Column: Network makes traveling possible
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 13:03
All I knew was that I wanted to travel. I didn’t have much money, I didn’t have many connections in other places, and I didn’t even have a location set. I felt like I wasn’t in the position to leave New Orleans, but I couldn’t ignore this urge, this anxiety to travel.
This progressed throughout the fall 2012 semester. During that time, I found out about Couchsurfing, an organization for people just like me — without much money or connections. Couchsurfing is a network of people who open their homes to complete strangers to surf on their couches, floors or beds if you’re lucky. No money is exchanged, but it’s nice for surfers to help out around the home or bring gifts to their hosts.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s an insane trap to get myself raped, assaulted, murdered or kidnapped. But honestly, I had the time of my life. Put aside the convictions and hear me out; Couchsurfing is not a bad thing.
At the end of that semester, I decided it was past due for me to have a vacation. Right before finals, my head was so wrapped around this idea that I couldn’t
study. I found myself looking up flight tickets to various places — Portland, San Francisco, among others.
Somehow, I decided I wanted to go to New York City for New Year’s Eve. That night, I mustered up the courage to book a flight, a little over three weeks prior to leaving. Ten days and nine nights. The only thing that worried me was that I had no place to stay. Worried was a bit of an understatement.
I immediately logged onto my Couchsurfing account and searched for potential hosts. This is the part that makes Couchsurfing legitimate; in order to participate, you need a profile. Elements include photos, a list of Couchsurfing friends, references and sections where users can describe themselves, their travels and their couch. The more experienced Couchsurfers had longer profiles, filled with hundreds of friends and positive references. It was rare that I saw even a single negative reference on someone’s profile.
Being a woman traveling alone, I sent requests to other women around my age. When responses weren’t coming in, I was forced to be less picky. During my experience, this idea gave me more insight about the Couchsurfing culture: it’s not for picky people and never limit yourself by setting high expectations.
Little did I realize the cultural exchange I was going to be a part of. I did end up staying with men throughout my trip and did not
get raped, assaulted, murdered or kidnapped.
After landing in New York and taking a two-hour public transit ride, I finally met my first host. The anticipation was almost like going on a blind date. I wanted him to be just as described in his profile, but there was a chance he lied about himself and would force me into human trafficking. He did have a few references, all positive, and I told people back home where I was going to be. I knocked on his door and he was just as he described himself in his profile. Thank god.
I had a great time with him and his roommates. He cooked dinner, we watched movies and I even slept on a spare bed. It was the perfect start to my Couchsurfing experience. I felt more at ease when I met my second and third hosts. I was more comfortable going to events where I knew no one. Traveling alone was not lonely whatsoever. It gave me more freedom, more possibilities to make this vacation amazing.
I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, took the Staten Island Ferry, went on a free walking tour of Lower Manhattan, went to the top of the Rockefeller Center, got lost on the subway, got lost in TriBeCa, watched my phone die while trying to direct myself via Google Maps, ate at some amazing restaurants and had a bagel, and I still talk to some of the people I met on my journey. I’ve never taken such a leap of faith before and I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to do it.
I realized society could be trusted, which is something I don’t particularly see through the media. Not everyone has hidden agendas. In fact, there are a lot of people out there who are just like me — curious, open- minded and driven. Curious to see what the world has to offer. Open-minded to other cultures and lifestyles. Driven to take the leap and explore.
I felt that my next step was to return the favor and host surfers. I was reluctant at first, but I realized the surfers are, too. This put me in the position to possibly rape, assault, murder or kidnap, but I would never do that. Every hosting experience I’ve had has been great. The memorable one involved two Russians who never saw black people with natural hair. They sincerely wanted to touch my hair, and I couldn’t turn them down.
Everyone should travel. We’re in an age where it’s so easy to do and with Couchsurfing, it can be affordable. Traveling helps shape you into a well-rounded, cultured person. I’m definitely keeping Couchsurfing in mind for my next trip.
Precious Esie is the Wolf editor and a mathematics senior and can be reachdd at firstname.lastname@example.org
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