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UWRF student explores world from couch

November 10, 2010

Chelsea Kelly is fascinated by teeth. As a fine arts major at UW-River Falls, she often infuses these bones into her art. Kelly wants to get seven teeth tattooed onto her arm. The seven teeth will not be collected onto her arm, however, until she visits all seven continents; she has three more to go. Kelly said that she is determined to meet this goal by the time she is 25.

“When I was younger, I thought destinations like New Zealand were out of the question,” Kelly said.

She proved herself wrong in 2007, when she was searching for safety travel tips for single women. While searching, Kelly stumbled across CouchSurfing.org and the wesite presented itself as a way for her to travel cheaply.

At 19, Kelly and a few friends packed up their bags and traveled to Pittsburgh. When they arrived, they stayed with someone they had never met before.

They were surfing.

According to coach surfing’s website, there are currently 2.29 million people surfing and more than 79,000 cities are currently being represented across the globe.

“I really like to call it a networking system,” Kelly said.

She compared the website to Facebook, where people have profiles and can share messages. On the website, individuals sign up and have the opportunity to indicate whether or not they are looking for a place to stay during their travels. Options are available for those who cannot host a traveler.

A person can indicate that they are willing to have a cup of coffee with a surfer that is passing through the area or do nothing at all.  There are ways to ensure that a person is legitimately interested in housing or visiting with travelers. As a member of the website, individuals have the option to become “verified surfers,” Kelly said. In order for a person to become verified, they have to donate $25 to the organization, she added. By donating this amount of money, CouchSurfing is able to verify an individual’s address, said CouchSurfing Media Representative Rocky Sanguedolce. Another way to assess someone’s certification it to check their references.

After someone has stayed with a host, they can write a review about them.

The feedback left is one of the main sources of security because it gives individuals an idea on what another person is like, Sanguedolce said.

“Hosts are generally very welcoming. I’ve had people drive me to the grocery store and give me keys to their houses, ” Kelly said. “Most people are very devoted to the cause.”

Kelly expressed that she prefers surfing over hostels and hotels. She said that she feels safer staying with a surfer than at a hostel. Hotels serve little purpose for Kelly.

“I’m always off having my adventure,” she said. “All I really need is a place to sleep.”

During her adventures, Kelly has gone caving and bungee jumping.

Nevertheless, CourchSurfing hosts have provided Kelly with some of her most memorable experiences.

While staying at a sheep farm in Wanganui, New Zealand, Kelly learned how to shear sheep on a sheep farm. In Melbourne, she stayed with a musician and visited his recording studio where she was taught how to mix music tracks.

Many of Kelly’s hosts have introduced her to their friends and other surfers.

During her travels she was introduced to a woman who was celebrating her 60th birthday. The woman invited Kelly to her birthday party, which happened to be a 24-hour event in a deep cave on a beach. Kelly prefers to travel alone so she has a greater opportunity to meet new people.

“I’d rather just wing it and just go for it,” she said. “You become a tourist who does non -touristy things.”

Language barriers have never been an issue for Kelly because CouchSurfing.org identifies individuals’ spoken languages. After having surfed 11 times, Kelly has kept in contact with every one of her acquaintances. Laid back about her experiences, she hasn’t told her parents about the organization.

Instead, she tells them that she is staying with friends. For her, friends are what the website offers. According to the website, 99.83 percent of surfing experiences have been positive ones. Kelly said that she has had no negative experiences and that all of her hosts have been abundantly generous.

“I feel spoiled on one hand,” said Kelly. “But on the other, it just shows how devoted people are to the cause.”

Over Thanksgiving break, Kelly is surfing again in New York City. Her next international trip is intended to be a bit farther.

Russia is next for Kelly, which would leave two more teeth: Asia and Antarctica, both of which have couches open for surfers.