Friday, December 14, 2012

The Experts Weigh In: Surf's Up!


I'm sure some of you may have read Bennett's guest post last week and thought, "Sure, living abroad sounds wonderful and it would be nice to have the opportunity to meet people from different cultures, but I can't just up and move away from my life". Well, I'd like to share some good news with you about something that I stumbled upon a few years ago - something that changed my life in a positive way, made me see the world from a different perspective and allowed me to make some awesome new friends along the way.

About four years ago, Lauren and I discovered that we both had the desire to travel and it was time to do something about it. We wanted to travel around Europe and see all the wonders of the world. The only catch was... traveling costs money and there wasn't an abundance of that in either of our bank accounts. So we gave ourselves six months to raise some funds and to research the cheapest way possible to travel Europe without getting kidnapped or winding up with bed bugs. As I searched the internet, I came across a site called Couchsurfing is a community of people all across the globe who have two things in common - they love meeting new people and they love travelling. The premise is this... while you are home, you offer up your couch/spare bedroom/floor space to travelers who are in need of a place to stay while they explore your town. In the same way, when you go travelling, you can expect similar hospitality.

Having deep cultural conversations on the subway with Noe.
At first I was skeptical, but the more I looked into the site, I found that they take great care to verify their members' identities. I also learned that hosts could reject a request if the person looked like a creeper. So basically, it's like internet dating, but with couches. So I decided to give it a shot. 

One month later I had four Frenchmen at my door, excited to stay on my floor for the weekend. I was nervous. Four strangers were about to enter my apartment, and I had no idea if they were going to butcher me alive or steal all my worldly possessions. But all those fears melted away as soon as I saw their faces. These guys just spent the last 6 hours flying across the Atlantic to come to New York City! They were on cloud nine. It dawned on me that they were just thankful to have a place to stay for free with someone who was kind enough to show them hospitality in a strange new land.

Lauren and I spent the better part of our weekend showing them around and navigating all the awkward conversations (since we didn't speak French and they hadn't spent much time in America). We learned so much about each other's cultures. We played 'tour guide' for them, while they gave us a unique perspective into their lives in France. 

Noe and his roommate picked us up from the train station in Avignon, drove us to some ruins on the top of a mountain
and popped open a bottle of wine with us while we watched the sunset. Hello, France!
Four months later, Lauren and I traveled throughout France, staying on the couches of two of our newly found French friends, Ben and Noe. We even stayed one night at Ben's mother's house in Calais, the port town. Noe has since been back to New York twice and has stayed with me both times. Ben's cousins have also stayed with me after we met them in France.

Ben's cousins, Marlene and Vincent, showing us around a park in Paris.
This is just one of the great experiences that I've had through couchsurfing. I've met people from all over the globe - from two wild and crazy Finnish guys to a French family of 5 that stayed in my small one bedroom apartment with me (did I mention all three children were under the age of 5?).

Our tiniest couchsurfer yet, Ael.
I've also had great experiences staying on couches throughout my own travels. When my brother and I went to Germany earlier this year, our German host took us to a pub to watch the Euro Cup soccer tournament, even though we fully intended on rooting for the opposing team. On the same trip, we also met a young, ambitious Dutch college student who let us stay on his couch for 4 days. A few months later, he stayed on my couch in the city after he completed his cross country bike trip from Seattle to New York. In 50 years, THESE will be the memories I remember from my trips.

So as you can see, I'm a big advocate of I've met a lot of great friends and I've had great experiences that I would've missed if I'd traveled in a more traditional way. I've learned that the more you put yourself out there, wanting to learn from others, the more you will see that they are human just like you...

...even if they call them 'chips' instead of 'fries'.

Adam Rust is (surprise!) my boyfriend; therefore, I find him pretty fascinating. He's originally from Indiana, though he's been living in New York City for the last 6 years, working as a commercial editor (that means he's good with technology - me, not so much). Opposites attract I guess. Adam has a big heart and big dreams - he loves going on adventures, whether it's a hiking trip upstate or a 3-month surf trip to Costa Rica. Adam gave me the courage to explore the world and take chances (even with a thin wallet). I owe a lot of my travel experiences to him. When he's not working, you can usually find him escorting me to restaurants and testing out the food for my Saturday Splurge posts or riding his bike all over Brooklyn. He has an affinity for classic music, like the Allman Brothers, Steve Miller Band and the Grateful Dead, and he shares my deep love and appreciate for good wine. On his last trip, he brought me back a few bottles from France. Good man!!!

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