Tag Archives: couchsurfing

CouchSurfing Interview #5 – Becky


Name: Becky Sorensen
Age: 23
Birth City: Chicago, IL
Current City: Houston, TX

How did you first hear about couch surfing?

I actually got into couch surfing from my high school social studies teacher. He has traveled all over the world cheaply and inspired me a great deal to do traveling of my own. During high school, I took his geography class, and then his AP geography class and was also a really active member of his geography club, which took trips to interesting surrounding areas (usually a neighborhood in downtown Chicago) so we could learn about them (he is an encyclopedia of Chicago knowledge) and then…would set us loose. Luckily for us (and him) our parents never found out that he set us loose in Chicago to develop our own street smarts and discover things for ourselves, but without these experiences, I am SURE I never would have had the guts to travel alone.

And what made you decide to join?

I had just signed up to go to a summer opera training program in Belgium and wanted to take the opportunity to travel afterwards, it being my first time abroad, and I was broke. Honestly, it was originally purely a financial decision.

What was your first couch surfing experience like?

After my program in Belgium ended, I went to Amsterdam with a friend. I had found hosts through CS weeks before, but much to my dismay, several of them canceled at the last-minute due to travels of their own and I found myself stranded. Although I’m always careful to really check out potential hosts and make sure they look legit, at this point I was desperate. I sent a multitude of requests to people in all different European countries, hoping somebody would agree to host me. Sure enough, this guy from Paris said he had room for me for one night, before he had agreed to host other surfers. Without thinking about it, I got on a train to Paris. Laurent met me at the train station and led me back to his place to drop my stuff. We then grabbed food and walked around Paris for a few hours. It was a dream come true for me to be there, and he made a great tour guide. The next day he took me to a CS event so I could find a new host, but Laurent and I hung out pretty much every night I was in Paris, even weeks later after I had traveled a bit and came back. AND although this was 2 1/2 years ago, him and I are still great friends and have been e-mailing back and forth ever since. He is surely the most interesting and inspiring person I have ever met and…to think it was all a happy accident!

What do you do for a living and how do you balance work and hosting?

I moved to Houston in August to pursue my master’s degree in Vocal Performance at Rice University. So yeah…basically I’m an opera singer. I had never hosted before moving to Houston actually…I had wanted to, but my roommates in Chicago weren’t comfortable with it. I participated in other ways, meeting travelers for coffee, a meal, drinks, a tour around town. I found my roommates in Houston through the Houston couchsurfing community and am so thrilled to have CS-friendly roommates! Unfortunately however, grad school is the busiest environment I’ve ever been in, and my roommate both work full time and go to school also so…we don’t have time to host as much as we’d like, and when we do, I’m afraid we’re not extremely entertaining. BUT, hosting is a good escape for me. I was SUPER overwhelmed with Brandon came to stay, but he was so awesome that I had to find ways to be more efficient in my work so that I could hang out with him! It’s not easy at the moment, but it’s still a really important part of my life, so I’m going to host as much as possible!

What’s your best couch surfing memory?

Wow…so hard to narrow this down! I would have to say that Paris is the most CS-active city I’ve visited, and I had some truly amazing experiences there. I think it was my second or third night in Paris, after I had found another host, that Laurent, his 2 Brazilian surfers, and my host went to a free concert where a huge group of CS-ers met up. Later that evening, and several beverages later, we ended up down by the Seine and stumbled upon a large circle of people, playing Brazillian music and doing Capoeira. Obviously, the Brazilian girls we were with went crazy and after watching on the sidelines for a bit, they pulled me into the intimate main circle and tried to quickly teach me the songs they were singing (so far…my Portuguese is non-existent). I’m not sure exactly what it was about the experience, but it is truly one of my most cherished memories from the trip. I remember feeling so vibrantly alive and happy and free.

Tell me one of your craziest couch surfing moments?

