Interview with Ramon Stoppelenburg: The Godfather of CouchSurfing
Travel Interviews: Michael Yessis talks to the internet's first travel celebrity
02.03.09 | 10:08 AM ET
The day after World Hum debuted in 2001, I wrote the site’s first blog post about Ramon Stoppelenburg, a 24-year-old traveler from Amsterdam who created LetMeStayForADay. His goal: To travel the world for free by asking strangers around the world to host him for a night or two in their homes. The project, however, was about more than freeloading. Stoppelenburg considered himself an ambassador of sorts, shining a light on the goodness of others.
His project was a resounding success. He traveled for more than two years without spending a dollar, euro or guilder. In turn, he became the internet’s first grass roots travel celebrity.
Since then, communities like CouchSurfing have advanced the concept Stoppelenburg helped pioneer on the internet. And Stoppelenburg has looked back, writing a memoir in Dutch. We published a translated excerpt today. To put it in context and to see what he’s up to now, I interviewed him via email.
World Hum: What do you think about when you look back on your LetMeStayForADay travels?
Stoppelenburg: It’s been five years since I quit the project and decided to go home. I could have traveled for so long with so many invitations from hospitable people from all over the world. But at a certain point I noticed that I made my point: there are still great people out there and we shouldn’t all be so scared of “strangers” from other countries. And that it was possible to travel totally depending on other people’s hospitality—without any money at hand at all!
Truly, sometimes I felt trapped in a cage that I had created myself. When I wanted to get out on a certain day, I knew I simply couldn’t. It was like having a full-time job and the website was the family I had to support. If I didn’t do my thing well enough, my kids would complain. The only way to get out was to go home and say: I quit. Just like that.
It had been a great two-year experience where I was able to start a website, get people, sponsors and media enthusiastically involved in the idea and have them following me around through 18 countries.
I think he has done a great and very unique thing. It’s again something that starts as a ridiculous idea, but it’s pursued extensively and people love it! It has the same uniqueness as the Red Paperclip guy, Sendmeadollar and my past.
It is another good example that if you use the internet in a very unique way and you keep believing in its possibilities, you will get a long way. And Matt got his sponsors who made him travel even more than he dreamed about in the first place.
These online personalities should stay online to give the world an example of what you can do with the internet and with your life.