The vast majority of us who live for travel, long for it all those months between trips. For most people it’s not possible to travel year-round; for others, they simply don’t want to be on the move constantly. And yet that yearning for the richness of life on the road does not relent.
How then, can we nurse from the teat of the Travel Goddess without leaving our daily lives behind?
Years ago I visited Malta with my then-boyfriend, the olive farmer from France. One evening we arrived on the island of Gozo, boarded an oh-so-Maltese, very kitsch bus which took us into the foreign country side. We walked along the broken road under a cold, drizzling night sky until we came to what we thought must be our accommodation for the night: what looked to be a centuries-old stable converted to a rambling, weathered home. Hesitantly, we knocked on the door.
A short, tubby man answered the door. “Yes?” he asked.
“Mario? We’re your couchsurfers…?” I put forth. I wasn’t 100% certain this was the correct house.
“Yes, of course! Please, come in!”
The door opened and let out a flood of warm yellow light. Mario led us to the kitchen and before we’d even put down our bags, asked “Dinner is almost ready. Would you like something to drink? Beer? Wine? Liquor?”
We were soon settled at the table with a dinner, a bottle of wine, and excellent company.
“I always cook for my couchsurfers,” Mario explained. “The only meals I miss are lunches, because I’m working. But most of my guests are out exploring at that hour anyway.” The man hosted between 1 and 4 couchsurfers nearly every day of the year.
In the three nights that we stayed with Mario we shared hours upon hours of conversation covering everything under the sun. For a many that was tucked away on a 67 square kilometer island, he was remarkably knowledgable. Perhaps one of the most well-studied men I’d ever met.
“What made you decide to be a couchsurfing host?” I asked.
“I used to travel a lot, but now I prefer to stay home and have the travelers come to me.”
At the time I thought that sounded sweet, but rather dull. Why give up traveling? I couldn’t comprehend how hosting travelers could be as interesting. I thought, “Perhaps when I’m 80 and travel really is a hassle, I’ll do the same.”
It’s been six years since that trip. I now find myself in a tiny town that is almost like an island in how far removed it is from mainland Mexico. And what am I doing, but hosting, and feeding travelers in my own, small home. I can’t say my motivation is as pure as Mario’s (we host for a small charge on Airbnb, whereas he hosted for free via Couchsurfing), but the outcome seems to be the same.
Is it like traveling? Does it have the thrill of the open road and adventures unknown? Not at all. But it is extremely fulfilling, a lot less expensive, and much less of a pain-in-the-ass than living out of a backpack, pissing in a squat toilet, and having to search for a new place to sleep every few nights.
Since December, Noel and I have hosted about 30 people hailing from the United States, Canada, Argentina, Sweden, Mexico, Slovenia, and Germany. We registered on Airbnb because we needed the income to pay rent – I wasn’t really thinking much about what kinds of guests we’d have. As it turns out, they were all lovely people, and the vast majority of them I’d be very happy to see again. A handful of them I even now count as friends that I hope to share future moments with.
The first couple we had was in Zihuatanejo. Serena and John, a Kiwi-Irish couple, had arrived in the middle of their 3+ year trip around the world making mini documentaries of people doing powerful work to help others within their community. Enough said. We loved them immediately. I have since taken two of Sirena’s online courses, both related to this website.
Another couple was a British Osteopath and an Australian beer master. They booked three nights with us and stayed for a week, only leaving to make room for my mother who had arrived. With Chelena and Liam we had an absolute ball cooking, eating, drinking mezcal, exploring markets, and making merry with Dia de los Muertos dancers in Oaxaca.
Just yesterday we bid adieu to Heather and Chris. This 60-year old couple hopped on their bikes in Quesnel, British Columbia two weeks after they retired and rode over a period of eight months all the way down through the Baja Peninsula. “I don’t think of it as an big adventure,” said Heather. “To me it’s just another bike ride.”
Check out their blog: www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/quesnelbikers2014
Hosting other travelers – whether in your spare room on Airbnb, or on your living room floor with Couchsurfing – is in incredible way to get the flavor of travel without leaving home. In the end, the richest part of travel is always the people we meet.