CouchSurfing and the Kindness of Strangers

I have been travelling for 5 months, and have slept in 30 different beds across 8 countries. If my math is correct that is a different bed about every 5 days. Well the word bed is used loosely sometimes it was a couch, a floor, or a van. When I spoke about my trip before I left and people asked where I would stay throughout my travels I said, somewhat practically, I’ll wwoof and couch surf. Now after all is traveled and done, they weren’t necessarily difficult things to do but as I sit here thinking about all the places I have been it seems like an incredible feat. I am in Iceland right now, took advantage of the free lay-over, and am couch surfing in a flat right next to the ocean, with an unfortunately sick Icelander. I spent most of the day exploring empty, cold, rainy, but beautiful Iceland and saw my host intermittently for meals. I cooked us soup, well with canned soup much actual cooking wasn’t necessary, for dinner before he crawled back into bed to nurse his cough and fever. The last thing he said before he snuggled in, “You can have anything you like here, feel like this is your home.” I felt that familiar feeling of comfort I had throughout a lot of my travels, whether it has been an hour or a month, I was welcomed here.

Honestly couch surfing is a bit strange. Don’t get me wrong I love it and it is very beautiful in its’ oddity, I think it is the most amazing online community. I have officially couch surfed through the site 9 times and have met people through the site many more times than that. The people who truly integrate in the couch surfing community, host or surfer, openly share their lives for however long a time they are in each other’s company. It is easier to set no limits, they are easier to remember. It is a strange and beautiful thing to do this, and then when you do you can’t remember where you are or if it has been a day or a week, time exists in an alternative way. A conversation can last a lifetime and a month is gone in a blink.

I have relied on the kindness of strangers so much during my travels, well rather I have relied on strangers, the kindness was just an added bonus. There is usually this moment when I am first introduced to a new space when I am alone for a few minutes to settle in, drop my huge backpack, and shake my coat to the floor.  During this time my host gets us a drink or food, or me a towel or an extra blanket and in those few minutes I shake my head and smile in awe of people.

I was in Bristol doing a short –term internship for two weeks. It was a pretty incredible experience. From the first moment I stepped into the city my relationship with it was visual and loud, I had so many interactions that made me feel a part of it and not a visitor. I stayed with three different people throughout the two weeks, all very different but they were all able to show me their Bristol and their lives in unique and intimate ways. When I got to the last place, where  I stayed with a friend of a friend who very quickly became a great friend of mine. Within 24 hours she had bought breakfast for us, made up my bed in the spare room, made welsh cakes (little circles of love), and had washed and hung up my laundry while I was at work. Granted there was a little essay writing procrastination going on there and I don’t know maybe to someone else that is just what a host does, but to me that generosity is really rare and special. I think offering a bed to someone is incredibly nice but also sort of not a big deal like here, I have space do your thing. But what I have found is that every bed I slept in wasn’t just a bed, but a whole experience, a whole story, a whole life.

At moments it could be exhausting or slightly overbearing, but the majority of the time it was just beautiful. This give and take of energy and perspectives and hearts. It’s amazing having conversations with people from Glasgow, to Malaga, to Iceland and everywhere in between. Many people think and struggle with the same issues but everyone approaches it from different pasts and perspectives. The intricate details of these lived experiences are as different as they could be seen as similar.

I guess it is just the sheer volume of kindness that I am taking away with me. It seems to be that in our daily lives of work or school, eat, sleep repeat it doesn’t always leave room to truly meet people and integrate into their lives on a Tuesday morning at 10am. It doesn’t leave room to just spend an afternoon making up games on the patio on top of the finca, or lying in bed for hours in a purple room talking to someone like you’re talking to yourself. But taking the time to view people in their lives at these moment allows you to exist in alternative time and see people in their private unguarded ways. I feel flooded and freed by all the stories I took part in over these past 5 months and 30 beds. All the narratives hold a part of me, it may be that I want to continue to write the story or I don’t know why I was ever there, but I am better for every single place I laid my head.

I’m swelling and these stories are my helium, but unlike a balloon my skin is proving to be infinitely elastic.