Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your worldview. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.
How does that make you feel?
I can think something that really influenced my life, and then it changed for the worse. Couchsurfing.
CS was this awesome travel website. It was a way to get to know people in a new place and ask ’em questions, get to know shit that’s not in a travel guide, maybe meet up, and also maybe stay with them.
I know it sounds weird, staying with strange people from the internet, but it’s really cool. When I started it, I took my time and sort of develop a sense about people. Plus you make friends, and they have friends, so it’s just a network.
I found it… I was reading travel blogs and there was one woman in particular who had backpacked around the world, and she mentioned couch surfing while In Chile. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I looked it up and looked around. There are individual profiles, but there were also interest groups and place groups to talk to people. There was one group, “Independent Women,” that talked about some really cool things. But one of the posts was about “Reassuring worried mothers.” This was something I was already struggling with, so I really needed advice, but then as I read it, I realized there were women from all over the world talking about their mothers, and we all had such similar experiences, no matter where we lived. It was really cool to connect and relate to people like that. So that was why I decided to join.
I didn’t sign up to host or meet people or anything, but just lurked around the site. When I got more comfortable with the groups and looking at people’s profiles, I posted a comment in the local group around St. Louis. Then I posted a question about a meet up with people. After, like, three months, this guy John wrote in that he wanted to meet, too. He’d been in Argentina all summer, but was coming back.
So we told everybody where we were gonna meet but it was just the two of us. It was a little bit weird, but it worked and we decided to meet again the next month, and a few more people came. Then we met the month afterwards; more people came. It just built from there. John and I are, like, the parents of the St. Louis couch surfing group, the Lou Crew.
So the following spring, I had made some friends and we decided to go to Iowa City to meet up with other CSers. It was a lot of fun, and that was the first time I “surfed.” It was just like a slumber party, but I got to know surfing and got more comfortable with the community. That next winter, a girlfriend of mine was getting married in Vegas, and I decided to go a few days early and visit the Grand Canyon, which I’d never seen before. This was the first time I set out totally on my own, and I didn’t tell mom I was doing it until I got home.
For safety’s sake as a surfer, I thought it would be better to stay with a couple. It was awesome. He was the fire chief for their little town and they lived in a little trailer. But they had a whole extra bedroom for surfers with information on the desk and walls about the canyon and the area. I slept gorgeously, work up to a cat sitting on my face, which I normally wouldn’t like but thought was cute, and then I stood looking out the window and imagined what it would be like to wake up to that view every day. Then I drove to the canyon, like, 10 minutes away, and pretty much had it to myself because it was February. I hiked up the South rim and pretended I was an explorer that discovered it. It was so awesome.
So then, I was bought in. That fall, I took my first solo trip abroad and couch surfed the whole time. I was building up a big network and began to think about taking trips according to who I wanted to meet, rather than specifically where I wanted to go. No matter where I went, it would be cool because of the people. It was an awesome community.
Then CS became for-profit. The whole mission changed, as did their approach. It sucks. I think some of the community is still there, like I know the Lou Crew is still alive and well, but we do a lot of our shit on Facebook now. I’m glad I got to know CS when I did.