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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Couchsurfing Offers Travelers A Free, Friendly Place to Stay

GOSSAU, Switzerland -- Squeezing 150 people into Vince Peiro's flat in the foothills of the Swiss Alps would be a very tight fit -- hence the tent city sprouting outside in the July evening sunshine.

Peiro was hosting a party for members of Couchsurfing.com, an increasingly popular web site that matches up travelers with locals offering a spare bed or couch for the night -- for free.

The web site, which people can use to find somewhere to stay or just a local guide to a city, has more than 300,000 members worldwide, with up to 10,000 more signing up each week.

"I traveled for nearly a year in 1998 and I was often surprised by the hospitality I received all over the world and especially in the Middle East," said Peiro, in his early 30s.

"Complete strangers invited me to their home, let me rest, fed and watered me and sent me on. One way to give that back is certainly by hosting couchsurfers."

Peiro would normally put people up in his living room, in an old farmhouse in rolling fields overlooking the first ridges of the northern Alps. But for the party, numbers dictated that most visitors had to bring their own tents and hope it stayed dry.

Most guests, largely in their 20s, came from Switzerland or neighboring countries, but some came from as far afield as Australia and Pakistan to stay with him in the small town of Gossau.

Couchsurfing.com was founded in 2004 by American Casey Fenton, who came up with the idea when wondering what to do and where to stay on a last-minute weekend in Iceland.

He used the University of Iceland's student directory and e-mailed 1,500 students asking for a place to stay, receiving about 100 offers. After meeting plenty of locals, he wondered why every journey was not like this.