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New Book: 'On The Couch' by Fleur Britten

'On The Couch - Tales of Couchsurfing a Continent'
By Fleur Britten

Published by Collins 25th June 2009, £7.99
Available from Amazon.

'On The Couch - Tales of Couchsurfing a Continent'
By Fleur Britten

Published by Collins 25th June 2009, £7.99
Available from Amazon.

Journalist Fleur Britten’s fifth book is a really zeitgeisty number that deals with community, altruism, honesty, and a viable alternative to the monetary economy - all the things that society so badly needs. She spent 10 weeks travelling overland through Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, sleeping on strangers’ sofas/floors/beds/yurts. It’s an extreme, but also rather beautiful, idea. She made plenty of friends but also had all sorts of full-on experiences. It’s what they call ‘intimate tourism'.

A revolution is afoot.

There’s a new way to travel, that harnesses the technology of social networking, as well as the milk of human kindness.

Over a million people in 232 countries offer couches, beds and body-sized horizontal surfaces via the internet for fellow members to bunk down on for the night, whether you find yourself in China, New York or Antarctica.

What’s more, it’s totally free – what better time, when money is running thin, to couchsurf the world?

Fleur set off to couchsurf her way across a continent and it was like no travelling she’d done before.

* In Almaty, Kazakhstan's second city, Fleur had to sleep on the bedroom floor of a Russian couple, who then proceeded to have a Force Ten fight, complete with sobbing, shouting and slapping.

* In Shymkent in Kazakhstan, she learned about bride-napping, Kazakhstan's three most corrupt professions (the police, doctors and teachers) and how two Americans were considered gay because they didn't visit prostitutes.

* In Vladivostok, Fleur managed to infiltrate a secure Russian Police dog-training unit; in Urumqi, northwest China, she supervised a class in a Chinese school.

* In Russia, she shared a room with a pet rat, who was allowed to roam free all over the bed. In the Chinese village of Xingping, she shared a room with a 10cm diameter spider.

* In Moscow, she stayed with a host whose sense of hospitality was so ingrained, he put her up in the kitchen when there wasn't any room elsewhere.

* …and after hosting for the first time back in London, she found her guest had been on a gothic bondage chatroom on her laptop.

The stats: After 10 weeks, Fleur had slept on: 5 floors, 4 sofas, 3 sofa beds, 1 airbed, 1 canvas camp bed, 1 bunk bed, 6 single beds, 4 double beds (shared twice) in 4 countries, 12 train compartments, 2 yurts , 1 kitchen, 1 couple’s bedroom, 4 one-room apartments, 1 hotel and 1 hostel.

From a total of 25 different couches, she'd had her own room 10 times, two decent nights’ sleep and zero sex scenes.

She’d lost one caffeine habit, and gained one morbid fear of ever having a biscuit dinner again.

The cost: 15 boxes of chocolates, 3 books, 1 bottle of perfume, 1 pair of traditional Mongolian slippers, 1 bunch of flowers, 1 bumper pack of toilet rolls, 2 boxes of cakes, 1 wall map, 3 home-cooked meals and 4 bought meals.