Imagine having a friend you could stay with in 229 countries. A Web site connecting hosts with travelers or "couch surfers" is making that possible. Local residents are taking advantage of a free stay abroad and hosting visitors in return.

Through CouchSurfing.com, a Web site that networks travelers with hosts for free, tourists are able to get a taste of life in the city they are visiting, while making new friends and saving money.

Colleen Sollars, an SOU graduate living in Ashland, has used the Web site while exploring in France.

"The host I stayed with in Lyon had friends that totally took care of me," said Sollars. "They didn't let me pay for anything when we went out, and had dinner ready for me when I returned in the evening."

Sollars and her boyfriend Tom Curtain have now hosted about 25 people in their Ashland apartment. This year was Curtain's first time using the Web site while traveling or what is called "couch surfing."

"I was all kinds of wary about this at first," said Curtain. "Then we couch surfed in Coos Bay and Portland. I love it, the way the Web site is structured it filters itself."

Couchsurfing.com has implemented several precautionary measures for the benefit of its surfers, hosts and community. According to the Web site there is a system in which they verify if the name and address of the members.

Once a member has completed the process, their profile identifies them as a level three verified member. Also there are vouched for members. Participants can only become vouched for by an already vouched for CouchSurfing.com member. The Web site states that essentially, it's a trust circle.

Jon Friedman, an Ashland resident, says he only tends to host what he considers "real travelers," not people asking to stay for what he considers an extended period of time.

"An example is a pair of 22-year-old ladies that stayed with me two weeks ago," said Friedman. "One just graduated from college and the other, her best friend, wanted to take her on a motorcycle trip through Oregon and up to Mt. Hood, just the two of them, on a 1974 Honda motorcycle that was barely big enough for one. So I gladly hosted them and showed them around Ashland."

Friedman, who works as a wilderness guide in Alaska every summer, has been couch surfing since June 8.

"It is about the social aspect as much as it is a place to stay," he said. "Meeting new people."

"Not everyone that hosts or surfs needs to, financially," said Sollars. "We met a guy in Coos Bay that was a horse racer. He had a huge mansion on the sound."

Alex Cassun, a 28-year-old man from Burbank, Calif., arrived late Tuesday night at Sollar's house. He and two other travelers had met on the Web site and made plans to head north in July.

"This is my first couch surfing experience through the Web site," said Cassun. "Although, I've spent a bit of time on couches."

Cassun had been browsing travel sites online when he found couchsurfing.com. He has been a member of the site for two years.

"I turned some people down that wanted to stay with me. Meeting people on the Internet is not really the way I do things," said Cassun.

Couchsurfing.com boasts 607,137 members, with 494,245 successful surfings and 1,015,586 positive experiences.

"The man I stayed with in France had a really dirty apartment," said Sollars. "That being said he had a lovely salmon prepared when we arrived. He was a total rock star partier so his place was a mess."

According to the Web site, surfing isn't just about a place to sleep. It is about exchange. From esoteric knowledge to practical skills, you have special knowledge that others will benefit from knowing.

"It's not very fun when you don't know the city," said Sollars. "When I was in London I couldn't find any hosts there because they are just slammed. I was there four days and I felt like I didn't even see the city."

"We felt obligated to bring a gift," said Cassun. "It was between chocolate and beer. We got beer, and she doesn't drink."

Cassun and his group planned on staying overnight in Ashland, then driving to Crater Lake the next day. As they discussed Ashland with Sollars and Curtain they decided to stay an extra day.

"I want to find something unique about the town. We want to check out the Wellsprings," said Cassun.

Jessica Eriksen, a native to Ashland, couch surfed in Italy last Fall.

"People help each other without expecting much," said Eriksen. "It's a good way to stay connected to a community. I hope to be a host and give back, and when I have enough space, I'd love to host some people. You can see online that people from all over the world are in your area."

Sollars and Curtain plan to couch surf this summer. When considering hosts, Curtain advises using common sense.

"You can be really choosy, you can be totally selective. Just relax, do what feels right," she said. "The site provides all the information you need to make decisions."