SPARE A ROOM? Dozens of backpackers are wandering the streets of Tallinn, door-to-door in search of a place to stay after the couchsurfers.com Web site, the source of their travel itinerary, collapsed.
TALLINN - Tens of thousands of low-budget travelers have found themselves stranded in cities across the world after an online "couch surfing" Web site collapsed. The site 's www.couchsurfers.com 's connected backpackers with people willing to let them sleep on their couches for free, and boasted over 100,000 members.
But the Web site became a victim of its own popularity when it experienced a server crash late last week.
Travelers who had planned their entire journey on couchsurfers.com found themselves stranded with nowhere to stay and little money to pay for alternative accommodation.
The tourists began posting pleas for assistance on message boards, while some hosts in major cities have offered up their lounge rooms as "refugee camps."
Baltic cities were among those affected by the crash.
In Tallinn, Australian travelers Dave Biggs and Melle Hambun said the site had become a worldwide phenomena. "We planned our whole European trip on it, so we're screwed now," Biggs said.
"It's how lots of young people are getting around. It's cheap, and it's better than backpacking, which has become a bit of an over-commercialized industry these days."
The pair from Canberra were among the lucky ones. They had already "checked in" with their Tallinn host before the crash, but now they are unsure how to continue their trip.
"We keep checking the Internet to see if the site is fixed. We'll probably have to stay in Tallinn because we can't afford to pay for hostels," Biggs said.
The crash and its global impact has had one positive side-effect 's it has helped highlight the size and strength of the do-it-yourself community-based travel network.
In the same way that myspace.com has revolutionized the music industry through grass-roots networking, couchsurfers.com has created a new breed of backpacker. Many young people had become jaded with the "Lonely Planet" style of guidebook tourism, and the Web site offered an opportunity to break out of the hostels and meet local residents.
"If you stay in hostels, you only meet backpackers. We wanted to meet real people who live here. It's easy to get jaded with hostels and guidebooks, because they're all the same after a while," Biggs said.
The site was established in 1999 by Canadian Casey Fenton, and was run as a non-profit service by a collective of low-paid workers.
At couchsurfers.com headquarters in Montreal a team of computer technicians have spent the past few days working around the clock to relaunch "Version 2.0".
"We understand that this catastrophe is affecting a large proportion of the membership who is currently traveling, as well as those with itinerates later this summer," a message on the Web site read.