Before we started our roadtrip, Kiernan was already a Couchsurfing veteran – he hosted people as early as his university days in Portland, then in Taiwan as well. I had heard about it before, but never got what it was really about. People talk about it like it’s a free place to stay, and while that works for some surfers and some hosts, in our travels in the US it was so much more than that!
My first CS surfing experience was in Raleigh, North Carolina – pur host Prashant seemed really enthusiastic about having travelers in his house. He told of his own CS travels throughout the US and India, and we got a whole new perspective on cities and societies… Prashant came to the US from India quite recently and I remember mentioning a ‘big city’ and what it felt like to live and sight-see in a city as big as… say, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (population est 2,780,000) until he shared with us what is like living in a city as humungous as New Delhi (population est 14million). It blew my mind. The three of us chatted and hung out until at least 2am, gabbing away.
For myself CS absolutely took off from the first couch; Kiernan’s history with the system meant he was familiar with the setup, and how awesome it could be! A few times we stayed with hosts who were so busy themselves that they didn’t have time to hang out, but they were still really great about hosting us, letting us come and go as we needed and making us feel welcome even though we were in a stranger’s house. Other times we had the chance not only to hear funny, chilling or crazy stories from their travels, but also to hear about places in the world we never even imagined seeing. The wonderful thing about meeting and hanging out with other travelers is that every person has their own unique idea of travel, how to get to where they want to be (not just logistically, but psychologically and spiritually as well), what kind of experiences they want to have (and both their success and necessity to adapt teach them invaluable lessons that we benefit from by speaking to them).
Most people who start out their travels have a specific picture of the world in their heads, and at first they may be drawn to places where lots of travelers have been before – where you kind of know what to expect and the tourist scene is established enough that you almost don’t have to work hard to experience something other than what you’re used to at home, while still having access to the conveniences of your lifestyle… Maybe the cobblestone streets are quaint, the language is unfamiliar and the food is different, but recognizable (and you can probably still get your morning coffee). Those places are awesome! However if you keep traveling and keep pushing yourself, you start to be captivated by unexpected places none of your friends have ever been, or places to which you can’t read street names, coffee is an expensive luxury and you’re not quite sure what meat that is in your stew. It is the wealth and richness of travel, travel information and travel stories from all of these experiences that we found in couchsurfers all through our road trip (and hopefully beyond).
Melissa’s time in Mongolia sounded exciting, rough at times, but unforgettable… As we’re writing this post she is doing her own epic motorcycle trip from Tennessee to Yosemite.
Dan and Carley are great examples of the Free Spirit with an inspiring love of life, having an amazing rock band and still travel as often as possible (after we stayed with them they visited Dan’s daughter in Spain). They have had some of the most magical experiences! Damn them for having witnessed phosphorescent algae glowing blue on the beach in some area of Costa Rica.
Andy and Katie have the best CS ‘basecamp’ in Fresno where they literally make you part of their family for however long you stay there – they equate it to having a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket to their place: whenever you want for as long as you need. Andy got so excited about a South African dish that he had exactly the right equipment for, and his cooking repertoire expanded to include another country’s cuisine.
This is just a fraction of the people we stayed with, and every single one made an impact on our travels. We couchsurfed in Raleigh (North Carolina), Roanoke (Virginia), Knoxville & Memphis (Tennessee), Oklahoma city, Amarillo (Texas), Flagstaff (Arizona), Cedar City (Utah), Las Vegas (Nevada), Bakersfield & Fresno (California), McKinleyville & Medford (Oregon). Our hosts really made our trip so much more enjoyable and unique, and this is our thanks to them.
The USA is a vast country, more beautiful and varying than I could have ever pictured before this trip. There is no substitute for travelling, not even gazing at travel photos online, or even hearing people reminisce about their favorite experiences. Although there are hundreds of landmarks, cities, events, and wonders I hope to see one day, this was definitely a dent in my to do list. It was miserable at times, exhausting, all made more difficult by travelling on a mid-sized motorcycle carrying two across the country. It was quite a trip, biggest I’ve done driving yet, but there’s still a lot of travelling left on this trip. Thanks couchsurfers, friendly strangers, park rangers, travellers, other bikers. Last couch we crashed on in the USA for a while was with Ryan and Matt in Freemont Seattle. And now were kidnapping Ryan and Tom to take with us to South America.