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:

Catamaran


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."

Rossonian

**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.

                                     video

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:

video

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.....

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Ways We Band Together

While I was living in Paris, I had a chance to show a traveler around the city.  He was only in town for the day, and wanted to see some of the landmarks the City of Lights had to offer.

The irony does not escape me that I, not having lived there for more then a couple months, was showing someone else around this foreign city.

 Irony aside, I obliged.


I was still curious, however, why he had not sought out a local to be his tour guide for the day, so I asked.  He gave me a wonderful lesson about people's comfort zones:

"I am not from here, and neither are you.  I thought I'd connect better with someone else who is far from home, too."

That is something I have seen occur time and time again, as well as something I have noticed myself doing in my own travels.

People want a reason to connect with those around them, even if what connects them is what would separate them in almost any other circumstance: that they are both from somewhere else.

Think about it.  In college, you connect with your classmates or fellow freshman because they, too, are lost and confused as they wander around campus.  At work, your first friends are those you met in orientation.  In a foreign country, you instinctively find other expats.

And that's how a business man from India and a fashion student from the United States ended up exploring Paris together.


It was so wonderful to share my knowledge and experiences with someone else.  To see his excitement as we crossed Luxembourg Gardens to Rue St. Michel and finally ended up at Notre Dame.  After only a couple months (still in wonderment that I lived in Paris), I was already seeing Paris as my home, and re-appreciating it through someone else's eyes.

And I remembered what my Paris Tourist said about foreigners banding together, taking comfort in knowing I'm not alone no matter where I go.

Because we all have something in common, even when we least expect it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Get up. Get out. Get there

"I can jump out of a plane, but everyday life terrifies me."

Pierce considers herself a gypsy.  We hit it off immediately.  In true couchsurfing style, we were sharing wine and mysterious cheesy bread (direct from Colorado) before we had even properly introduced ourselves.  And that's the magic of travelers - when we find each other, we are at home. 

Like old friends, we discussed family, friends, love, jobs.....

And the meaning of life.  At the moment, travel is her purpose and slam poetry is a daily affirmation:

video

The story that she poured out to me was amazing, and the passion I could see in her eyes was even more powerful.  Pierce told me how she got here, and not just physically.  The hurt, the fear, the curiosity that pushes a person to trade in an apartment for a car and live off a restored faith in humanity.

As I write this, we are sitting on my floor, me writing, her playing guitar and singing.  And it seems so completely natural.  Two strangers that let down all their walls to open up to each other.

The lesson you need to take from this video and this traveler?   

"Acceptance.  Things happen, and you get damaged.  You give parts of yourself to people, and other just take from you.  You will never get that back.  This is you now.  Accept it." 

Move forward.  Get up.  Get out.  Get there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Beginnings

My very first experience meeting travelers was in London in 2011.  It was the moment I stepped off a plane after a 7-hour flight from Chicago and was about to continue on the next leg of my journey to Paris, where I would be studying for the next year.

It was also the moment that I realized I had just moved to another country with no idea who was supposed to pick me up on the other side of the airport gate.

What gave Susie away was the combination of a confused facial expression, a map in her hand and an over-sized backpack-esque bag next to her (what I now know are the tall-tale signs of a traveler).  Something drew me to the person that mirrored what I imagined was my own appearance, and we instantly bonded over our cluelessness.  Susie and I were eventually able to wonder our way through the Heathrow airport and find about 30 other lost-looking travelers like us.



And that's when it started.  For one year, I didn't see anyone I knew.  Every friend I made was a complete stranger the day before.  I traveled, laughed, drank, ate, took pictures with, got lost with and explored with people I never could have imagined knowing.  And many of them I probably wouldn't see again.


That's the first lesson I learned from travelers:  

Always live in the moment.

That's what it's all about.  When you are dwelling on tomorrow, yesterday or even later today, you miss the people right in front of you.  People that want to experience the now with you.  You need to do your best to capture that moment, and meet those people.

