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Richmonder Pushes Global Couch-Crashing

Nineteen years old and an avid traveler, Williams encourages Richmonders to join the couch-surfing movement, an Internet-spawned method of traveling the world while crashing on exotic sofas.

It works like this: You sign up at the Web site, which currently helps link 24,000 couch surfers and couch providers in 148 countries. Then you start making connections. The site provides a system to verify members' real names and addresses via their credit cards. Members can also rate their experiences at different homes. So when looking for a host, Williams says, you want a referral that says, "Hey, they've got an awesome place and they're not crazy."

Fifteen Richmonders are among the 8,000-some American members. Williams wants to get more people involved and hold occasional get-togethers for the Richmond delegation.

But first, she has to entertain her first surfer. Next week, Williams' couch will play host to a 48-year-old Australian woman who's touring the eastern United States. Williams plans to show her guest her favorite hometown attractions: Maymont, Byrd Park, Carytown, the Fan and maybe a Richmond Kickers game.

Next summer, Williams plans a two-month couch tour of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. Already she's begun talking to potential hosts, including a Chicago native who lives in Copenhagen.

Williams is a spontaneous sort of traveler. A few Januaries ago, she drove down to Daytona Beach and slept on the sand for a few hours, just for a brief escape from Virginia's winter chill. But she stresses the importance of making backup plans when couch-surfing, in case of encounters with a smelly sofa or creepy host. "Have conversations with them before you go," she says. "Set up alternatives if you're uncomfortable with it. … Always be prepared to walk away."

And remember, she says, the point is to experience new cultures, not just save money. Staying with locals means getting a chance to sample the local life and perhaps make permanent friends, she says. "Sometimes, you just have to let go and trust that there are some good people out there." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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