Monday, 15 September 2008

Staying with weirdos and murderers

Couchsurfing: an idea for weirdos and full of potential axe murderers. Discuss.

This was basically the tone of the Richard Bacon Show on Radio Five Live, which I appeared on as a guest on Thursday night.

It wasn't the approach I was expecting, or could have predicted following chats with enthusiastic researchers who had heard I was speaking about Couchsurfing across South America at the TNT Winter Travel Show. But that's tabloid radio, I guess. They were bound to be provocative.

"I'm not offering my house to anyone!" cried out a melodramatic Bacon (pictured above) within seconds.

"I'm sensing the plot of a very scary slasher movie," added comedian Steve Punt, a fellow guest on the show.

I gave them both a telling off for being such cynics and, by the end, I think they were coming round to the idea.

"Actually, I can see that having a personal introduction to a strange city would be good," said Punt. "You know how in a hotel reception, you go to the concierge and it all feels really impersonal? I really like the idea of having someone who knows the place being able to show you around."

"I'm warming to it," admitted Bacon finally.

It was a pity that such an interesting debate had to be condensed to such as short segement, but we had to make way for the breaking news of the XL travel collapse.

Given more time I would have shared a recommendation with Punt, who mentioned he'd draw the line if his 18-year-old daughter wanted to go and stay with "complete strangers" on her gap year.

The Punts should try, a site that, for a small fee, could put their daughter in touch with an in-country contact who has been fully vetted and could be on-hand if she had any problems. Not only that, she'd also have her first "friend" already set up in advance. Surely any father would be happier with this than knowing she was boarding a plane to a place where she didn't know a soul, as many gappers do.

"Really, it's a terrible comment on the world that we both heard this idea and thought 'serial killers'," said Punt to Bacon at one point. And, on this, I couldn't agree more.