lost, for a little while


goal (sort of) accomplished: try couchsurfing
May 20, 2011, 11:34 am
Filed under: advice, plan

This is my "accomplished" face

Waaaay back in January, I sat down and wrote out some resolutions specific to this road trip. And while it might seem like it, I haven’t forgotten about them. Let’s revisit:

  1. Stop parking my car on the street in front of my apartment (where the trees drop berries onto the roof and create a giant, sticky mess).
  2. Figure out what all that stuff under the hood is.
  3. Read Travels with Charley.
  4. Try Couchsurfing.
  5. Finally get a replacement cover for the Blueberry’s spare tire.
  6. Watch Easy Rider.
  7. Keep updating this blog with my thoughts, musings, adventures, worries, and findings. I’ve let the burnout from my job overtake my love of writing in this thing, and that’s crap. This is supposed to be fun and therapeutic, dammit! Until I’m officially done with my job, though, these posts may become a lot more rant-y and pseudo-confessional. Or not. Just a fair warning.

Couchsurfing has always been something I wanted to try since I discovered it while I was abroad three years ago. My couchsurfing.com profile has, alas, seen no action since I created it then, and while I reached out to several people weeks before I would be in Charleston, I just didn’t get any responses in time to make use of the service. Disheartening, yes, but couchsurfing has existed long before the official web site and network has – they just make it easier. Really, couchsurfing is just about random people offering up their couch, guest room, floor, etc. to perfect strangers. With the Internet, they are connected through a virtual service to help set up the arrangement. In the real world, this works, too, with something I like to call the “shameless begging approach.”

Through random, far-ranging connections, I’ve managed to stay with strangers at three different stops, so far.

MOBILE, ALABAMA: Our old Michigan neighbors had moved down south to this city about five years ago, and I planned to visit and stay with them on my way to New Orleans from Florida. However, a few weeks before I set out on my trip, I found out that they were actually about to move to Miami. It worked out because I still got to see them while I was there, but it did leave me in a bit of a conundrum. In case you didn’t know, the distance from Sarasota, FL (where I stayed with my great-uncle) to New Orleans, LA, is a long-ass drive. So I reached out to my neighbors to see if any of their old neighbors or friends in Mobile would be willing to put me up for a night. This is how I stayed with the college friend of my neighbor’s son. Thanks, Matt!

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: A couple months ago, I remembered that a friend of my brother’s had been to New Orleans several times, so I contacted him for suggestions of things to do and see while I was in town. He responded with some ideas, and mentioned that his uncle lives in NOLA and would be better-equipped to recommend things. In fact, he wrote, I could probably stay with his uncle if I wanted to. I wrote back that he should take a moment to truly consider what he was offering, because I’d reached a point where I was desperate enough to take anyone up on any half-hearted polite offer. He double-checked with his uncle, and it was legit. This is how I, for four nights, I stayed with my brother’s college roommate’s uncle. Kenny and Vinnie: you guys are awesome. Not only did Vinnie house me that whole time, but he also went out of his way to help me plan out my week and make sure that I could enjoy the city while still feeling safe and comfortable.

AUSTIN, TEXAS: I spent the weekend here with two high school friends (recap to come, shortly) and we stayed at the Hostelling International-Austin Friday and Saturday nights. However, when my buddies left to return to their respective cities on Sunday afternoon, I realized that it would be in my best interest to stay one more night before making my way to New Mexico. I had a few options: (1) I could pay to stay another night at the hostel, if they had room (not gonna happen, because I’m too cheap for that); (2) I could just loiter in the lounge area of the hostel and sleep on one of the couches, posing as someone who had ended up with loud roommates (a likely possibility); (3) I could sleep in my car (hadn’t happened yet); or (4) I could reach out to one of my few Men’s Health friends who had mentioned she had cousins in Austin. Bingo. Sara got me in touch with her cousin, Danny, who was, luckily, on his way back to town from Houston that very night. When he got in, we grabbed tacos and talked for a bit before heading back to his apartment where I enjoyed a futon and the loving affection of a pug named Esmeralda for the night. And that is how I stayed with a work friend’s cousin. Thank you so much, Danny and Sara.

At the very beginning of this trip, I saw my great-uncle Ray while I was in Cleveland. Before we said goodbye, he placed his hands on my shoulders and said “Lisa, be safe, make good decisions, and trust no one.” One? Sure. Two? Okay. But — no offense, Uncle Ray — I had absolutely no intention of following piece of advice #3.

I think it’s extremely important to use common sense and good judgment, both in everyday life and when traveling alone, but here’s the thing: I’ve spent a good portion of my life wary of the unknown and untrusting of people, in general, and it hasn’t been all that great. I’ve remained relatively safe and unharmed, yes, but I also believe that I’ve missed out on a lot of great experiences because I was too pessimistic and unwilling to try different things or trust new people.

It’s true that there are terrible people in this world. But if there’s one thing that this trip has taught me, it’s that there are also wonderful, amazing, generous ones, too. The three people I mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg of a group of strangers who have made some sort of positive impact on my trip thus far. It’s incredibly cheesy, but these people have given me a real sense of hope and inspired me to try to become the kind of person who helps others just as easily as they helped me.

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