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Ramon Holiday E-Mail this report to a friend

Nidhi Taparia

He's penniless. A student of journalism. And he believes in the power of the Internet. Ramon Stoppelenburg, from Holland, launched Let Me Stay For A this week and already has dozens of offers from accommodating strangers.

On his site's home page, Ramon says, "As a 24-year old student, I don't have any money to go on a big time cruise around the world. When people started to beg for money on the Internet, I thought: why not 'beg' for a place to stay?" Inspired by watching a show on television, last Christmas, where the maker of talked about how he put up a web site asking everyone to send a dollar and made a few thousand, Ramon came up with this idea of using the Internet to make his dreams come true.

But, despite having initiated the hype by sending out a few press releases, Ramon cannot believe the attention he has got. "It's very hard for me to understand that this simple idea of travelling the world with a website and the support from the world online has delivered me media-attention from almost every country! And I haven't hitch-hiked or stayed-for-a-day anywhere yet! Maybe I can graduate my journalism school by writing a paper about `How to create some hype?'..."

It has only been a fortnight since he launched the site, on March 12, and Ramon has already started receiving requests from all over the world. The response has, to say the least, been enthusiastic. "All within a week of putting up the site," he adds, "One guy from Chicago said I could stay as long as his wife didn't object. And if she did, hell, he'd pay for a hotel." Another American, a yacht owner, has offered to sail Ramon wherever he wants to go.

Over the last week, he received over 200 invitations a day. Now, it has dropped to 95 a day. Ask him whether he is surprised by the fifteen-odd invites from India, and Ramon credits it to the Net. "I am not really surprised. Only the numbers have surprised me, especially coming in so soon after the launch. I had thought it would take a week or two to get some media attention, not within six hours of putting my site up. The people who have invited me are Web freaks. And they are all very interesting."

As for Indians, he says that he is charmed by their hospitality. "Some have invited me for more than over a day. An enthusiastic bunch of people even tell me that I can stay with them or their parents for as long as I like. They even volunteer to show me around the country and tell me that they can't wait for me to get to India. Even a hotel in Pune called Hotel Gulmohar has invited me to stay, which will be free publicity for the hotel if I write about my stay with them!"

He is now hoping to get invitations from people between the Netherlands and India, so that his passage to the latter will be smooth. "I have received two invitations from UAE, Turkey, lots from India, but none from Iran or Pakistan. But I am very thrilled about one invitation from Sri Lanka, because I visited the island once for four weeks, with my father, when I was little kid."

He's also received his share of funny invites. "One girl asked me when I'd put some more cuter pictures of myself online, some shirtless, so she'd be more convinced to invite me. I wrote a cheeky email saying that I cannot go shirtless, because everybody would be scared of my hairy Tarzan-chest! Haven't heard from her since....;-)"

He is very keen to see the world. "I am curious to travel to England and Australia and compare the two as these folks are always competing with each other. And yes, the US, just to see how much the States of Virginia and Iowa differ from Oregon and California. Even the devastated countries in Eastern Europe like Croatia and Hungry. Or experience the crowds of Asia and Spain and Madrid to get some tan…yes, that would be nice."

He says his parents are worried about him travelling all over the world. They worry about him being kidnapped or murdered, especially as Ramon intends to travel all over the world not by flight, train or buses, but by hitchhiking. As for the man himself, he shrugs off all the worries by saying, "I can make up my mind about whether I want to stay someplace or not, and walk out if I think it's a prank. What I have been warned about is hitchhiking all over the place."

Ramon is due to begin his travel across the world on May 1. He doesn't have a fixed itinerary yet, and tells people to keep the invitations coming in. "I don't know what route I might take. I might get tired in three weeks or I might travel for longer. There isn't a plan on the map. It's just there in my head."

His only precaution is to stay in touch with friends at home who will be updating his site. If anything happens to him, they can publish the address he was last staying at and get the police to bail him out. He has also requested for a sponsored mobile phone to help him keep in touch with his administrators, and a digital camera, which is usable without special software but can upload pictures online from a floppy drive.

The Net savvy student who has been online since 1995, has a lot to say about the medium. "I think too many people and companies have over-thought the possibilities of the Internet. It started as a way of communicating: me with you, and you with me, and we, together, with total strangers. Forget the possibilities of selling complete contents of supermarkets online, more people should go back to the basis of the Internet, like I do, with one extra thing: You can meet me in real life!"

So travel online with him, And meet him offline. Even if only for a day.

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