I am tempted to say something light, like the Polish lady who literally wouldn’t let me out of the house in the morning before eating an enormous breakfast but…

I have a scary CS story, and while I love CS with all of my heart and get so angry when people say things like, “you’re crazy” or “you’re going to get killed”, bad things happen and this one really could have been avoided. So…again in Paris, it was my second to last night in Europe and I had no plans and nobody to hang out with. So, I sent out a message on the Paris CS group and since I didn’t want to sit in a internet cafe all night, left my European cell number and told people to text me if they wanted to hang out. A guy from Brazil texted me and asked if I wanted to come hang out with him and his Russian couch surfer. That sounded interesting, so I went. He was pretty eccentric, but nothing seemed off. His Russian surfer was awesome and we hit it off. We went out that night, drank a lot, and since it was getting late and I was staying outside the city (the trains stop running early), this guy said I could crash on his couch. I got sleepy before everyone else and took a cab back to his place and fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up to find him on top of me and trying to kiss me. I punched him as hard as I could, and he crawled off and went to his room. I snuck out at sunrise. A few days later, his Russian surfer sent me a CS message, saying that he sexually assaulted her. She escaped unharmed, left him negative feedback, and he deleted his CS profile.

So, what I learned was…CHECK EVERYONE OUT! I actually never looked at his profile before he deleted it. That was stupid. So, hopefully others can learn from my mistake!

Anything else you’d like to add:

I’m just so glad to have met Brandon! My first semester of grad school has been rough. I’ve never doubted my chosen career so much, or my ability to succeed at it. Meeting someone who had the courage to quit his job, sell his house, and get out in the world to figure it all out was so inspiring to me. I don’t know if I talked to Brandon about this, but I’ve been debating what to do with myself this summer, since normally singers at my stage go to these big summer festivals, but I don’t really feel like it. So, I’m excited to announce that I’m planning to spend my entire summer in Europe taking lessons with my Belgian voice teacher, working on my languages, couchsurfing, collecting stories, and smiling a lot. I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it, but I’m just going to book the flight and trust that I’ll figure it out.

CouchSurfing Interview #3 – Nate

Earlier this week I picked up my new dSLR which I’m absolutely in love with and I had to play with the video features so I made Nate do a video interview. Nate is my current host in Austin and I was originally supposed to stay here for 3 days but while looking for an apartment I came across some shady people. So Nate just told me I could stay here for a few weeks and once he’s done school he’ll join me on the road as I head west since he was planning on hitch hiking out that way for his winter break. The interview is a bit short because we had another couch surfing staying with us this weekend and he showed up right after we got through the first couple questions.

I hope you enjoyed the video interview, I’m still playing around with the camera and hope to do some more interviews as I go along. Thanks to Nate for being a Guinea Pig and if you’re ever down in Austin you can find him on Couch Surfing or follow him on twitter.

Have a great day,

-B

CouchSurfing Interview #2 – Francois & Jessica

Today I’m really happy to bring you an interview with Francois and Jessica who originally introduced me to Couch Surfing earlier this year.

Name: Francois & Jessica
Age: 28 and 29
Born in: France
Lives in: Toronto, ON

B: How did you first hear about couch surfing?

Jessica’s brother couchsurfed in Montreal 4 years ago and told Jessica about it.

B: And what made you decide to join?

Jessica forced me to host people because she likes to try new stuff every day. I was not like that at that time ;)

B: What was your first CS experience like?

First time was awkwardly not that bizarre and super friendly. We hosted two greek guys driving through Europe together. They were really comfortable with us, we spent the unique evening with them playing guitar, boardgames, eating some french dinner and they even visited Paris during night time by themselves.

Basically, after this experience, we wanted to experience the other way around: couch surfing. So Jessica, (yes she’s responsible for every cool stuff happening in my life) decided to move to Toronto. That’s when we realized how amazing was the Couchsurfing community. We’ve been hosted by two couchsurfers in Toronto. One is now travelling all around the world for one year and the other became our best friend and we see each other every weekend.

B: What do you do for a living and how do you balance work and hosting?

I’m a Web Developer and Jessica splits her time between DayCare Teacher and taking care of couchsurfers.

