In anticipation of my cross-country road trip, a couple months ago my friend Adam allowed me to borrow his book on car camping. Car camping? Yes, someone actually wrote a book on car camping. Basically about living in your car, how to do it, why people do it, etc. The author presented her book as the main text at a college class she was teaching, all about car camping. Actually, about it’s about car living: “Car Living: How to Make It a Successful, Sane, Safe Experience (Paperback), by Jane Archer. You can find it at Amazon.com if you are so inclined.
On previous road trips, I had slept in my car. A great 1992 Toyota Corolla which I still drive with over 200,00 miles on it. But with my 1988 Honda Accord wreck, I was a little more leery about the prospects of sleeping in my car, especially since my friends joked that it leaks of carbon monoxide and oil. Plus, with my bike taking up my trunk and back seat, I wouldn’t really be able to fully recline back. Doable, but not really comfortable.
In travel, there are 4 major expenses one must consider when budgeting out a trip. First, there is transportation. Plane, train, auto, boat, donkey, Jeepney, turtle, Segway, dolphin, magic carpet, what have you. Second, human fuel, i.e. food and drink. Third, lodging. And then you have everything else in the 4th category–entertainment, souvenirs, admission fees, communication, etc. etc.
I have no worries about transportation or food or the other expenses. Since I would be going to so many cities, my biggest expense would be lodging. I had no problems the first three stopovers, since I’d be staying with my friends. But once I got into Phoenix, I’d have to make a choice: sleep in my car, or spring for a hotel room. Decent hotel rooms can be had for $80 or so. Of course, if you drive a little further out or don’t mind a no-frills basic room in a seedy part of town, you can probably go as low as $39.95 plus tax. Well, let’s see… an average of $45 per night times 15 nights = just under $700. Furthermore, I make about $7.25 at my job, so $700 is like a whole month’s paycheck; hotel room, I don’t think so. Sleep in my car then, right?
Not quite. Thanks to the power of Internet, a new travel network has sprung up for those independent travelers who seek a different alternative. Welcome to Globalfreeloaders.com and Couchsurfing.com. These two web sites are based upon the concept of offering your home to fellow travelers and creating connections for opening up a new world of travel. Aside from one night in Montgomery and two nights in the Outer Banks, all of my sleeping arrangements have been successfully set up through these two web sites. My experiences have been incredible and I am so glad that I am part of this network. So, you may be wondering, what kind of people trust others to open up their homes?
Phoenix: Nicole and her boyfriend are late 20-somethings who are shortly embarking on a one-year, round-the-world journey. They’ve run marathons, rode elephants in Thailand and are just about the nicest people you can hope to meet when coming into a new city.
Tucson: Natalie just moved there by way of Chicago and has more travel experiences than most people have in their entire lifetime. Her hitch hiking tip is….”Go to a truck stop and ask a trucker to use their CB radio…make an annoucement over the CB that you are in need of a lift and provide your pick up location.”
El Paso: Juris and Molly are semi-retired and have lived in El Paso for the last 3 years and are raising 2 teenagers.
Dallas: Phil and Meghan. They rock. They’ve given up the corporate job lifestyle to work in the nonprofit sector as legal aid advocates and are very passionate about their beliefs and ideals.
San Antonio: Lorna and her two teenage daughters Allison and Ashley. What a vibrant household! Lorna used to live in Europe and speaks Italian and some French. They previously lived in Renton, WA before moving to San Antonio 5 years ago.
Houston: Emma! Emma spent most of her childhood growing up in Portland and now goes to school in Massachusettes. But what is most incredible is that she is currently assisting author Douglas Brinkley on his new book about Hurricane Katrina. It should be published in April.
Below: Emma (on the right) and her friend Janell, who is also a Couchsurfing member. We stayed up watching The Birdcage.
New Orleans: Alison and Sean were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and ended up living in the Portland, OR area for the past few months because of their family connections and just recently returned to the city where they both went to college. Because we were having a late night at the club “One Eye Jack” in the French Quarter, I actually ended up staying with their friend Jack, who lives very close to all the action. Below: Sean, Alison and Jack.
Atlanta: Yale, who should have his own sitcom! He has a great pad in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, which is close to all the best restaurants, bars, independent movie theaters and nightlife. He lives with a bunch of fellow bachelors playing music, watching movies, playing video games, hanging out, going out and just generally having lots of fun. And I have to give him the props for allowing me to use his laptop to update my blog. I felt like I was in a glorified episode of Seinfeld, there were so many people coming and going and it was so thoroughly entertaining.
Atlanta: I also stayed with Danielle, currently working for the government and trying to decide on her next move in life–I say to go ahead and go to school in New York! She also lived in a really cool area of the city and I was able to go out and meet her friends over drinks at a sweet little Pan-Mex restaurant and bar. Below are Ben (who once drove all the way down to Panama with his buddy) and Danielle.
Charlotte: Terri and Brian. Too cool, way cool, I had the best time just hanging out til the wee hours of the morning talking bout’ whateva. Southern Hospitality fo sure!
I stayed in little homes and big homes out in the suburbs, in high rise luxury condo buildings with valet parking and a 24 hour concierge, so apartment lofts and homes with my own room and bathroom. I’ve slept on air mattresses, floors, separate queen beds, single beds and couches of all shapes and sizes.
I’d have to say that the best part about couchsurfing and staying in stranger’s houses is not just about the money you save. It’s about the people you meet. It blows me away when I meet my hosts and hostesses. So many stories, so many thoughts and ideas about the world. I get the inside scoop on things to do, places to see and restaurants to eat at. I also get to find out about local issues and learn about the things that are important to them. Though we may come from different backgrounds and cultures and upbringings, in all the people I’ve come to know and befriend through Couchsurfing and Globalfreeloaders, we all share the same kindred spirit of this travel exchange.
Couchsurfing is not for everyone, and it takes a different kind of wiring to consider this form of sleeping arrangement. And I’ll be the first to admit that it is nice to get your own hotel room and just vege out for a night or two and spend some alone time to read or write or waste your time in front of the television. But for getting out and truly meeting people and staying with them, couchsurfing is a tremendous way of travel. One guy, Steve Savage, has been doing it for over 2 years and is now currently in Europe traveling in this fashion. I probably couldn’t go for that long, but never say never, I have not yet had one bad experience couchsurfing and look forward to my text trip domestic or abroad when I can do this again.
Check it out! And you can find my couchsurfing profile by searching under ‘Portland, OR.’ Til my next opportune internet time, enjoy!