Sometimes, going off of your usual path will set off that rusted alarm clock inside your head – to wake you up from sleeping your way through life and to see life beyond the backyard of the place you are currently living in. Sometimes, walking in someone else’s track is a needed reminder that there is so much in this world that needs to be explored and understand. Sometimes, the courage to let luck run its wonder is what invites lucks in. And sometimes, meeting those who seem so out of your usual circle is just that very ingredient you need to better your food that you might think is already good.
It’s never easy going out of the comfort of the known paths or set your foot to the wonder of world that just look bluntly uncertain and somehow cruel – especially for someone such as myself who is always secretly scared to introduce myself to someone foreign or face rejections from, well, really, anyone at all. But sometimes, it’s the mere courage and an extra push from a good friend to confront those irrational fears that would let you taste a different kind of life – or journey.
Stepping out of my safe gate has made me found that out.
Travelling is a staple for some people such as my friend of whom I traveled with to the northern states of the United States of America. He found his love for the world from a map his mom gave as a presence when he was just a little kid living the outskirt town of Indonesia – traveling the world seem like an impossible task given the situation at the time. But hey, a dream is what makes the world go around, no?
And well, he did travel and still traveling the world. It was so much fun listening and reading his world exploration for he always seems to take the stranger road and meet the most interesting people wherever he decided to set his foot at. So, I asked if he wants to travel to Alaska with me as we strolled around in NY one day and he instantly said yes.
Then in the next few days, we planned the trip. He proposed that we travel across the northern states of the U.S. on road then take an airplane from Seattle to Alaska, and use Couchsurfing for lodging, hitchhike when there is no bus ride, then use Workaway while in Alaska.
“Yeahh… suree” was my answer.
Honestly, I don’t know if he caught on my anxiety.
I have traveled for a long period of time before and in some, I was even alone and did use Couchsurfing to meet people – however, I had never use it for an overnight stay and let alone, hitchhike my way around.
But, first thing for everything, huh.
Anyway, for those who wonder what Couchsurfing exactly is just like I did the first time my friend mentioned the word about a year ago, it is “a hospitality-exchange network that pairs travellers looking for a place to crash with locals willing to accommodate them or perhaps just meet for a beverage” as Patricia Marx put it in her “You’re welcome: couch-surfing the globe” article. Sounds a bit dangerous and yes, there is always a chance that you would be host by a psychopath or that you yourself host a killer – however, there is this neat feature called ‘reference’ in the app where previous host or surfer can write what they think about the person in question and everyone else gets to read it. So, it’s really a matter of good judgment, I guess.
Pittsburgh was the first city I used Couchsurfing at for lodging. It was one of those moments where the feeling of excitement and nervous equally mixed, and turned out, Michael – the host – was extremely nice and accommodating; the feeling almost equals to running to a friend you haven’t met for a while. The same feeling remained as we stay with Melanie in Cleveland, Tom in Milwaukee, Taylor in Bozeman, Tom and Melisa in Fairbanks, Viju in Fargo, and a few other hosts in other cities. Each of them has taught us different things from cooking, board games, cutting up woods, places to visit that locals love, drive on the icy road, to shooting a gun – how more American can this trip be! Haha – thanks, Taylor.
And sometimes, it even felt like coming home for a family visit as for how exceptionally warm they received us and how easily they let us into their routines such as when we were hosted by a wonderful couple in Helena, Montana. We thought we would only be there for thanksgiving dinner since there are not many things to do according to some websites we looked up. However, thanks to our host, Jeff and Vicky, we ended up hiking the Helena mountain on our first day there, touring the Capitol hill with thorough insights, adding new vocabularies through playing Pictionary, making peace with a cat (yes, I’m super scared of cats of any kind and size), having thanksgiving dinner and listen to what others are grateful for, and for Fikar – discovering how much in common someone from thousands of miles away from home can have with you 😉
Staying with every one of them has returned my view of how wonderful human beings are amidst the horrible news of multiple attacks around the globe and Trump won the U.S. election – oops sorry, KP ;).
Hitchhike, on the other hand, is a concept many people already familiar with; however, actually doing it is something unheard of – at least in my family. To stand on the side of a highway road and hoping that a stranger will pull out for you has made me pray much more than I had in the last few months (a good thing, right? Mom? Dad? – hmm I’d rather them not reading this thou haha). But heyyy – it was an amazing feeling when you get picked up! The first car who picked us up was a cool guy named Aaron just on his way to campus. Then, there was a native American on his way to the Dakota pipeline protest, a truck driver, a Russian guy who went out of his way to go to our exact direction but just can’t seem to form a full smile and had us on videotape for his YouTube channel, a cheerful hairdresser lady who loves life and everything about it, and lastly, a rather odd guy on his way to see his kid playing soccer after being apart for years. Honestly, this is something I wouldn’t have done if I were to travel alone – but trying it out was great fun and is one of the highlights of this trip.
And then there is Workaway – a website that describes themselves as “volunteering and cultural exchange around the world.” This is basically a network that pairs traveler – or not – with employers. I would get a free room to stay in and some food in exchange for some hours of work. The job itself is varied from hospitality work, gardening, construction, marketing, to babysitting and the hours are totally up to your own agreement with the employer. What my friend and I winded up doing was a hospitality work in a Hostel turned homeless shelter in Anchorage, Alaska. We worked three days a week for around 6 hours a day, or usually less and have the rest of the week to ourselves. This was such a great arrangement as hotel or hostel is fairly pricey in Alaska. A little warning for those wanting to travel on December in Alaska, most places, touristy activities and public transportations are closed on December because there is no tourist coming in on that month – except cool people like us (or you know, just stupid and already stuck with bought airplane tickets). So that being said, this arrangement has made it that much easier to figure out what to do and where to go, including some free rides from the generous owner, as well as meeting other travelers with cool stories up their sleeves.
This very travel experience and my friend, Fikar, have taught me that travel was not about seeing the breathtaking pictures in real life, or ticking off your list of places you want to go – well, I guess travel is that, but also a lot more if you let it.
It is more than that when you wander through the new towns through the eyes of those who have lived it for almost all their lives. It is more than that when you are in a car with someone who just picked you up a few seconds ago and somehow comfortable enough to tell you their life stories. It is more than that if you live in a place of where other travelers live and of whom have their own reasons to be there.
Not a single moment throughout the seven-weeks-long trip that I regret my decision – the many first moments, the joyous and hopelessness moments, the sunshine and sunset views of when driving in different cities, the feeling of not wanting to move on and craving so bad to be out of some places ASAP.
All in all, to close this rather lengthy post, traveling on a budget was what made me take a leap of faith in stranger’s kindness and in return, I exactly got that and beyond. We went to places that were not on our list that turned out to be astounding, we conquered our fear that is cat, we tried new food and drinks, we learned so much new information, histories, and even current events from different point of views, and most importantly, we have shared conversations and hugs to people that were once just strangers living hundreds of miles away.
For the first time in my life, I came back from a trip with not only hundreds of pictures and souvenirs, but also new friendship and new life insights. For that, I want to thank everyone I have come across on this trip.
Yes, there were some things that I didn’t necessarily enjoy from hitchhiked , using Couchsurfing and Workaway– but it really was just minor compared to the superb experience I gained. Of course, you have to be more mindful and use better judgment when using these than when you rent out a hotel room or hire a car. But give this a shot and you will travel with memories beyond pictures on your camera and a little more money to spend for your next dream destination.