My First Couchsurfing Experience: Finding The "Craic" & Acceptance
It was a short walk down Holybank Rd., but it felt like miles. I was dancing through a dew, damp and underdressed for a cold March in Ireland. My pack had me hunched over, full of things I’d never need. I caught my reflection in the passing car windows, checking to see if my face mirrored the spectacle taking place inside me. Aside from mild anxiety-induced sweat, I seemed to be intact. I felt like my intestines had come undone, swirling around aimlessly in my gut. With every block of cement, I attempted to strip away useless parts of my false identity, insecurities I wouldn’t need during my stay in Ireland.
I was 22, I’d never left my home country before. I was traveling alone to meet a group of strangers who allowed me to sleep on their couch, free in Dublin. I didn’t have my best friend beside me. I had no social armor. I kept thinking, “How does a person portray confidence and graciousness in the same introductory glance?” Also, “God, I wish that my sleep-habit of open-mouthed breathing would cease to exist across international waters. And, don’t talk too much.”
But nothing I’d read in Rick Steves travel guide could have prepared me for what lay at the end of that short walk. The four men who lived in that house, they’d unknowingly become my mentors, my working class shamans. They were my first. The first of many foreign hosts who would take me in on the trust of a 200 word Couchsurfing bio. They taught me about the joys of travel and connectivity, they taught me about freedom and unfettered human bonds. Their home became a place of refuge in my memory, a place that helped me heal the part of myself that needed to belong. A place I retreated to in my memory long after I’d returned home.
Their names were Dimitry, Richie, Krzysztof and Wayne. Krzysztof is from Krakow. He would look at you with the gaze of a thousand sentences. He was kind and pensive with an adventurous spirit. Wayne is Irish, he had an affair with it all; women, art, music, you name it; he provided entertainment with his every entrance. Richie had a blend of Irish wit and Buddhist charm I’ve struggled to find in anyone else since; He cleansed my spirit with laughter and challenged my thinking often and as much possible. Dimitry was from Latvia, and he’s remained one of the most interesting humans I’ve ever met. He saw the world through a lens that was so estranged and empathetic. We caught many sunrises together, talking into the morning about his ideas to crack language comprehension, lamenting the many cigarette carcasses we found at our feet. They all had their own brand of openness but connected in their humor and generosity of spirit toward everyone they welcomed into their home.
About a week after I warmed up, they introduced their personal moments of frustration and morning grumbles. I pocketed these moments like little treasures of their personalities I’d want to keep forever. Brewing under the surface of each one of them was an individual depth that fueled them to continue inviting strangers into their home, furthering their understanding of the world through the people that drooled on their couch; they’d hosted hundreds of people over the years.
Dublin is a beautiful city with a dearth of history and culture. With the help of my hosts, I drank and ate and gallivanted to places the guidebooks could explain with better detail than my foggy memory will allow, but it was their tiny, aged kitchen that taught me the most about travel.
Each morning, I’d hear the kettle boil from my room and abandon all beauty habits, allowing my hair to take on whatever the night had styled. I’d tiptoe across the icy floor to the kitchen table hoping to find a familiar face. Tea, that was the unifier; it was always a cup of tea. We’d all meet there, at the start of the day and again at the end. We shared stories and jokes. We ate, we debated, but we never seemed to run out of tea. I felt soothed when I entered that little kitchen. I felt heard when I’d offer my voice. My conversations with each of them grew deeper in seriousness and sensitivity with each empty cup. A homegrown community built over Earl Grey, one they’d assembled on the pure generosity of spirit.
When times allowed, we’d all go to street fairs, markets, bars, and cafes. With their help, I found the elusive, “craic.” They always took everyone along, like family, and when I asked, they allowed me to extend my stay without question.
When I’d finished my European pilgrimage, I spent my last night on Holybank Rd., months after my initial visit. That time, I remember running down the block, eager to tell of my journey. I felt so comfortable. I felt like I was running home.
I’ve since met local hosts around the world who’ve transformed me, humbled me, brought me to face my privilege and shown me unprecedented love and connectivity. They’ve shown me the transience of “Home.” It has always been those with the least who have offered me the most, and there have been no exceptions to this rule.
It was there, on Holybank Rd., that I sifted through all the regurgitated narratives and scraps of my hodgepodge identity I’d super glued to my veneer to sculpt an inviting persona. With every sincere moment of connection, I experience traveling, I internally scrape off another false chunk, bringing me closer and closer to myself.
To this day, the men of Holybank Rd. probably don’t recall or realize the lasting effect they’d had on me or the many others they’d open their home to. I’ve since struggled to stay in touch as their lives have moved them away from Ireland. Seven years have passed, and whenever I pack for a trip, I bring along the confidence and curiosity they instilled in me so many years ago; and every time my tea kettle whistles, I think of them.