions, but instead a great way to meet nice people and see interesting people.
If you are wondering how it exactly works, this is how they put it on their website:
1. You become a member of CouchSurfing.com. Create a profile and fill it out as much as possible, including photos. Be sure to link to any friends you might already have in the network.
2. Consider joining some discussion groups in your areas of interests or engage in the chat. You meet some friendly people online and share in some interesting discussions.
3. You decide you want to spend two weeks traveling around Europe. You get a ticket arriving in Amsterdam and departing from Florence.
4. You log on to CouchSurfing.com and do a search for members within 20 km/miles of Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Zurich and Florence- your new travel itinerary.
5. You contact interesting prospects from the list and explain the sort of travel/stay you're interested in. Use the "Request to CouchSurf with..." button to include specific details.
6. You get several offers for places to stay. You decide that you want to spend a few days in each city.
7. You confirm with your hosts, adjust your travel plans, and excitedly fly off to Amsterdam.
8. Martin picks you up at the airport and takes you back to his flat in the Rembrandtplein section of Amsterdam. The two of you walk around the neighborhood and meet some of his friends at a lively cafe for dinner. You stay up late sharing stories and getting to know each other. Martin recommends some interesting places you might like to explore around the city. When he returns from work the next evening, he takes you to his favorite pub and you tell him about your adventures. The two of you laugh and connect; you make new friends at the pub, and you're grinning the whole walk home along the canals.
9. As an example of a good surfer, you do as much as you can to give back to your hosts. This includes doing simple things like, for example, washing the dishes, making dinner or helping out in some way. Maybe you have a special skill you're willing to share?
10. You say good-bye and move on to Brussels, Frankfurt, and then Zurich. In each location you've met some great people and gotten to experience being a part of the culture through your connection with your host. You go places you would have never read about in a guidebook, meet interesting locals, and spend time bonding with your host. You're actually experiencing those "deep and meaningful connections" you've read about on the site, and you're making friends for life.
11. You decide to stay a little longer in Florence and your host, Donia, has agreed to let you spend a week with her.
12. You spend the week talking with Donia about politics, travel, art, your hometown, and a whole lot of other things. She lets you borrow her bicycle and gives you a map she's marked with some fun places to check out. On the weekend she takes you on a side trip to visit some relatives in a small Tuscan village. You learn to make awesome marinara sauce, you take a hike through picturesque rolling hills and her uncle, a craftsman, gives you a handmade leather belt. You're amazed at the time you're having! Back in Florence, Donia takes you to her favorite gelato place and you know it's the best thing you've ever tasted.
13. By the time you leave on the bus for the airport, you feel that you've gotten a good feel for the local life in each of the places you've traveled. You've made many new friends and you hope Martin, Donia and others will visit you. You can't wait for your turn to show them the great things about your culture.
14. When you arrive home you are so excited about CouchSurfing you go immediately to the participate tab and start helping CouchSurfing community advance the mission of the project.