‘Who Would Ever Want to Invite You Into Their Home?’

Speaker's Corner: Ramon Stoppelenberg asked the world to let him stay for a day. The world said, "Come on over."

02.03.09 | 10:04 AM ET

My parents often wondered why I frittered away my time sitting at my PC. I was living with them, you see, and they were strongly of opinion that the many hours I surfed the web might be far more profitably employed pursuing my school career. Doing my homework, for example.

I, on the other hand, felt confident that my incessant internet-surfing would in the end prove to be very fruitful. Like most youngsters, I was a fervent believer in the boundless potential of the internet to bring people together, allowing them to know each other regardless of distance and location.

In the autumn of 1999, some college friends and I drove to Madrid and Barcelona, starting from Zwolle, a medium-sized town in the Netherlands. We rode in a ramshackle old car that I had bought second-hand from a teacher at my college. Within a week of our return, I desperately wanted to set out again.

MORE: An Interview With Ramon Stoppelenburg: The Godfather of CouchSurfing

About a year later, I suggested to my friends that we repeat the experience, but none of us had the money or the time for it. Or a car anymore. Such trips abroad were things to dream about wistfully.

One fateful night in December 2000, I was lounging in front of my TV, zapping away my ennui. The hour was late, the reruns were disappointing, those silly give-us-a-ring-if-you-know-the-answer games definitely seemed to be catering to morons, and the American talk show on was, well, it was Jenny Jones. The theme was “young internet entrepreneurs,” with various guests discussing the fact that they owed their success to a flash of wit, a playfully conceived idea. Something they did for a prank, more or less.

I was suddenly all ears. I sat up, curious and, somehow, intrigued. Rich Schmidt, an American, told the story of having launched Sendmeadollar.com. Paying one dollar into Schmidt’s bank account entitled a visitor to post a message on his site. The site was flourishing. The dollar counter had hit $3,000. Fascinated by these novel methods of making easy money, I slipped into daydreaming about travels once again. 

How long could I make $3,000 last, traveling, meeting people, exploring history and culture, enjoying life hugely? My scheme emerged from the drowsy haziness of daydreaming. I decided not to stay in hotels. My purpose would be served better by staying in people’s private homes. Why shouldn’t I invite people to invite me the same way Rich Schmidt had invited people to donate their dollars? Was there all that much difference between the good ol’ brother-can-you-spare-a-dollar (online version) and my request through the same medium for a place to stay for a night?

The idea quickly grew on me. I scoured the Web for people asking for a sleeping place on their travels round the world, but found nothing. Such a website would be the first of its kind—or so it seemed. I jotted down possible domain names. A catchy domain name was, of course, essential. I soon hit on Letmestayforaday.com. It was a succinct statement of my intentions.

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Ramon Stoppelenburg is a travel writer, marketing producer and entrepreneur.

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