If you’ve never met me, then walking into my kitchen and seeing an unknown man in polka-dot sundress making breakfast for four might seem strange.
If you do know me, then you know I host Couchsurfers, and you probably wouldn’t think much of it. In fact, you would know that I live for moments like these. I live for the memories, the stories I’m left with, and the experiences I get to pass on to others.
And I also live for the pictures and hand-written letters from travelers. Many times, couchsurfers continue on to their destination in the late hours of the night or the early mornings and leave a note as they quietly slip out the door – I know I’ve done it after leaving a guest’s home, and others have done the same to me. Sometimes they share a piece of advice, well wishes or an address to stay in touch. A lot of the time, they even tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know.
Something that they learned about you or ways you’ve helped them that you weren’t aware of.
To get to that polka-dot dress, though, we need to back up:
When I first met Tom and Marita standing at my front door with backpacks in their hands, I immediately noticed their warm, bubbly attitudes. But I also noticed that they were a little guarded (who’s not, really) – holding something back. And I was right, but I wouldn’t discover why until later in the evening.
Within 40 minutes of arriving at my place, they had showered off a little bit of the road, bought groceries at the local store down the road, cooked a wonderful meal in my kitchen as if it was their own and kept me entertained with travel stories that that brought on a welcome ache in my abs and face from laughing too hard.
As the time flew by, I was sad I had to leave for work.
And then, as I was asking for outfit advice from my roommate and guests (what I now realize to be a faltering piece of what I once thought was my own unbreakable confidence), Tom decided to let his true colors show, too.
He asked us our opinion on whether we thought it would be acceptable to wear his dress downtown to the bars.
I immediately thought, why not? Be you, dude, it’s awesome. And then I realized: not everyone feels that way. And, if I was being honest with myself, he actually had a very real reason to be concerned about others’ impressions of him. Others’ own biases and reactions that could (and have) put him in physical danger.
And then I realized something else: how safe he must have felt with me, a complete stranger, in order to put his trust in me and expose his true self after such a short time.
That is powerful.
I have always considered myself to be confident with who I am, but these two wild-eyed travelers sitting on my living room floor had unknowingly brought another dimension to my sense of self.
While searching for my own path in this world, I have opened myself up to accepting and welcoming other people for their quirks and unique qualities. I love to hear their stories, learn what makes them tick and share their happiness. As a result, I’ve heard first-hand accounts of nudist colonies (and I have the pictures to back that one up), listened to peoples’ confessions, shared laughs – and tears, and traveled to almost every corner of the earth via stories, pictures, and homemade meals.
I always thought that my curiosity to learn about and embrace others for who they are didn’t really have much of an affect on anyone else.
But my two Couchsurfers that night taught me that jut simply wasn’t true.
Through their own actions, they showed me how much one person can support another, providing a safe haven for them to just be themselves. They weren’t just gifting me with their presence and culinary skills, as I had originally thought. Instead, our exchange during the time they spent on my couch went much deeper – striking the core of why people travel. Why, in general, we trust others and why, specifically, so many prefer Couchsurfing over traditional hotels.
We are looking for a connection. To sit down across from a stranger and feel so completely on the same page that words become optional. To grow. To share happiness.
Is it risky? For sure. Is it dangerous? It can be.
But both people are risking themselves as one opens their home to a stranger and that stranger trustingly walks through the door. And you both learn a little more about yourself – and your personal reservations – in the process
The hand-written notes, the bittersweet goodbyes and the smiles on your new friends’ faces are just one small reminder of why we keep going, traveling on down the road to share another moment and grow a little more.