Surfing the World Wide Couch: The Benefits of Urban Camping (Plus: Sweaty Tango) 36 Comments
Dogs get it. (Photo: Fran-cis-ca)
The last time I landed in London, I crashed with a friend on his sister’s floor. It rocked.
It was cheaper than a hotel, of course, but that’s not why I did it.
I wanted the comforting and fun experience of “home” through someone else’s culture and life. Even the Four Seasons, as much as I like it, can’t provide this.
Fortunately, you don’t need a friend in every country to experience “home” around the world. There are thousands of couch surfers and so-called “urban camping” hosts who are eagerly waiting to give you a taste of their cultures and private homes for free. From the New York Times…
In an age of cheap airfares and porous borders, where nearly every corner of the earth, from Bulgaria to Bhutan, is open for tourism, the home is the final frontier, the last authentic experience. Instead of being in some sanitized hotel in Hanoi, said Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine, “if I couch surf I could be on some cool ex-pat’s or local’s sofa.” He added: “I’ve already leapfrogged barriers. It would take weeks under ordinary circumstances to get in someone’s home.”
He said the process of surfing was like the lottery. “Anything can happen: the glamour and the appeal are the stories you hear, the coming of age stories, the travel stories,” he said. Hosts get to travel without leaving home, through the surfers in their living rooms. “Who are they and what makes them that way?” Mr. Fenton continued, “and who are you? Because you get to compare and contrast yourself with these other selves every day in your own living room.”
For constant surfers, the couch becomes a new sort of home, redefining, in many ways, their own ideas about what a home really is.
Experiential travel isn’t about places, it’s about people. About exploring different interpretations of the human experience: what’s important and what isn’t, what can wait and what can’t, what’s beautiful and what isn’t, etc.
That is culture, not some old building the locals have never visited. Get out of shrine hopping and into the lives of those around you. The experience will be remembered far longer than any sightseeing slideshow.
Un abrazo desde Jose Ignacio!
Want to sweat? Try dancing tango in 100-degree heat at a house party in Uruguay. One partner, Nati, and I each went through 2 liters of water in a 30-minute session. Dig the dress shoes with the Baywatch shorts? Niiiice. This was the first time we had ever danced together.
Related resources and links:
The Top-10 Destinations for Independent Travelers (This is very close to my personal list)
Life Nomadic: A Blog of Two Who Sold Everything and are Traveling the World
Posted on January 13th, 2008