The 7 million-plus community of those who host travellers or stay at other members’ homes has devoted adherents here

Back when Prateek Darolia was in college, he would head out for the day with one stranger in his room, and often come back to find another. The avid couch surfer, says he has never had any negative experiences with either hosting people or staying at other people’s houses.

Couchsurfing, a global community of over seven million people in more than 1,00,000 cities, ‘connects travellers with a global network of people’, its website says. It provides a platform for members to stay at a host’s home (surf couches), host travellers or join an event.

In Chennai, there is a small but active community. “While the number of people who host travellers here is relatively small due to most people living with their families and not having much space, many are willing to help out in other ways such as acting as local guides or giving people new to the city tips on what to do,” said Divya Jayaraman, a writer and host to about 150 couchsurfers.

In December 2012, when Prateek and his brother went for a 4,000-km bike trip across Rajasthan, they couchsurfed through their 25 days there. When Prateek moved to Dubai for work, he went to Iran and couchsurfed there too.

For those who have fallen for the charm of connecting with strangers either in their city or another, there’s nothing like it – exploring one’s city through another’s eyes or a new city with the help of another person is an experience that’s constantly appealing, couchsurfers say.

Some like Divya, make a careful study of profiles and get to know the host even before meeting them and then go. “You can’t really get to know someone until they are in your house, living with you. I have had very few negative experiences. The best part is the connection you feel with another person – if you get along with them, it can really enrich your trip,” she said.

Twenty-eight year old Tasneem Aferoz’s phone buzzes relentlessly from 8 a.m. up until beyond midnight on most days. The professional hazard of working in a call centre, you ask? Not quite. Rather, the perils of social networking with her 15-member alumni Whatsapp group from school. But she doesn’t see it this way.

“Though we have to navigate the different time zones because many have moved out of the country and work abroad, you get used to it. Keeping in touch with your childhood school friends on an everyday basis is a lot of fun and worth it,” she says.

Despite Facebook co-opting Whatsapp being the most talked about corporate buy-out in recent times, for many, the latter remains the preferred means of social networking.

28-year-old Varun Harirajan says, “Whatsapping being just like messaging makes it so much more convenient. Moreover, being able to share pictures, audio clippings and videos right from our phones makes it all the more exciting.”

For Tasneem, the customized privacy that a Whatsapp groups offers gives it an edge. Vignesh Sunderesan a native of the city, who is currently an entrepreneur in California and is also active on his school alumni group agrees. “Whatsapp groups have exclusivity. Facebook now has become a semi-formal space as I add many people, even those I am merely acquainted with.”

With the premium on social networking increasingly hinging on more intimately customized forums enabled with multi-media sharing tools, Whatsapp groups are on the rise. For instance, both Tasneem and Varun are part of at least 6 other Whatsapp groups apart from the school alumni group they are both a part of.

(Reporting by Zubeda Hamid and Nitya Menon)

More In: Columns | Chennai