As I exited the grocery store, I was greeted with a crisp breeze. The sun had set and the summer air had become chill while I was walking around the store, exploring what this large Co-op had to offer. Continuing to pass the hours until David picked me up, I sat down on the bench in front of the shop and stared at environment around me. I opened my bag, remembering the water and croissant that I had been blessed with as I walked passed a bakery. I ate the croissant with some cheese, carrots and chocolate that Ashkan had gifted me with before he continued his journey to catch his flight to Europe.
Sitting on the bench overlooking the street that ran underneath the freeway, I watched the people driving by me in their own enclosed bubble of the world, rushing to invisible destinations. The people walking out of the store also seemed to be rushing passed, focused on getting to their cars with as little eye contact as possible. Others walked by on the sidewalk, dressed to the nines as they made their way to the bars and nightclubs, reminding me that it was a Friday night.
As I sat a man walked by, stopped, and looked at me. Something about the way he carried himself told me that he wasn’t a part of the world that I was watching rush by me. A tall, large frame, layers of clean, name brand clothing and a pair of clean brand-named shoes that carried him in a slow walk. He asked if he could sit on the bench near me and began to talk. Dimitrius had been living on the streets of San Francisco since he was 13, always doing what he needed to do to get by.”Life is hard, you gotta do what it takes.” I asked him how he lived, where he lived. Did he dumpster dive, live in a tent? He scoffed, “Nah I’m not that type of homeless.” I must have looked confused so he began to explain the different type of homeless living on the streets. Some slept on cardboard on the street, in tents, in alleys and underneath doorways. They ate food from dumpsters and whatever handouts they could get. Others did some kind of work and coupled with some assistance from the state, they were able to get motel rooms and buy cheap food from fast food chains or supermarkets. He was of the latter. He told me that he had studied masonry at a trade school, that he wanted to look for work in the field, but it was hard. The way he was living now was easier. He told me how he sold marijuana and ecstasy on the side to make some money in his pocket. “I always have money in my pocket, there isn’t ever a day when I don’t have money in my pocket.” He began to tell me about the meaning of his name, then gave me a lot of facts about ancient Greece. He told me that he really loved History. I asked him if he had any visions for the future, if he wanted to continue living this way. “I don’t waste my time thinking of the future,” he told me, “I just live right now. I worry about what I need to do today. God has it figured out.”
Something changed in his eyes and he began to ask me questions about my life, how I had gotten there. When I told him that I was travelling, he made a comment I have heard many times before, “Oh wow, you must be rich to travel all this time.” I laughed and told him about my travels, the methods in which I travelled in. Now he was the one who looked confused. He told me he was a nice guy and always had a positive perspective on life, he didn’t get mad or angry, he always protected women, starting with his mother. He would look out for me while I was waiting for my friend. He shifted in his seat and offered to help me put some money in my pocket to help me get by. I thanked him, telling him I was fine and didn’t need any money. “What about food, what if you get hungry?” I pointed to the bag next to me and told him that I had a lot of food. “Okay, tell me this. What would you do if your friend just didn’t show up today? Where would you sleep?” I told him that I would make that decision when the time came. He looked flustered and began to tell me that it just wasn’t possible for a girl like me to live on the streets, I need to have money to have a place to stay. I told him that it would be okay, that I would find my way. He paused, looking at me with a look that told me he was trying to understand me but couldn’t, then he stood up. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, I’m going to go try to make some money. I’ll come back in a little while to make sure you’re okay. God Bless you.” Holding a children’s sippy-cup filled with beer in his left hand, he stared at the street behind us and began walking away with his slow, deliberate walk.
I continued observing the passerby’s from the bench, then had an urge to juggle. I stood barefoot in front of the now closed grocery store juggling underneath the bright street lights. The moon was almost full but it was difficult to feel it in the middle of the city. After some time a woman riding a children’s bicycle without a seat rode passed me. A few moments went by and she rode by again, this time stopping in front of me, balancing herself on the pedals of her bicycle and her body upright. Her small frame, dressed for the cold yet designed for a night working on the streets, was motionless as she watched, as if someone was holding her by a string on those small pedals. I stopped juggling and with an amused look, she asked me if I had a cigarette. She had a gentleness to her and eyes that told a deep story. “No I don’t sorry… hey what happened to your bicycle seat?” She looked down, laughed and said, “Ah, someone stole it a little while back… but it’s no big deal. They must have needed it more than I did.”
