IF THE couch potato is a sedentary animal then his couch surfer cousin could not be more different.
Chester boasts more than 40 members of the global couch surfing community who offer their couch free-of-charge for passing travellers to rest their weary heads.
Many of the sofa owners take advantage of the same opportunity when they themselves travel in this country or abroad.
The idea behind the worldwide network, organised through the Couch Surfing website, is for people to save on accommodation costs and get a first hand experience of local culture.
The non-profit organisation was set up by Casey Fenton in 2003 and now boasts more than three million members in more than 230 countries.
Among the subscribers is Julie Collins, 57, of Hoole, who first came across couch surfing when her daughter Esmerelda toured Europe aged 21.
She herself then went on an all female Harley Davidson charity motorbike trip across the States to raise money for research into breast cancer and couch surfed with ‘David’ in Los Angeles who showed her around and introduced her to his Jewish culture.
Julie, who works at a Salvation Army hostel in Warrington, recently hosted two Bulgarians and was this week due to couch surf herself in West Yorkshire while researching her family tree.
She accepts allowing a stranger into your home means being trusting but says guest and host are encouraged to leave feedback on the site so each side enters the arrangement with some knowledge.
Julie said: “You learn so much about other cultures and see things through other people’s eyes. They ask you questions about where you live and it gets you thinking.
“I have met people from across the world – people from Croatia, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the States and Argentina.”
Julie’s latest guest is Sonia Wilk, 21, from Florida, who is on a European back-packing holiday.
Sonia, who was treated to a guided tour of Chester by Julie, said: “For me it’s not just about going to capital cities but it’s about being able to learn about the country. When I can stay with people who live where I am it gives me a much better opportunity to really get to know the area.
“Also, because I’m travelling alone it gives me that human connection, that ability to never be alone while I’m travelling alone.”
For more details, visit: www.couchsurfing.com.