Saturday, November 15, 2014

Following the Music

Driving down a dark, deserted street, I began to question my life choices.

Why am I walking up to a boarded up house by myself?  Why did I ever think it was a good idea to let strangers into my home?  What if this isn't in fact a party, but a well-devised plan to kidnap and or torture me?  Who is this person and why is he walking at me?!?

"Are you here for the party? Come on in!"

Oh, I guess that's why.

I was there for the party.  Well, I was there for the band.  I'm not so much a groupie - it was just that I knew the singer.  Actually, I didn't, but he and the band were staying at my house...I'll just stop now.

See how hard it is to explain to an unsuspecting house party host?  A stranger finds you online, you attend their - slightly shady - house party without second thoughts, you have an awkward introductory moment and then you offer the momentarily homeless travelers a couch and invite them into your home based on mutual trust and understanding.

That's the run down.

What I'm really hear to talk about, though, is passion.  Because most people hold the misconception that Couchsurfering is just vagabonds looking to cash in on someone's  generosity and get a free night's sleep (maybe a meal?).  And it's not.

Every single person to walk through my door has been extremely driven.  Most are chasing their dreams - moving across country to pursue a Master's degree, discovering the great country they live in, physically challenging themselves by biking across that country, and, most recently, following the the music as they set out on tour.

And Couchsurfing is - poetically - making that happen.  We are America's youth struggling to make our dreams come true, against all odds, despite the fact that we have no money and much more than faith to sustain us!

Not exactly that dramatically - but really.

If you've ever had a dream, you understand.  We need to support each other.  To open our eyes to what someone else is doing, and realize: it's kind of awesome. 

It's not always what you'd expect, or choose, and that's even better.  Here's my list of - off-the-beaten-path bands that I've had the pleasure of listening to, because they were sitting right in my living room.

Brighten your day, listen to something new:


This is the band I met at the aforementioned house party.  Their songs are what I'd imagine I'd listen to if I was a chill surfer living in a beach town in Hawaii or California.  I often like to imagine myself as a chill surfer in a beach town.  So I like to listen to their music.  It makes so much sense.
Von Stomper

I was unable to watch their show, which is quite sad, because I really enjoyed their music.  I tried to listen to their CD without smiling, but I....I just couldn't.  I could try to use my expansive lyrical vocabulary to describe them, but Marquee Magazine does it better:

"With vintage sound and modern swagger, Von Stomper excellently couples old-time folk Americana with rock attitude and almost vaudevillian flair. The debut shows a new band that is already chiseling its name into the American songbook with a rootsy, bluesy style and a bit of circus freak panache."


**Disclaimer: I used the bands' pictures from their websites. 

I got to talk with Seth, the lead guitarist, about travel in South America, and he convinced me to stick around and finish my homework in a bar.  These guys are winners, and their music was not what I was expecting to find at a college-town dive bar - and that's definitely a good thing.

Tickle your ears and listen to their quirky sound on Bandcamp.  They actually have a song called Ticklish.  Look at me go...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CouchCrash: And we go to Minneapolis

Where does the time go?

Last month was a blur of hosting, traveling and a chaotic first week of my final college semester.  Now, I need to catch up.

After hosting Jake and Jon and learning that Jake was from Minneapolis, my roommate and I decided we had to participate in the CouchCrash.  It is essentially an event where hosts plan a weekend of get-togethers and activities, then openly invite the Couchsurfing community to join in.  It is a time for meeting new people, for locals to display pride of their city, and an excuse for travelers to take a weekend getaway.

So, we headed out on a road trip to Minnesota, but not before taking some obligatory road trip pictures with a truck stop dinosaur:

We got to town late, but - in true Couchsurfing style - our hosts graciously invited us into their home.  We awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee and eggs that came from chickens in the backyard.  Chickens that live next to the hops growing on the side of the house.  As if that wasn't awesome enough, Alesa also invited us along to the yoga class she taught and took us out to for a vegan lunch at a place that resembled a tree house or fort more than a restaurant.  Best. Hosts. Ever.

We then met up with Jake, our surfer from the week before, and about 15 other Couchsurfers at an Irish Festival.  Now, I always have a great time dancing to Irish music, but the fact that I was sitting in a strange city, after an even more strange awesome day, with people from around the nation that I had just met, made it better.

