“Wow, you’re bicycling through Florida?”
I was shocked.
“Like, across the whole state?”
“Pretty much,” she said, her road weariness apparent.
Orlando is hot, even in February, and she’d been pedaling all day. All month, actually.
“In fact, when I get to Tampa, I’ll actually take a boat to Cuba and bike across that country, too.” Then, jokingly, “while I still can.”
I was astonished. Here was a young lady, thirty-something, her bike loaded for bare – saddlebags, tent, sleeping bag, food, water, supplies, and more – all balanced precariously on two wheels. And not the motorized kind.
“Yep,” she said, still smiling.
“That’s amazing! I can’t even comprehend how you could do that.” And that’s when she dropped the sticky-sweet truth bomb that’s stuck with us ever since.
“Well, everyone’s got their superpower.”
“Well, yeah,” she continued. “I mean, that’s what it looks like to everyone else, anyway. For me, biking is the easiest thing I know to do. The only path I’m comfortable taking. The one that comes most naturally to me, anyway. To you, biking across Florida and Cuba seems grandiose. But to me, its the only thing I could have done. Its pretty low-tech, but you see it as a high-wire act. Like a superpower.”
I hadn’t heard it put quite that way before, but I knew where she was going, and I was smitten with the idea. She continued.
“You guys couchsurf as a family,” she said. “I have no idea how you’re able to do that. So, that’s your superpower.”
“Our superpower.” Boom goes the dynamite.
By this time, our family of four had couchsurfed throughout the western US and Canada for over six months. We’d stayed over 75 nights with 25+ individuals and families (many more, since) who hosted us for free. We camped the other half of the time, and we hadn’t spent a dime on hotels.
More important than a financial lever, however, through our couch surfing experiences, our horizons – nay, our very consciousnesses – had been broadened. Remarkably, transformationally broadened.
what is couchsurfing?
Couchsurfing.com is an online platform similar to AirBnb, in that you use it request stays in private homes and domiciles all around the world. However, unlike AirBnb, you do not pay your Couchsurfing host. Its completely free of charge.
There may sometimes be indirect costs, like dinner or drinks or groceries or time spent making dinner for your host. But that’s just being a good guest, like Grandma taught you. More often than not, its the host that provides the lion’s share of food, drink, groceries, dinner, whatever. Its all part of the cultural exchange. And each experience is unique.
cultural exchange is the currency of couchsurfing
Many times, no physical value, whatsoever (other than lodging, of course), is exchanged between host and guest. None is required (per Couchsurfing policy), and rarely is it expected. You can couchsurf, literally, on six continents today, free of charge.
What is exchanged, and generally expected, is cultural exchange. Meaning, stories, conversation, perspectives on life, and, of course, actual culture.
“I used to couch surf before there was a website for it.”
We’ve heard it a dozen times if we’ve heard it once. Historically, “couch surfing” (lowercase ‘c’) was what you did when you rolled into town and needed a place to crash. If you didn’t already have friends in that town with a spare couch, you could always make new friends.
We realize couch surfing is not a new phenomenon. Probably not much has changed in the actual experience of couch surfing since back-in-the-day. What has changed is the emergence of the broad reaching and readily accessible platform (Couchsurfing.com), which makes such arrangements readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
more than a website. a community and a culture.
When we tell some folks about couchsurfing, they’re dumbstruck. They fear for our safety, and tell us as much. When they imagine asking strangers over the internet for a place to stay, they imagine the worst. Craigslist, maybe?
But that’s not what Couchsurfing.com is like, at all. Couchsurfing is for-travelers, by-travelers.
Most hosts can accommodate one or two guests. Some can accommodate many more. Some hosts offer, literally, their couch, while others may provide a private room (or two) and a private bathroom.
On a couple more occasions, we had our own “in-law” style apartment which was connected to our hosts’ house, but completely private. Some hosts may even give you their entire property while they’re not there, themselves. This happened to us on three occasions!
You may think that consistently finding reasonable accommodation for a family of four in the sharing economy must have been difficult. I won’t claim that it didn’t require a certain level of hustle (identifying hosts, sending requests, following up), but we generally didn’t have a problem.
In fact, there were only a handful of instances where we couldn’t find a place to stay, regardless of how hard we tried. On those occasions, because we were traveling throughout the summer and fall, we camped.
Sometimes, we made the conscious choice (not just out of necessity) to camp instead of couchsurf because A) we love to camp, and B) we visited over 40 national parks, monuments, and recreation areas which offered world-class sites that put us that much closer to the action.
one of many superpowers
Couchsurfing as a family is not our only superpower. There are several others you need if you want to leave the security and comfort of a 9-to-5 existence in order to travel the world as a family.
You know, superpowers like separating well from your job, selling nearly all your stuff and storing the rest, finding renters for your house, prepping and executing a 6-month, non-stop road trip.
Also, taking your kids out of an entire schoolyear and becoming 100% responsible for their education. Heck, living and traveling in close quarters with your kids 24/7 can be considered a superpower, for sure. Oh, and managing rental real estate from a distance without losing your mind 🙂
But of all these superpowers, couchsurfing as a family is likely our most compelling one. To date, we estimate we’ve saved over $15,000 in lodging costs by utilizing the platform! That’s a huge sum for anyone. But for those of us on hiatus – (I.e. Sabbatical year), living on savings and passive income, trying to prolong our time outside of the rat-race, not trading time for dollars – $15K is a king’s ransom.
In fact, couchsurfing may have added, literally, years to our time outside of the rat-race. And that’s a value that can’t even be calculated.
experience > money
Yet, there is an even more profound value to couchsurfing.
More profound than $15,000? More profound than spending years outside the rat race, living, loving, and learning as a family?
Yep. Even more profound.
The true value of Couchsurfing, we’ve learned over our 50+ stays with hosts, is simply this. Couchsurfing provides experiences you couldn’t purchase, even if you wanted to. The people you meet, the experiences you have, the insights you gain are nothing short of life-nourishing.
Not trying to overstate it, but its true. You learn and grow so much by staying with locals, there’s really nothing you could affordably purchase that might compare. Not to mention, you experience a side of humanity that is becoming less and less prevalent in today’s consumer culture. That of freely giving and freely receiving hospitality, with no strings attached except simple cultural exchange.
We believe that couchsurfing is a spiritual exercise and a revolutionary act rolled into one. We’ve learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. Our couchsurfing game has only gotten better. But from the very beginning, it was our superpower.
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