I am so pleased to come back home some evenings and chat with upcoming friends. Basically, Jessica acts as a tremendous guide week days and I’m enjoying them evenings and weekends.

B: What’s your best CS memories?

For me, it was in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. We had walked for 17km under the rain and were completely soaked. On our way back, I was almost naked in the car and Jessica only wearing underwear. Heather, our couchsurfer, was waiting for us at her house and had cooked some fresh salmon fished that morning. We ate all of it together with a hot tea and laughed so much about that crazy day.

For Jessica, it was in Toronto when we met our second couchsurfer Jeewaka. Two minutes after we came in, we already felt at home and Cristina, another couchsurfer at the same time, was cooking a spanish omelette…

B: Tell me one of your craziest CS moments?

One word: Mustafa, our turkish couchsurfer we hosted for a week. Here’s his story in short: After spending 8 years in Buffalo, US, he wanted to exchange his working permit against a student permit to continue his PhD. At the US border, customs forbid him to go back home and told him that they have to check his background before. After 3 months in Canada, he decided to go back in Turkey and we were the last couchsurfers to host him before taking off.
We really loved him. He is smart, funny and kind. We had so much fun while he was there that we felt a big hole after he left. We are definitely going to see him in

B: Anything else you’d like to add:

I know lots of people who are already doing some couchsurfing without knowing it when they host a friend of a friend. They just need to extend a little bit their circles.

And if I could add one last thing: Couchsurfing is about people

Couch Surfing Interview #1

As I mentioned in my previous post (Couch Surfing Interviews) here is the first in the new series of interviews with my former Couch Surfing hosts. Lee hosted me back in early October during the Richmond Couch Crash after we met at the opening night party he threw at his house. He is also fairly new to Couch Surfing but he quickly became involved in the Richmond community and did a great job helping out organizing the first Richmond couch crash. I could go on and on about him but I won’t so I hope you enjoy the first CS Host interview.

Name: Lee
Age: 35
Born in: Philadelphia
Currently Resides in: Richmond

B: How’d you first hear about couch surfing?
A friend of mine here in Richmond told me about it. It sounded like a great idea, but it still took me maybe a year to sign up.

B: And what made you decide to join?
Partly, it was a long-term decision, to have a network upon which to draw on for a place to crash or a friendly face, be it in the US or abroad. But, short-term, it seemed like a good way to bring the world to my door and into my house and meet interesting people whom I would not ordinarily meet.

B: What was your first cs experience like?
The first time I hosted, it was three girls from Germany who were fleeing an advancing hurricane on the Virginia coast, were heading inland and needed a last-minute place to stay. We ended up hanging out with a friend of mine, making ersatz pizzas and losing power as the storm raged outside and trees fell around the neighborhood.

B: What do you do for a living and how do you balance work and hosting?
I work from home, helping to run a small family publishing and gaming business. The bigger obstacle for me has been balancing hosting with traveling to conferences for work and therefore not being at home, or just having a variety of evening commitments to work around. Generally when I’m at home and can host, it’s at a time when I can spare a few hours to talk or show someone the city.

B: What’s your best couch surfing memory?
I’m still a bit new so I hope this becomes a long list. I’d say it was very rewarding to be part of the small group of people in the Richmond CS community who recently pulled together the city’s first Couch Crash around the annual Folk Festival. It’s nice to be able to show a bunch of non-natives (be they from a few miles or a few thousand miles away) what’s cool about your hometown and, in the process, build a more cosmopolitan community around one’s self and one’s home.

B: Tell me one of your craziest CS moments?
Having only hosted and not yet surfed, I’m probably a little short of crazy CS moments at this point. However, when you get an e-mail from someone and a few hours later you’re hosting a family of four you’ve never met as if they were long-lost relatives, it seems a bit crazy. But cool. And I suppose that’s the essence of CouchSurfing.

B: Anything else you’d like to add:
When people hear about CS, a not-uncommon first reaction is something like, “Aren’t you afraid of letting strangers into your house?!” And while there may be some reservation, I think CouchSurfing as an organization does a good job providing a platform and a community that you can trust. I assume that the incidence of bad things happening is very, very small and, at least, anecdotally that seems to be true when talking to people who’ve traveled and hosted. And the upside is quite high: meeting cool people with often amazing stories and life experiences to share.