Remember to keep an open mind, having no expectations, if possible.  By doing that, your mind isn't waiting to meet the person or have the experience you have already planned out.  Instead, it's like a blank scrapbook page waiting to fill in the spot with a picture.

You will cherish these moments more and your memories associated with them will almost always be positive, because you have no expectations to scale them against.  Your attitude will also be the magnetic force that draws other people to you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The How-To: Meeting Other Travelers

Do:

- Be friendly.  Smiling at strangers can be scary sometimes, but introducing yourself to person next to you on the train/plane can turn a 4 hour nap into something decidedly more exciting.  Like this:

Everyone is free game here.  I met a bartender from Omaha, Ne. (my town) in Prague, gotten a free place to stay from the couple that sat across from me on a train and made a NYC business connection while on a tour in Berlin.

- Opt for Couchsurfing or hostels over hotels.  You're not going to meet someone if you never go around people you don't know.  Apply rule #1 here and you will go far.

- Have travel companions.  When you are traveling, (even if it's just down the road to a new restaurant), people may ask if you want company.  Accept.  Even if you don't know them that well, they will bring a fresh perspective and network of people to your experience.



- Be spontaneous.  Don't get too caught up on your agenda.  While it is good to have some sort of a plan, you meet the best people when you're least expecting.  Many times, this is when you're lost (physically or emotionally).

 Had I not taken the "next ferry to anywhere," I wouldn't have found this pelican in Mykonos and learned that the local business owners let pelicans walk into their restaurants.

- Sit at the bar/communal table/in the park near others.  Especially when you are alone.  No one will approach you when you sit in the corner table by yourself.  Sit next to another person who is alone and you already have a friend.  Tip: compliments & trivia facts make great conversation starters.

- Help others.  If someone else is having trouble with a language, map or their new metro card, help them out.  You may hear their story or get an opportunity to share yours. 



Don't:

- Focus on your differences.  The idea of meeting new people is to meet new people.  Even when you think your differences are too big to overcome.


- Talk too much.  You'll never learn anything if you don't learn how to listen first.

- Assume every one speaks English.  Even though most people do, it's rude to assume so.  Show some initiative and look up "hello" or "please" in a couple languages.  Your host or guest will appreciate it.  You will probably mess up at some point - laugh about it with your new friends (assuming you didn't accidentally offend them).

- Be afraid to go alone.  I know this is contradictory to what I said above, but what if no one wants to join you on a trip to a remote town in Alaska?  If you've always wanted to go, you should!

- Forget to take pictures. But remember to put down the lens & enjoy the moment, too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Idea Behind This Blog

Living the World was not conceptualized from just one idea.

Rather, it was a culmination of days, people, language barriers, misread maps (lost ones, too) and evenings spent amongst strangers drinking too much cheap wine on the floor of my 2-room apartment.  Everyone has seen and re-posted the travel memes, rotating exotic locations they want to see through their Pinterest boards and mental bucket lists.  And most people won't ever experience those places.

Which is sad - because the world is a beautiful, vast place.  And I'd encourage you to see it.

But for me, what changed me the most, wasn't the places (or the journey, as the saying goes), but the people and the moments.  And while my travels have taken me around the world, very often those things have found me right at home.

So here is my commentary on travelers, or as I have come to know them, Seekers. 

You have to have an open mind.  You have to invite strangers into your life, rely on others to inspire you, and rely on humanity to not murder you in your sleep because you invited a homeless traveler to sleep on your couch (which, by the way is called couchsurfing, and is awesome). 

I will also talk about traveling, because sometimes the person that changes your life or inspires a wonderful moment is you.

So while the content for this blog has been accumulating in my memories for several years now, it took one truly inspiring traveler to spark the idea of writing it down.  Not everything I say is necessarily my story to tell, but I hope to inspire you by sharing the small piece of their story that I played a part in. 

I also changed the names of my fellow seekers because it's not about names to begin with.