NEW YORK (AP) — "Do we still have a TV?"
That's the text message I got from my husband as I walked up the steps to our Brooklyn apartment on a Friday afternoon this fall. I was fairly sure that we did. I opened the door. Cats, check. TV, check.
He needed to know because we'd just entrusted a stranger, by most senses of the word, with keys to our home and with it, access to everything we own. It was with the same implicit trust she'd placed in us when she asked to spend a couple of nights on our futon, sight unseen.
We did this through Couchsurfing.org, whose motto is helping you "meet and adventure with new friends around the world." No money changes hands. Maybe a drink or a meal out, or a promise of an open couch in return, should you find yourself in Barcelona, Budapest or Bali. Another service, Airbnb, lets people rent out their homes, rooms, tree houses or whatever other dwellings they choose.
These are just two of the online tools that help people who want to branch out beyond hotels, motels and hostels and explore peer-to-peer accommodations to stay in the homes of ordinary people.
Reasons to do this are as varied as the places where you'll rest your head if you sign up for them — to save money, to see places underserved by traditional lodging services, or simply to meet locals.
While neither is particularly new (the idea behind Couchsurfing dates back to 1999, while Airbnb launched in 2008), both are gaining traction beyond adventurous city folk and student travelers with the help of social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth. To get started, simply visit their websites, browse the offerings and sign up for an account to make the arrangements.