A perfect weekend in Houston

Before leaving New Orleans everyone I spoke to about my next stop had nothing good to say about Houston and many people told me to skip it and go straight to Austin. Luckily I didn’t listen to any of them because I know that it’s really the people who make your experience not the actual city. In Houston I found an amazing couch surfing host in a Rice University Masters student originally from Chicago. Becky was in her first year of a Masters in Opera studies which only accepts 36 students a year and is a world-renowned opera program. I also happened to come on the perfect weekend to experience all of what Rice U and Houston has to offer.

The night I arrived was the opening night of Così fan tutte
by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart and Becky was kind enough to get me a ticket. This was my first time going to an opera and considering I had just drove close to 7 hours from New Orleans to Houston that day I was pretty tired before the show so parts of the first act was a real battle to keep my eyes open. I really enjoyed the show, the singing was incredible and it was great new experience even if the story was a bit odd. After the show we went out with a bunch of people from the program to a nice bar called the Gingerman in the Rice Village and it was interesting to listen to them critic their own work.

The next day I went out for lunch with Becky and as you can imagine being a Masters student she had a lot of work to do so I had her drop me off in the Rice village while she went to the library for a few hours. The night before I met one of her friends, Julia, who was nice enough to come meet up with me and show me around campus.

As we were walking around chatting we passed the Rice stadium which actually hosted Super Bowl VIII back in 1974 and there was a Rice Owls college football game going on. After halftime Rice students can get in free and since it was pretty empty the security let me too for free. This was my first college football game and from what I’ve heard in other cities they are usually crazy but apparently Rice doesn’t have the best team so the place was less than 1/2 full. The Owls were playing UTEP Miners and were losing when we got there. Over the last quarter they came back and scored two touch downs back to back so I guess I just happen to catch the best part of the game.


Later that night I was invited to join Becky to go see the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra which is made up of mostly Masters Music students and a few really talented undergrads. They played Dvorak Symphony No 8 in G Major, Op. 88; Bartók Dance Suite; and Respighi Pines of Rome which had this dramatic epic ending. I’ve always enjoyed going to listen to live music but rarely go to the symphony back home.


On my drive into Houston I was flipping through the local radio stations and I heard an ad for the Houston Aeros vs the Toronto Marlies game on Sunday afternoon. I’m not much of a sports fan and have only seen one minor league hockey game in my life but after being away from home for 3 months something drew me in. I posted on the Houston couch surfing board about the game but got no response (shocking, I know) and unfortunately all the people who I met were either working or at school so I decided to just go by myself. The tickets were only $16 and I was directly behind the Aeros net so I could watch as the Marlies kicked some ass. Within the first minute of play the Marlies got a penalty and the Aeros scored their first goal and

I started wondering if this was going to be like a Leafs game. Then all of a sudden they really started playing and just absolutely dominated for the rest of the game. After the second period some Aeros fans left so I went down the fourth row and watched the last period from 10 feet away. Here’s a little highlight reel from the last period I shot once I moved down to the better seats.

On Sunday night one of Becky’s roommates was going to see his little brothers band at a bar called Scout bar so decided to tag along. I didn’t really know what to expect was really amazed watching his brother absolutely murder some solos. His band is called The Last Ones and they have some tunes you can check out on their Facebook page.

As you can see it was a jam-packed weekend of fun with some really amazing people who I hope to see again in the future so no matter what other people say about a city it doesn’t matter. That’s really the best thing about couch surfing, you can be anywhere but as long as you have a good host and meet cool people then you’ll have a good time.

-B

A night in Montgomery, Alabama

On my way over to New Orleans from Savannah I decided to break up the drive with a quick stop over in Montgomery, Alabama. Since I was only staying for one night and it was a Wednesday I didn’t expect to see or do much but luckily I found a wicked Couch Surfing host who showed me around.

