I hitchhiked through Europe as a broke college student and didn’t die
Liam Neeson didn’t have to save me
Are you the type of traveler that wants to see a city through a local’s perspective? Do you care less about the amenities that come with multi-starred hotels and more about authenticity? Are you be willing to push aside the façade of formality and climb over the barrier of banality found commonly in normal lodging accommodations in the service industry? Well, then my audacious adventurer, as you begin to make plans for your summer getaway in Europe or SE Asia, allow me to introduce you to the world of couch surfing.
In the past, a couch surfer was usually a friend who would jump around from one friend’s house to the next, sleeping on a couch (let’s be real, we still know a few of these). Today, the term’s meaning, according to Wiktionary, is ‘to use temporary overnight accommodations in one or more private residences, especially without cash payment.’ For me, it’s more than that.
Last summer I planned a hitchhiking and backpacking trip through Western Europe where I spent less than $2000 for an entire month including the plane tickets, but saw places and did things that most travelers would not have known to do. No tour guide would’ve let you know that in a suburb of Paris in the dead of night, through a tunnel where the opening music of the Halo video game series could’ve been recorded (I tried to sing it there, I admit), past some dense trees and a few hills, there would be a huge outdoor EDM party along the river Seine (similar thing happened in Berlin). Nor could they take you to a crazy modern art installation where some naked lady who seems like she’s totally on some hard shit crawls underneath what I presume to be an overturned bathtub from hell. Oh, and the food. You learn so much about food and drinks, whether they cook it themselves or they invite you to a local bar where the natives hang out. You, the outsider, become a native of the land you are adventuring, albeit for a few days.
So, a little bit on the hitchhiking part. I took about 1 or 2 local trains in France, and maybe a bus in Germany that took me to the airport when I left for the entirety of my journey which was in total more than 3000 miles (that’s about the width of the US coast to coast). I was able to save a metric fuckton of money (I spent $500 on the flight, $500 on helping stranded people, and $1000 on myself and my hosts for an entire month!) and do some amazing shit that I will never forget. I slept in tents by a castle and by a pebble beach in the south of France where women sunbathe nude during the day and fishermen let out their rods during the night.
There were times when I would be on a road sticking my thumb out with my cardboard sign for almost an entire day but those who picked me up were so amazingly kind and from all different walks of life. We shared our stories openly and frankly with one another. I think the conversations I had with the drivers who picked me up along the side of the road, highway or border control were legitimately the best parts of my trip. Except for the guy who tried to touch my penis. He can go fuck himself.
If I’ve somehow inspired you to perhaps, try these methods of travel yourself, just be sure to take everything I’ve had to say with some caution. Hitchhiking and couch surfing are not 100% safe activities (as with everything in this world). People have been murdered and kidnapped while doing these things, but it’s definitely better than it has been in the past. I’ve had to scale some walls and edge along a highway bridge overpass to get to some of my destinations. It’s definitely exhilarating but frightening at the same time. I’d would definitely do this all over again.
Couch surfing is not just a way to find a place to stay for free while you go about doing what you want (although this does happen). Most people host strangers because they believe in people, the good of the world, and they want to learn from you. It’s amazing to experience a world that is so uniquely different from your own. Conversely, many people, including myself, couch surf with a similar philosophy. We travel and visit new places, not just to sightsee, but also to live a life and immerse ourselves in a culture that we wouldn’t normally experience, if only for a few days.