The next day, we picnicked at the bottom of some waterfalls, napped in the sun and took a nature run down to the Mississippi River.  It beautiful and peaceful, and that's just what I needed.  You can't leave an experience like this in a bad mood:

Some of my friends hear my stories about traveling (or just my general life for that matter) or read my blog, and think I'm crazy.  That the idea of having a stranger sleeping on your couch almost every weekend and knowing that you never have to get a hotel room when you travel is bizarre.  Or that simply getting lost and exploring on your own is dangerous.  

But I think it's crazy that these things don't happen more.  When's the last time you actually knew where your food came from? When's the last time you took a walk in a secluded forest and just listened to nature?  Even harder, when's the last time you had to rely on the generosity of strangers for a roof over your head and some food?
I think it's experiences like these that add some much-needed perspective to our lives.  I had a great, relaxing, joyful weekend.  And I had none of the things that I seem to think I need on a daily basis - like my bed, Mac, car, heels or excessive amounts of makeup.  Now that's a nice getaway.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

CouchCrash: Meeting Each Other Again

It's 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday; I'm doing wall sits next to a stranger, trying to push them over while two friends are yelling at us, cheering/laughing their respective teammate on to victory.

Welcome to Couchsurfing.

It's the most expected unexpectedness you will ever find and, just when I think I'll run out of new content, someone sends a request and we take off on our own unique journey together.

That's Jake and Jon.  All the usual came to pass - it instantly felt like we'd known each other for months, they were up for anything, drinks were had, stories shared, memories made...

But Jake said something that got me thinking throughout the night: "...It doesn't matter.  I can say what I want and do what I want, because we're probably never going to see each other again."

And that made me sad - it was actually something that had  been weighing on me lately - the idea that we are all just in each others' lives for a fleeting moment and, once that moment has passed, we will only ever see each other again smiling back at us through Facebook pictures.

Sometimes, that's exactly how it's meant to be.

But, other times, I refuse to accept that.  I realize that we have become more interwoven than we originally thought.

For example, a CSer gives you a book that you pass on to another, a CSer introduces you to someone/somewhere new in your own town or, your CSers run into each other without even knowing that they have you, their host, in common.

That actually happened.  Jake and Jon told me that, as they were driving East (5 hours from me), two bikers with American flags on their backpacks were riding West.  As it turns out, those bikers were Xavier and Julian from earlier that week, and Jake and Jon were my guests coming to me that night.  Two Belgium band players, a Canadian and a Minnesotan that seemingly couldn't be further apart - isn't that crazy.

It's weird to think that you may be much more connected to that stranger on the bus (or anywhere) than you think. 

I have introduced you to meeting strangers and how you make just find out how much you have in common.  But now, I'm going to travel and purposely not meet a stranger, but meet up with a new friend in a new city.

It's a romaniticized idea - perhaps - that we were all meant to run into each other again, possibly around the world, years from now, but it's an idea I'll hold on to for now.

I actually found out that Jake and Jon are going to the same town I'm traveling to next weekend for a Couchsurfer event.  I have shown them around my town, now they get to show me around theirs.

I'm joining the Minneapolis CouchCrash.....

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Listening To The Drum of Your Heartbeat

Tonight, in the spirit of always accepting a new experience, I attended a drum circle.

I'd like to share it with you, because it was truly wonderful.

But honestly, I don't know how to describe the experience with words.

Much like traveling, the evening was a wonderful adventure that left me more worldly, insightful and mindful.  Unlike physically traveling, though, we weren't there to share memories, but rather to support each other as we embarked on our own separate adventures to our own places in each of our lives.

Solitude and connectedness, simultaneously.

We each had a very different experience, as we were all there for different reasons, so I can't really describe the drum circle to you.  Only show my perspective.

I truly lived the world tonight as my heart matched the beat of the drums and I simply co-existed with the world around me for one short moment in time.

Whether you are religious, spiritual, somewhere in the middle, or none of the above, I encourage you to attend an event such as this.

Meditation, prayer, daily gratitude or just quietly sitting can have a very calming affect on your thoughts, your day and your outlook on life.

Personally, I felt instantly peaceful and creative.  I saw new beauty in my familiar surroundings and felt inspired by my neighborhood.

Friday, July 4, 2014

From Canada to America for the 4th of July

I had a friend show up in town this week from Canada. 