When I first arrived in Montgomery Brian was still at work so I decided to drive around and try to see some of the downtown riverfront area. I parked down near the water and walked over to the river front and it was completely dead, not a single person around anywhere. It was really creepy but also very pretty so after snapping a few pictures I went back to explore the streets. On the corner across from where I parked was a hotel with a nice patio outside and a guy playing some live music. I still continued on another block before realizing all the looks I was getting by people driving by and then noticed I was the only white person around for as far as I could see. I quickly made my way back to the patio for a cold $2 pint and listened to the guy jam away until Brian got off from work.


It’s always interesting when you first meet a new host because you never really know what to expect but Brian was really nice as soon as I got there. We sat around and shared some stories and man did he have some mind blowing ones. Once we got hungry he took me on a little driving tour of the area and we went to the El Rey Burrito Lounge which was really good. We had a craft microbrew from NOLA that was really good and I was absolutely stuffed after eating half of my meal.

After dinner we went for a walk through a really nice past this MASSIVE church and I heard some more of Brian life story which was pretty crazy and yet he really seemed to have a positive outlook on it. Then he took me out to the east end, I think, to a really cool bar called the Tipping Point. The owner was really knowledgable about all the different beers and he tries to bring in as many local brews as he can. Since it was early on in the night there was no one there but we sat around and chatted with the locals and the owner for a bit before heading on to the next bar.

The next place he took me was called the Santa Barbara Trading Company and they have an open mic every week so we went to go check it out. Brian is an amazing Sax player and he got up and accompanied a few people and it was really great. I recorded a few songs on my phone but even thought it was pretty empty in the bar you still hear a lot of background noise.

The next morning Brian had to go to work and I had to drag my hungover ass into my car and start driving down to New Orleans. Hopefully I’ll have some more time later this afternoon to write up a full recap on the past week in the Big Easy.

-B

R&R in Savannah, Georgia

Almost immediately after getting out of my car on Bay street in downtown Savannah I had a great feeling about the city. I arrived just after noon on a beautiful sunny Thursday with Franzi, my traveling companion and we met Buddy our host down on Broughton street. Within a few minutes he unleashed a surprise that made me realize why I had a good feeling about this town, you can drink anywhere as long as your beer is in a take away cup. So the three of us got a pint of a local brew called Moon River to go and Buddy took us on a walking tour of the downtown core. Later in the afternoon Buddy had to go off to school so Franzi and I decided to take a drive to Tybee Island. By the time we got there is was about an hour before sundown so we had some great lighting and played around taking pictures for a while.


Earlier Buddy had recommended a restaurant on the island called the Crab Shack which had a great atmosphere, a nice view and some Low Country Boil (Potatoes, Sausage, Corn and Shrimp).

The next morning Franzi headed off to Florida and Buddy and I spent the afternoon back at Tybee Island Pier fishing. Well Buddy was fishing while I polished off a few cans of PBR and soaked in some sun. For some reason at some point over the last 10-15 years I’ve developed an odd moral opposition to sport fishing so I didn’t do any fishing. Unfortunately for Buddy he didn’t get to do much fishing either because all that was biting down there for him was stingrays, which are edible but they usually don’t keep.


Somehow I lucked out and the weather in Savannah was perfect while I was there and on Saturday we decided to take Buddy’s Hang drums out to the park and play for a while. Now this is an instrument I’ve never heard of or seen in my life so if you’re going to check out any link on my blog take a few minutes and check this thing out. I’d try to explain it here but I’d probably butcher it so check out the info on wikipedia and the embedded video below. I really wasn’t any good at it but it was still a lot of fun to play, we decided to take them down to city market to try busking but after a quick chat with a cop it was clear that wasn’t a good idea without the proper permit.