At that, she smiled, “Well, I’ve gotta go. God Bless you sister” Standing up on her pedals, she rode away with the speed and agility of a child.
But if you’ve taken the time to read this post, you must feel a desire to overcome these barriers.
Recently, I have been faced with so many different facets of myself. Being outside of my comfort zone, there is not much for me to fall back and distract myself with. There have been times I have faced a blockade of thoughts and emotions that cause me to ask, ‘What the hell am I doing?!’ Many other times, I am over washed with a huge wave of gratitude and appreciation for life and the things that the universe has brought me, gently saying, ‘I don’t know what I am doing, and that’s okay.’
In the times when I am feeling overwhelmed, anxious, afraid and self conscious, my ego is raging. Worrying about what others are thinking about me, only seeing the negative things that might be present, and over-analyzing every single thing I do or say, as if they have a surreal impact on the lives of everyone that I meet. When my ego is raging, I can only see that the world revolves around me and I am constantly worrying about the reaction that my actions may have caused in another. Nonetheless, the reality is that I am only a speck on the earth. My perspective on the world is important, no doubt. I am a valuable part of the world, and I do make an impact on people. BUT my perspective is not the only perspective, my impact is not the great impact in the lives of others.
A state of sublimity occurs within us when the ego is not active, but rather it is has been suppressed by an overwhelming desire to give love and positivity to the ones around. No longer overcome with worry about how our decisions are making others feel, we are able to appreciate what we do have. Because of the fact that the ego is no longer controlling every action, we are vulnerable. This vulnerability allows the beauty in the world to unfold before us. Vulnerability means having trust in others, but mostly in ourselves. Because when we are vulnerable, we trust that no matter the consequences of our actions, we will respond in a way that will provoke growth and longevity.
We can all think of a time when we felt that we were impacting another, but is it so necessary to go into all of our interactions hoping for impactfulness? Is it not enough to only follow our hearts and speak and act from our soul? By being an open human being, by letting down the walls of insecurity and fear, we give others the opportunity to do the same. The energy that we harness within ourselves is completely visible by other beings. It is clear when we are stressed, when we are nervous, when we are anxious, when are scared, when we are holding ourselves back, etc. And it is even clearer when we are open, focused on nothing but putting our energy into the present moment. This specific energy attracts others like no other. It creates an open wavelength for others to surf on and to gain strength from. The strength to overcome the ego and be completely present in nothing but the present may not come easily (it was quite difficult for me most of my life, and is still an obstacle in my life now) and it is not completely overnight, but when we stop focusing on overcoming anything, and put our energy on what is happening around us, the world opens up.
So often, we feel like when we achieve a certain benchmark, we will be whole. You know the benchmarks… “When I get this job, those clothes, that amount of money, this new piece of technology, lose that amount of weight, go to that holiday destination, or get that attention from that special someone everything will be okay. I will be worth something.” But what about the person you are now? How about the intense amount of magnificence and love that is present within you now? The person who you dream of being, the person that will come into existence once that certain benchmark is reached, is alive in you at the exact moment that you are reading this. It is only when you stop focusing your energy on thinking about everything that has happened in the passed, could be happening now, or might happen in the future that you can begin to feel who you are. Focus on the music playing, close your eyes and feel the air against your skin, appreciate the sunlight-even if it is only there for 5 minutes, give all of your positive energy to whatever it is that you might be doing as if your most loved one would be on the receiving end, or just focus on your breathing. You will feel silence come alive while the gnawing thoughts in your mind begin to crumble away. And to quote a wise friend of mine… JUST…BE.
I am all about doing more with less. For me, it’s a natural impulse to want to see the world, and to do it as cheaply as possible. Before leaving home in July I was stressing myself out trying to figure out what we would manage for accommodations in the (very expensive) UK until my best friend told me about a hospitality network that puts would-be visitors in touch with like-minded people and their spare beds (or, more precisely, couches).
