Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Love Surfing!

I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale right next to the ocean, but the waves were not so great so I'm not talking about surfing that requires a board, I'm talking about the kind that requires a couch, or a guestroom, and a bit of faith in humanity. CouchSurfing (CS) “is an international non-profit that is a network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world.” Through its website, CS connects members with each other when they need a place to sleep while traveling. People from all over the world use CS to travel on a budget and to meet fellow traveling souls. Some use it while they are on vacation and don't want to stay at hotels; this way you get a place to stay and a local tour guide of sorts. Others use it when they are traveling for business, perfect for an overnighter for a job interview or meeting, and others still use it before they move to a city so they can stay with a local who knows the neighborhoods for a night or two.

I joined CouchSurfing before the start of this recent traveling adventure, and the concept of sleeping on a stranger's couch (or guestroom) was just as foreign to me as it is to everyone who first learns about it. But now, as the recipient of amazing hospitality in cities from Gainesville, FL to Buffalo, NY, I am a true believer and last week I had a great CS experience:

Tau and I were camping in the beautiful Adirondack mountains in upstate NY for a week. We had a small tent under the stars and were very content on our air mattress for several days. On the last night though, the rain came. And kept coming. Around 9pm we discovered that Tau's 10 year old tent had lost all of its waterproofing ability and needless to explain it was quite the soggy night. He made a valiant effort that included garbage bags, tape and towels, and I helped as much as I could while hysterically laughing at the entire situation. The next day, still a bit damp and tired, I logged onto CouchSurfing and found the profile of a local CSer, Jack. Jack is a young guy in his 20's and lives in his family's 200 year old farmhouse in Chestertown, NY. His many acres includes several barns, a small vegetable garden and he spends his time “attempting to create a sustainable practice with it while honing the ability to live off the land by gaining experience in organic gardening, woodlot management, animal stewardship, food preservation, and resource conservation.” Less than an hour after contacting him requesting to stay the night, we got a call back saying “Sure, come on over! I'm also hosting 4 German travelers tonight, so the more the merrier! I'm cooking dinner right now so be sure you get here in time for that...”. Couchsurfing provided a warm place to sleep, an amazing (veggie-friendly) home cooked meal, and great conversation with an international flare. Even with 7 of us there, we had plenty of space as his house is huge (7 bedrooms) and is part history museum (think floral wallpaper and antique furniture) and part bachelor pad (drum set is in the middle of one of the living rooms). Jack couldn't have been a better host and I'll forever be grateful for taking us in out of the rain. Instead of spending another night in a wet tent, we spent it with a group of CouchSurfers in a warm, dry, safe house.

Some people have 7 bedrooms to share, others just a couch in the living room. Some want to spend the time to show you around town, others need you out by 9am because they need to be at work. Couchsurfers are young and old, hippie and conservative and since there are over 1 million participants, they may have more not in common than in common, except for one thing: faith in humanity. They open their homes and their lives to give a stranger a place to lay their head. They like meeting new people, exchanging ideas and learning about the neighbors we share the planet with. I'd highly recommend you to sign up on CS. Its free and easy to use and its a great way to widen your world.

ps. some of the German girls who were also staying with Jack were traveling to NYC the next day and needed a place to stay for a night. Tau's friend in the city recently joined CS after learning about it when we stayed with him last month. One phone call later the girls had a great place to stay in the city. Voila! The magic continues...