Later that night we headed back downtown to explore the night life of Savannah with some of Buddy’s friends which started out like a night back home with my friends in Toronto. The only difference is you can take your beer with you so it’s a lot easier to bar hop all night. At some point just after midnight we were sitting at a table and chairs in front of a bar and some girl from Wisconsin and a guy come out of the bar and she stumbles up to me and says something about Kansas losing. I had no idea what she was talking about so I said so and all of a sudden she starts yelling “FUCK YOU” in my face and I just laughed and said “Sorry, I’m from Canada”. This made her laugh and she starts wobbling around and then proceeds to slowly and sloppily back up and sit on the lap of one of the guys we are with. And he clearly just don’t want anything to do with this drunken mess so he starts pushing her off of him and then she starts yelling at him, “Why are you pushing me” to which he quickly responds, “I don’t want you rubbing your *&^%$# on my leg”. And he gets up and starts walking around but then out of no where she comes flying and jumps up and smacks him in the back of the head hard twice. So the guy turns around to see this little drunk mad girl freaking out and takes his full pint of beer and unleashes it right in her face and walks away. Now the guy with her who hasn’t done a thing the whole time grabs her and pulls her back while the rest of us are standing staring a bit in shock and also trying so hard not to laugh. It looked like that sobered her up a bit and then she started yelling at the rest of us so we just decided to walk away. So yeah, that happened and then the rest of the night pretty much continued on like nothing happened other than us breaking out into laughter randomly while thinking about it.

The next few days I spent relaxing and we ended up going fishing a lot because the weather was so nice. Everyday, all day, all he would catch was stingrays and a few tiny fish that weren’t big enough to eat. On the last day I bought a crab trap to try to catch some blue crabs for dinner but all I caught in 7 or 8 hours was an Octopus and one baby crab that was too small to eat. In that same period Buddy managed to pull up 13 – 14 stingrays.


Even though we went out there every day with full intentions of catching some dinner we just ended up spending more money on bait and new gear then dinner would have cost at the crab shack but it was fun hanging out there. A couple of night we had some amazing sunsets down at the pier.


It was a great few days of R&R after moving from city to city every couple of days and I was lucky to meet a wicked host who’s around my age and has traveled for the past 9 years. It was cool hearing all of his stories from his travels and inspired me to continue on this path where ever it takes me. If you’re every down in the South get in touch with Buddy, you’re guaranteed to have some fun and see one beautiful city. You’ll also get to meet his two wicked birds, Baxter and Buddha.

-B

Taking a vacation while traveling

After two months, 8000+ km, 5 provinces, 12 states and so many cities of traveling it was nice to take a few days of vacation just sitting on the beach and doing nothing. When we left Wilmington, NC we drove to Folly Beach on Outer James Island for a few hours of sun and water. I can’t remember the last time on this trip where I truly sat down and did nothing for a few hours, I’ve been constantly exploring cities or moving from place to place.

Continue reading

Too few days in PEI

After the whirlwind weekend in and around Halifax I was ready to get back on the road and get back to my normal traveling routine. The drive to Charlottetown was a nice stretch through the rest of Nova Scotia and then a quick 75 minute Ferry ride over to the island. Unfortunately I had put the wrong city or address in the GPS when I got off the boat so I started going in the wrong direction but realized pretty quickly and fixed it. For some reason the GPS decided to take me on the most random route back to where I needed including a “highway” that was actually just a dirty road wide enough for one car. Along that nice “highway” someone came flying out of a drive and didn’t see me so I had to swerve around the edge of their bumper and managed to stay on the road instead of a ditch. Luckily I was born with cat like reflexes, well at least when a car comes flying out of nowhere at me, don’t start doing safety falls around me, I might not catch you every time. Continue reading

Laying In The Grass Odell Park

5 Days in Fredericton, New Brunswick

I arrived in Fredericton last Tuesday after driving around 500km from L’Islet and it was one of my favourite drives I’ve done in a long time. Once I got into New Brunswick the roads went from crappy cracked bump roads to nice wide open smooth roads and the speed limit went up to 110 km/h. To top it all off the weather was perfect and I had a great selection of tunes on the iPhone blasting the whole way down.

Not long after I stopped for lunch in Edmunston I passed a sign for Grand Falls and Gorge so I took a quick detour to see what that was all about.

Grand Falls, NB

Continue reading