Everyone who knows me well knows it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Couchsurfing, and I have used it countless times to connect with and stay with locals all over the world. This wonderful website and community has given me amazing experiences and allowed me to meet wonderful strangers who I probably would have never met otherwise. I have already couchsurfed in 3 different countries, and will be documenting my stories with my newest series: CouchTales. Of course, this will be the first of many.
The land stretched wide open and flat all around us as it grew darker by the minute. The sky seemed just as wide open and ominous as the land itself, and sent chilling winds across the plain that were strong enough to slightly push the car. Within minutes, that same sky opened up and what appeared to be ice and snow came raining down onto the road and land beneath.
“Whoa! You don’t mess with Texas!” My three road trip buddies shouted out in reaction to the ice that was slightly obscuring our vision of the road ahead. We then all jokingly repeated the phrase for camera, belting out “Don’t mess with Texas” in the most exaggerated accents possible while getting some footage of the storm for the records.
Because, after all, the snow was a little weird for us. It was the end of March, during spring break and three friends and I were on an epic road trip across the country that had started in Alabama, where it had been spring, and we were headed all the way to Arizona.
It was Day 2 of this journey now, and we were in the Texas panhandle headed for Amarillo, where we would stay the night. We would be couchsurfing with a local in the city, whose address was now directing our GPS.
The city of Amarillo first appeared as lights in the distance on this flat landscape, and we soon found ourselves arriving and passing by the famous Big Texan restaurant, and then onwards until the austere female voice of the GPS proclaimed, “You have reached your destination.”
It was a little after midnight as we hurried through the freezing temperatures to the front door, and rang the doorbell. No answer.
I looked down at my phone double checking that the address was correct before giving our host a call. Again, there was no answer. The address was correct, and I had even been texting him a couple hours earlier, informing him of when we would be arriving, so where could he be? We started to knock loudly on the door and rang the doorbell once again, shivering in the cold.
We didn’t have to wait long. A few seconds had passed when the door swung open, to our relief, revealing a young woman who looked Native American or Asian, but who I later found out to be Hawaiian. For a second, I suddenly worried we had been given the wrong address. As nice as she seemed, this woman obviously looked nothing like the man on the Couchsurfing profile. This was only my second experience with couchsurfing ever, and the same went for my group, with the first being the previous night of our road trip in Arkansas. We’d had a positive first experience, but we were still new to Couchsurfing, and this moment was only adding to that nagging uncertainty in the back of our minds.
“Oh, you must be the new Couchsurfers! Welcome, come in!” She said. I felt a smile spread across my face upon hearing those words, and we followed her inside. This house was in fact our host’s, like we thought, which she confirmed to us. And she was not related to him at all — she was another couchsurfer herself!
Wait, there were four of us, plus this girl…five couchsurfers. His house wasn’t exactly big and fancy either, yet he had so many people. What an incredibly nice guy, to open his doors to so many travelers. I hadn’t even met him yet but he had already made a great impression. “And we’re not the only couchsurfers,” she added, “there are two more!”
More? Sure enough, our host returned soon from bowling with two other couchsurfers, and we finally had our introductions. It wasn’t just people either, because the host had an adorable dog and another surfer had brought his dog along with him too. It was one big couchsurfing party, and we all spent the rest of that night gathered around the kitchen table, playing with the dogs and sharing great conversation and travel stories.
Each traveler shared their own unique story. I learned that the couchsurfer with the dog was hitchhiking around the USA, pet in tow of course, exploring what he could of the country and staying with kind hosts. He told amazing stories and showed us incredible photos of the times he had spent working in national parks around the country, including in Montana, at a ski lodge where he lived on the peak of a mountain. The photos of that snowy landscape in the winter were incredible.
One woman, hailing from Minnesota, was driving around the country on a road trip, and she had actually been the one to pick up the hitchhiker, which was how they had ended up at this house together. The Hawaiian woman was traveling around the contiguous USA as well, and even she used the method of hitchhiking to get around some of the time. I admired her so much for her courage to do that as a young woman.
And, being in Amarillo, we were actually on Route 66! I could almost feel the spirit of Jack Kerouac embodied in these hitchhikers who sat in front of me.
Our incredible host had dozens of stories to tell himself – from hiking in Alaska to jaunts in Asia and Costa Rica, he had been all over the world. He was an engineer who had a few kids, who were now out of the house, and he explained that he had made it a rule that each of the kids had to go out of the country at least once by the time they were 18, to expand their world view a little bit. And he was always happy to open his doors up to any fellow travelers out there through Couchsurfing.
I was soaking up all of the stories and life lessons from these people like a sponge. It was amazing, to have had such great luck. Never in my life had I met so many adventurous, open, like-minded people, and I was loving every minute of the conversation.
Saying goodbye to these great people we had just met the next morning was difficult. Our group was headed towards Arizona, while the other three couchsurfers were headed in the opposite direction from where we’d just come.
It had only been my second experience with couchsurfing, but I was sold. My time in Amarillo began my love affair with the couchsurfing network and connecting with locals and travelers alike wherever I went. I was hooked.
“On your way out of town, you all should check out Palo Duro Canyon! Definitely worth a visit,” our host mentioned to us before we drove off, ready to begin Day 3 of the road trip.
And so we visited Palo Duro, and we were glad we did.