Next time you travel why not try Couchsurfing. This online global community of like minded travellers and inquisitive souls provides an opportunity to stay a night or two in a local home for free instead of isolating ourselves in generic motels, hotels and campsites.
It takes a little effort to organise especially when you’re on the road and travelling solo but the rewards are numerous. In this past week I have stayed in the homes of four different hosts, all of whom have been so wonderfully accommodating. In Washington DC my first host was so helpful and provided much appreciated tips on getting from the airport and seeing the city. She even procured free tickets to see a film about deforestation in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
My second host in Silver Spring to the north of DC allowed me use of a bike which gave me the freedom to explore the local trails. Together we cycled into town to visit the farmer’s market and eat oysters and clams. The night before I left he kindly invited me to share a meal out with his family. It was my first real experience of Thai food. Next day he drove me to the airport in his little convertible Mazda to collect my rental car.
I headed south along the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park stopping at overlooks to marvel at the views and Swallowtail butterflies. My hosts that night cooked me a delicious meal and we sat out on their deck to listen to the night critters sing their songs and watch the fireflies dance their magic. In the morning I helped harvest beautiful ripe heirloom tomatoes, a tray of which I took with me to pass on to my next host in Edenton, North Carolina.
So I eventually arrived at my fourth host’s house after a drive which saw some minor moments of panic as I refuelled the car for the first time and struggled with intermittent phone reception which left my sat nav dropping out before my phone finally ran out of juice to leave me relying on my own instincts and the directions of strangers. Anyways, I made it and another delicious home cooked meal awaited me.
Their gorgeous house is right on the edge of the Albemarle Sound and surrounded by wildlife. We took their little ‘tin’ boat out to see the ospreys, kingfishers and turtles that frequent these creeks and waterways. There is a sense of very much being alive in this hot and humid Southern climate which hums with life. We drove and strolled around town picking up snatches of local history. And there in the afternoon, a river otter preened itself on the landing stage of their jetty.
It’s early morning now as I write these words to the backing track of cicada song. Today I head out once more, this time towards the Outer Banks and the ferry which will take me south to Charleston and new couchsurfing hosts. Everyone has been so very kind and welcoming. To have the opportunity to share their home and food and learn about their life and perspectives has truly been an honour.
Travel with an open mind and learn to be less judgemental. We all have a right to leave our footprints on this planet whilst being respectful of the landscapes we pass through. With some thought and planning, Couchsurfing can help connect us with people, their lives and surroundings, enriching our travels and leaving us with a profound sense of worth and fulfilment which most other vacations cannot hope to provide. Go out and talk. We are all curious at heart.