We had met while both living in Paris, and when I picked him up from the airport, it was the first time we had seen each other in over 2 years.

Removing the foreign element of Paris, where we had both bonded over being new to the place, was strange, as I was now seeing him from a different perspective.

At first, the novelty of meeting someone new in a new place seemed gone, then I realized
that just wasn't true.

This was the first time I got to see him were we were both more comfortable, we both spoke the local language, for starters.  And I had a chance to share my city, my local haunts and make new memories.

I also learned the importance of rediscovering my own town.

For a long time, I have felt bored, quite frankly a little stuck, in my small college town.  But this week, I got to see it with fresh eyes, as I explored it with a person that I once explored the Latin Quarter with.  And I had almost  just as much fun ;)

Like the good 'ol days, we ate too much food and drank some wine.


I showed him some local staples, like large American portion sizes, the college football stadium, vapor shots (that's for another day),

and fireworks.


It was 4th of July weekend after all, and I wanted him to have a traditional American time.

We had a BBQ, watched fireworks and lit some of our own, which were exciting anticlimactic:

The week of July 4th, 2014, will always be a fond memory for me.  I had a wonderful time, hung out with a friend that I had missed a ton, and saw my town with a new appreciation.

And now I challenge you to do the same. 

When you host couchsurfers, travelers, or visiting friends, it's easy to play tour guide and tell them about your city.  But I challenge you to discover it with them.  Do something new, or do something familiar with a little more sense of adventure.

And keep that attitude all year;  Take yourself to the movies, a new restaurant, or sit in the local park.  Ask someone on the street for directions or a restaurant recommendation.

Who knows, you just might find something unexpected.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Game Changer: Part 2

And Then There Was Dublin.

Not quite ready to fully dive into Couchsurfing by crashing at someone's apartment, my friend and I chose to find an event to attend when we went to Ireland.

And that's how we ended up in a crowded pub in Dublin at 10:45 in the morning on St. Patrick's Day.  People from all over the world were there - France, America, England - coming to celebrate the Irish holiday. 

Rather than just being another bar where you don't know anyone, and you talk just with the person you came with, it was a highly social "hello old friend" type atmosphere.  It was only open to CSers, so we knew that each person was there to share an experience, tell a story and learn about each other.

The sense of having a place to belong was overwhelming.  Here I was in Ireland, where I didn't know anyone, and I had a whole group of friends and fellow expats that were there to support me, offer up their advice and share a memory.

I learned that day, that those memories are better shared, too. 

Whether that moment is with a stranger whom you are standing in line with or a bff since high school, shared memories can transcend cultures, geographical space and time in order to connect us with our fellow humans.

And it leaves the world a happier place, knowing that somewhere out there is someone you shared a smile with.

That's just one of several values held by Couchsurfers:

- to share your life
- create a connection
- offer kindness
- stay curious
- leave it better than you found it

From that point on, I got it, and Dublin was the springboard from which I jumped headfirst into Couchsurfing, (which I explained more here).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Game Changer: Part 1

What is Couchsurfing?

I honestly have no idea how I first stumbled upon the Couchsurfing website, but I've never had anything else change my life so profoundly.  After reading their values and the vision that they have for the world, travel and "friends you haven't met yet (Couchsurfers)," I knew: I found my people.

What a beautiful idea it is to share your "life, experiences,  journey, home, extra almonds or a majestic sunset. To believe that the spirit of generosity, when applied liberally, has the power to profoundly change the world."

And that's how it works: travelers, hosts or just curious bystanders (as I once was) create a profile with basic information, about themselves, their outlook on life, experience with CS and even information about their couch.  You are then a member a 7 million person community full of other seekers in the world. 

Travelers can search for a place to stay based on location, dates, and host information (age, roommates, number of spaces available, etc.).  They then send a couch request to a specific host, or make an open post that they are looking for a place. 

Hosts can also reach out to travelers in a last-minute host group or by responding to an open request.

A request can be anything from a meet-up for coffee and good conversation to recommendations for local must-sees, or a stay of several days where you open up your home to a traveler.

Then there are meet-ups and events.  Events held in over 100,000 cities around the world of couchsurfers who just want to get together with their family of travelers.

That's where I started to test the waters.  Any time I traveled to a place, I looked for local events.  One day, my friend and I decided to amp up our St. Patrick's Day experience.....