As we left Yellowstone, we weren’t sure of where we were headed. Some folks may quake in their boots at the prospect of not knowing where next they’re going to stay – especially with their family and kids in tow. But this was one of our happiest realities of life on the road.
We were headed eastward toward Devil’s Tower, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. We wanted to stop in Bighorn Canyon and Bighorn National Forest. But we’d just camped for five days in Yellowstone, so we were ready for a little creature comfort.
We thought we could find such amenity via Couchsuring.com, but we weren’t totally sure. Our first attempt at couchsurfing on this trip hadn’t worked out so well. But we’d give it another try.
We were headed out of the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone and over Beartooth Pass. We looked at the map. Billings, Montana made sense. So did Sheridan, Wyoming. So, we sent out several couch requests.
The 1st Rule for Couchsurfing Successfully and Consistently as a Family
This is the first rule of couchsurfing as a family. Don’t cherry pick. Send out as many requests as you reasonably can. (There are several factors that qualify a potential host as reasonable. Its kind of involved, so we’ll save those details for another post.) So, that’s what we did. Both to Billings and to Sheridan.
We immediately received an acceptance from Billings and thought that’d be the direction we’d head. However, another acceptance quickly came through, this time from Sheridan. After a few minutes of reviewing what we knew of each potential host, we accepted Sheridan. And we’re sure glad we did.
This would be our first time couchsurfing on this trip. But it wasn’t our first time ever.
Up to this point, our entire Couchsurfing career consisted of stays with six different hosts. From these six stays, we knew that couchsurfing was not only a viable form of travel, it was in many ways preferable.
Six (stays), however, is not a number that is statistically significant. Meaning, the jury was still out on Couchsurfing, big time. We had high hopes, to be sure. But only time would tell.
It was after dark when we arrived, and our host lived on a farm on the outskirts of town. We had only his verbal directions because the address wasn’t marked, nor was it findable on GPS. It took a couple of phone calls, but we eventually tracked him down.
Couchsurfing is a Powerful Lever
Driving onto his property, we knew this was a special place. We realized how powerful a lever Couchsurfing.com could be. The ranch was awesome.
The next morning’s light made us aware of even more awesomeness. We were on a completely renovated, historic farmhouse (on the register, baby!). It sat between acres of open farmland, and large swaths of (non-farmed) native grasses and trees.
A beautiful, strong, clean stream wound through it. The acres of grasslands and woods, which hadn’t been cleared over the years for farming, were native and wonderful.
We came to learn that our host, and other Wyoming landowners, have been incentivized over the years to keep portions of their land wild and natural. These measures help offset some of the negative effects of open farming throughout Wyoming.
Good stuff, Wyoming!
We Couldn’t Have Bought Our Couchsurfing Experiences, Even if We’d Wanted To
Our host’s home turned out to be a real family spot.
We discovered an impressive tree house, and a mountain bike track. Our host built the track and maintains it. And its been used for racing events in the Senior Olympics.
Our host, while technically a senior, is as young at heart as anyone we’ve met 🙂
There was also a dog. This was huge for us, because since our pet dog died a few years ago, our kids have really wanted a dog. We’d been traveling so much, however, even during our working (fast) years, that it hadn’t been practical for us to get one.
The presence of pets along our journey (via couchsurfing) turned out to be one of the most leveling factors, emotionally, for our kids. And it started here, on a farm outside of Sheridan, Wyoming.
The dog’s name was River, and she was as sweet and submissive as they come. Our kids loved on River for the three days they were on “Mr. Tom’s” farm.
Tom Balding’s Bits and Spurs
And the cool-party didn’t stop there.
On our last full day in Sheridan, we went into town to take a tour of our host’s business, Tom Balding Bits and Spurs. Tom is well known in the US and around for his fine craftwork.
We spent an hour or so visiting Mr. Tom and his employees. He runs an incredible business.
His employees are so well cared for in this rural Wyoming town that, at the time of our visit, his last hire was 16 years earlier.
His shop runs largely on systems of his own design, and the hand-crafted quality he produces is still unparalleled after all these years.
Because of this, Tom can generally choose how he likes to spend his time. He enjoys marketing his business online, and locally. Or, mountain biking throughout the region, pretty much any time he pleases. Or, hosting couchsurfers from all over the world.
That’s what we call a slow lifestyle!
3rd Thursday Street Festival, Downtown Sheridan Wyoming
Later, we stopped by the “Third Thursday” monthly celebration in downtown Sheridan. It was off the hook (and family friendly)!
When it comes to rural living in the Rockies, Sheridan, or at least Wyoming, can’t really be beat.
Couchsurfing is Simply on Another Level
Nothing personal, and no offense intended to the industry of tourism, but none of these experiences could we have had in 100 hotel stays. Couchsurfing is simply on another level.
Of course, not all of our Couchsurfing experiences were this rich. But you’d be surprised at how many were!
Couchsurfing and Camping Balance One Another Out
It hadn’t dawned on us when we set out to travel for 6 months, that camping 100% of the time wouldn’t be viable. Seems obvious, in hindsight. But it somehow didn’t register, in the beginning.
The good news is, we never had to make a choice between living exclusively in campsites, or blowing our budget on hotels and AirBnb. From the very beginning of our journey across the US (and eventually to Europe), we’ve be shown, again and again, the kindest faces of humanity.
This humble spirit of service, if lost at times in society at large, is alive and well in the homes of Couchsurfing hosts across the globe.