As social media evolves, so does an offbeat social network like couchsurfing.org expand its reach into unique overnight stays. Couchsurfing (CS) is a network of travelers who play the part of “hosts” and “surfers.” Host typically show the surfer, or visitor, around their hometown and offer eye-witness insight into its history and culture. In turn, the local hosts become surfers when they travel to another city, continuing the exchange cycle. For anyone who is a part of couchsurfing, you know that visiting foreign countries/cities and sleeping on the couch of some stranger whom you’ve only had digital contact with is part of the adventure of being in a new place.

The people who make up couchsurfing, dubbed couchsurfers, are big on community and share it wholly with the people who come to visit them. They organize meet-ups and unique get-togethers with fellow previously-unacquainted couchsurfers from their hometown. Therefore it wasn’t unheard of when surfers reserved a campsite for 20 strangers in Kalamazoo, Michigan for one unforgettable night called “Campsurf Kalamazoo”.

I talked to Paul Callens, the organizer of the event, through the messaging system on couchsurfing.org. He is based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. As a couchsurfer, myself and other couchsurfers were invited to come join Callens for one night of “mingling with other CSer’s, a forest of glow, music, food, drinks, fun and more,” as the invitation stated. Sadly, I had previous engagements in Minnesota and so I asked Paul to tell me a little bit about how the event went.

About 15 to 20 couchsurfers from Detroit, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Cadillac and the host city of Kalamazoo came out to dance to dubstep music in the forest, eat different salsas and roast hotdogs in the bonfire. They lit up the woods with more than 100 glow sticks all the time mingling with well-traveled strangers over drinks. In the nearby pool, couchsurfers indubitably swam and really got to know each other well. “There’s nothing like partying with a bunch of strangers and skinny dipping with them later,” Callens said. The event cleared up by noon after a breakfast of coffee cake and fruit.

This was the first such annual event in Kalamazoo. The idea spawned from a number of other “campsurf” or “tentsurf” events around the state and other parts of the country. Callens said it’s a shame there aren’t more events like this.

“This was unique, like other CS events, in that you have no idea who is going to show up, but you know they’re going to be cool people. This is the art and joy of trusting strangers. It would be nice if each city had a CampSurf because there are many people who don’t get the chance to camp now-a-days.”

I’m definitely sad I missed this one, but the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. For the couchsurfing community there will be a Michigan Campsurf event in northern Michigan three weeks after the Kalamazoo event. Non-couchsurfers are welcome to attend the event with a registered couchsurfer for safety purposes. The network is really a unique way to meet like-minded travelers who are all just looking to share in good times and their knowledge about their hometowns. Check out the site at couchsurfing.org. And remember, most events are annual!

Photo: Sharyn Morrow

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