Couchsurfers get more than they bargain for

Updated: 2015-04-13 10:41

By Yu Ran(China Daily)

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"From the moment I landed in China, I spent just 1,600 yuan ($258) on my recent 10-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai-and 1,100 yuan of that went on train tickets."

In China, the culture of couchsurfing is growing as more young people seek adventure on a shoestring.

Li Xuanran from Zhengzhou, Henan province, decided to take a gap year so she could couchsurf her way along China's prosperous east coast.

"I wanted to prove to myself that I was independent and ready to face any challenges society will throw at me," she said.

One of her hosts was 26-year-old Gu Wenxuan, who works as an agent for punk bands in Shanghai. He receives dozens of requests from Chinese applicants each day and said he has seen interest spike in the last two years.

"I don't do it to make friends. I already have enough of those," he said. "I just want to lend a hand to fellow travelers and those in need."

For veteran couchsurfers like Ryan Trefethen of Los Angeles, it serves as a shortcut to free local tour guides.

One of his hosts in Chengdu, Sichuan province, showed him her favorite restaurants, from hot pot eateries tucked away in small alleys to street stalls serving spicy hot dogs.

"I was bored of staying at hotels and eating McDonald's every day," said the 41-year-old freelance technician. "During my trips I want to eat street food down by the corner like a local."

He spends half the year globe-trotting and has already slept in over 3,000 hotels around the world, he said. He recently spent over 10 days in China as a sound technician supporting the world tour of Greek musician Yanni.

"I don't use Facebook anymore, which is like peeping at other people's personal lives without being a part of it," he said.

"I prefer couchsurfing as I love to be the only white guy who turns up at hidden spots with my fellow local surfers."