Showing posts with label Iceland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iceland. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Couchsurfing in Columbia, Mo!

An essential part of vagabonding is traveling inexpensively and learning and growing from the locals. As someone who's idea of roughing it is a Best Western in need of remodeling, my wariness of a new, inexpensive way to travel courtesy of the information age was considerable. Yet, young people have been adopting this new way of traveling in droves, saving all kinds of money, and having a fantastic time with the people they met.

What is this new way? Couchsurfing! There is a user-friendly website where people all over the world create a profile offering their spare guest bedroom or the couch for travelers who may be passing through. While there are other home stay organizations, such as Servas or Hospitality Club, I appreciate the speed with which you can get started with this website. I decided I was going to take the plunge and give it a try.

My first hosts - Walt and Mary Jean-Gerard,
they gave me confidence in the whole process
because we had so much fun!

The Couchsurfing Mission:
"CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding.

As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal. CouchSurfing isn't about the furniture-it's not just about finding free accommodations around the world- it's about participating in creating a better world. We strive to make a better world by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans,continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world!"

Could you get a room like this in a hotel?
I think not.

Mary and Walt's house celebrates 50's funk
and it's so much fun to see.

Mary and Walt made my stay in Columbia so much more interesting because they knew so much about the local area and they have incredibly interesting lives to share.

I loved hearing about Mary and Walt's six children who are scattered over the globe doing interesting things - one son is the chef de cuisine at Tru, Chicago's top, top restaurant, another is a jazz musician in Chicago and has played the Green Mill (one of the famous historic jazz houses), another is an independent filmmaker in Edinburgh, Scotland. I share this because I think it's easy to be scared to try couchsurfing. I found it completely enriching and I'm just getting started!

Here's the story about how the service began from the Couchsurfing FAQs:
"Well, the idea solidified when founder, Casey Fenton, got a cheap ticket to Iceland for a long weekend one April. With his ticket in hand, there was one problem: he had no place to stay and no desire to rot in a hotel all weekend and play Mr. Tourist. So, he came up with the 'brilliant' idea of spamming over 1500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik and asking them if he could crash on one of their couches. After exchanging emails with many of the students, he had several groups of friends offer to show him 'their' Reykjavik. So, after spending an amazing, crazy weekend just south of the Arctic Circle, Casey decided he would never again get trapped in a hotel and tourist marathon while traveling. From that point onward, it was all about crashing on exotic couches and cultural exchange. And, thus, the CouchSurfing Project was born."
I've now stayed in four different homes through Couchsurfing, and hotels seem kind of impersonal and boring after staying with the people I've met so far.

Isn't it exciting what the Internet has made possible? There was a huge meetup of 200 couchsurfers in Prague this month. I'm so sorry I've missed it! Was it fun? What's been your experience with Couchsurfing? Link to the website via the title.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Armchair Traveling with Tony

I avoided travel videos like the plague during my parenting years. What would be the point? As Barbara Walters has pointed out, “a woman can have it all, she just can’t have it all at the same time.” Besides, moving five times to advance my career counts as travel. Now that my parenting years are coming to a close, I’ve become obsessed with borrowing travel videos from the library.

I don’t have cable (cable television will be for my years 80-95 when I have nothing else to do and have presumably used my years of mobility to the utmost) so I had never seen Anthony Bourdain on the Travel channel. Looking at the cover of his books “Kitchen Confidential” or “The Nasty Bits” I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. I’d always heard that his books were heavy on testosterone. Women gush over this guy and I never could see the attraction. Must be some sort of bad-boy fixation.

I get it now. I’ve borrowed every copy of his show “No Reservations” from the library that they own. These shows are a blast. Each show is literally so much fun to watch I would practically get giddy when I got a new one. I was immediately struck at how beautifully Tony uses language but it’s the self-deprecating charm that is the funniest. Sometimes it does feel like we’re listening in on a locker room conversation (Tony in Iceland) but when he went home and showed his native New Jersey (complete with endearingly-bad hair pictures from high school – anyone gets extra points for sharing those) it’s funny.

My very favorite show was one he did on Malaysia that featured two memorable locals: a tattoo artist who teased Tony unmercifully and this ancient, tough-as-nails old man who Tony showcased in a way that made you see the old guy’s magnificence. The old man was from an ethnic group I’m unfamiliar with that used tattoos to illustrate their life’s journey. I have never, ever understood the point of tattoos but when Tony Bourdain received a tattoo in the spirit of this ethnic group to commemorate his journey, it actually made sense. And given that his viewers were present at the creation of the tattoo, every time we see it on a subsequent show, it’s a reminder of all those shared travels (even if our travels were merely vicarious).

A guy I work with tells me that the Travel Channel has Anthony Bourdain marathons on the weekend. That would be like eating the entire box of chocolates in one sitting! It’s far better to dole each show out in dribs and drabs and just giggle for a couple days afterwards at all the fun in each one.
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