Set up in 2004, CouchSurfing has a simple concept: instead of paying a packet for holiday lodgings, you can enjoy free hospitality from one of the 3.6 million CouchSurfers registered in more than 250 countries.
Initially, I took a leery-eyed look around the website, wondering what exactly we were getting ourselves into. Staying in the homes of strangers? But my mom always told me not to talk to strangers! Nevertheless, the idea of meeting locals and seeing their city from their perspective really intrigued me, so I pushed my fears aside and created a profile, and started browsing for a host.
Supporting the system is a philosophy reaching well beyond free accommodation. ‘Surfers’ can bring their host gifts, cook dinner or offer to help around the house in return for a bed and expert local knowledge, but the most valuable reward most users seem to get from the site is the exchange of ideas and cultures, and the creation of international friendships. Couchsurfing not only connects travellers and hosts, but it also provides a platform for local people to meet by providing an individual landing page for every city. Through this landing page, you can post public messages that will be seen by everyone who comes to the landing page. You can post to meet others, attend local events, and ask for local advice, among other things.
Joining the network is straightforward. Sign up, create a profile, populate it with witticisms and photographs of yourself looking friendly and you’re ready to begin contacting members in places you want to visit. (Although, some hosts prefer that a friend who’s also a member vouches for you, so they know they’re not getting a psychopath.)
The basic house rules are easy and really boil down to common sense. Be a respectful guest (a gift often goes down well but is not obligatory), clean up after yourself and, if other surfers are coming to your area, and you are able to, reciprocate. Some people see CouchSurfing solely as a free place to sleep, but it has been very rare that I have stayed with a host and not given anything back to them. I don’t like to take from my host without giving anything back, I mean they are helping me, so it’s important to show gratitude in some way. I usually clean the house, will cook for them (which gives me a chance to practice my cooking!) and spend time getting to know them. I don’t think CouchSurfing is just about crashing on someone’s couch.
If you don’t have a phobia about staying with strangers, then CouchSurfing can be a great way to travel. In the past four months, I’ve slept on floors, couches, king sized beds, and on multiple occasions was given the invitation to stay in a beautiful flat by myself while my host travelled! Through this, I have made amazing friends in England, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, Germany, Croatia, and Turkey. I’ve also met so many other travellers who were passing through the same city as I am and made friends that I will visit in Argentina, Canada, New Zealand and Egypt. The experiences and connections I’ve had are priceless.
Since Couchsurfing has migrated to becoming a for-profit network, I am trying out another hospitality network called BeWelcome. This is a much smaller network, but is set up in a very user friendly way. It is currently most widely used in Europe, where CouchSurfing has a large user base in the U.S. I have yet to find a host using BeWelcome, but it is still worth mentioning since it is constantly growing.
CouchSurfing is not just about a free place to sleep, its about having a cultural exchange. It is not free, but it is cheaper and often more culturally interesting than hostels. So many incredible things have happened to me while travelling that have stemmed through CouchSurfing and for this, I will forever be grateful. Taking all of this into consideration, my personal opinion is that while CouchSurfing is greatly opening the doorways between people all over the world and building hospitality, it is also simultaneously deteriorating spontaneity.
To me, it’s a similar concept to relying on money while you travel. When you have money, you think that it is the only way to survive and work your life around the amount of money that you have; your vision of the world around you is limited. But when you don’t have money, you discover so many more ways to get everything you need. It can work the same with CouchSurfing. When you rely on it, you just go to places where you can find hosts. But if you remove yourself from the confines of the website and open yourself up to the world around you, you can find someone who offers you a place and anything else you need. Usually the things you need just find you and that is exactly what I love the most about spontaneity; it makes people meet at just the right time, and you can’t really get that if you are only looking within the confines of a website for a place to stay. I love to use CouchSurfing and BeWelcome to meet other travellers, attend events, and even to find hosts, but I try to keep my plans as flexible as possible for now and cary a tent with me.
With all that being said, I thoroughly hope you form your own opinion about hospitality networks and maybe even give them a try yourself! Check out the different websites, create a profile, host travellers, surf on someone’s couch for your next trip, meet others in your area, broaden your horizons. Travel more for less, and see what the world brings you.
|lyteandsound on Open heart, open mind, open…|
|eosbo on Hospitality Networks|
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