Will Work For Food: From One Couch to Another, How To CouchSurf During Travels (And Stay Safe)
Will Work For Food #9 Advice & Stories ...
As a solo traveler, I find myself in this position constantly. I recently started my trip on the coast of the Golden State, and, in the past 48 hours, I’ve been constantly observing this thought roll through my tracks.
If you had asked me what I thought I’d be doing while in California, none of the following adventures would have been the answer. This, though, is what keeps me totally in love with travel.
(As a side note, most of the following stories have no photos because I was very engaged in the moment, and didn’t feel like looking through a lens at that point in time.)
On a Wednesday evening, I found myself sitting on a train feeling anxious. I was in a completely new place, and was having a hard time hearing the stops over the loudspeaker. After finally stepping out of the train, I stepped into a 30 minute game of “find the right bus”. I was headed to Stanford University.
When I picture myself, fanny pack on, wild hair, hiking boots and sleeping bag in hand, it makes me chuckle. I was headed to meet up with a friend and stay the night. To be completely honest, when she asked me if I wanted to come see her, I forgot what Stanford was well known for.
The campus was beautiful. I felt like I had stepped into a new country, and sculpted buildings and fountains surrounded me. My friend quickly found me soaking up some sun on the fresh-cut lawn, and gave me a tour. I felt out of place. But, not in a shameful way. I didn’t realize that arriving on that campus would be like stepping into a whole new, beautifully constructed world.
After grabbing some plant-based fries and “chicken tenders” from the dining hall, we headed to the radio station. Once we got there, we set up camp for the night. I kicked off my boots and snuggled up on the couch in a back room. We set up the projector on a wall and watched a couple episodes of Freaks and Geeks.
When I first kicked back on the couch, I remember just simply enjoying my time watching a movie with a friend. We had meaningful conversation, and I got to know another human that I really, truly enjoy spending time with.
When I got up to brush my teeth, though, I remember asking, “How did I get here?” There I stood, smiling at my silly self in the radio station bathroom mirror at Stanford University. The image of my lifestyle vs. theirs was not a clash, but a contrast.
Sometimes, you can so clearly see your self when an environment of contrast presents your self simply to you.
I woke up the next morning, sleepy but rested, and decided to spend the day on campus at a coffee shop. When it was time to meet my friends for a yoga class, I walked the two miles and was delighted with the end destination.
I experienced a yoga class that took me to another place—and the teacher invited me to their private session hosted at their house each Friday morning. So, I went. The next day, I found myself sitting, ready and calm in a tiny, unrooted room at the teacher’s house. It was a small and intimate group, all smooshed nicely in a small space. The room had three points of focus—each one containing masks, statues, or pictures of teachers. She cleared the stale water out of the bowls at each altar, replacing them with fresh water and prayers.
After the class, she took us to a different physical location. We drove to the site of what was soon to be a wellness center. Pulling off the busy California roads, we walked back to a hidden sanctuary. We crossed a wood bridge to find untouched land; trees parting ways at their bases, reaching and twisting their arms up to the sun. You could hear the birds crisply singing to each other, and smell the wild flower mix in the air.
We took our time walking around the property, touching the trees and dipping our finger tips intimately in the water. When we were done admiring the land, we met in a circle while the teacher’s teacher led a prayer. They spoke words in English and a language that my brain couldn’t decode, but I understood nonetheless.
When we were finished, we all enjoyed an entirely plant-based meal including bagels, cream cheese, hummus, fruit, yogurt, cookies, crackers, and tea. I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude and wholeness.
As we took the first group picture in the wellness space, I couldn’t help but take in my surroundings. There I was, standing with respected people and all of their closest humans. I took part in a ceremony and celebration in a beautiful space that would soon hold and heal countless others.
I know that, one day, they’ll post that picture on the wall in the wellness center, my face involved. And no one will ever know that I was stunned, thinking, “How did I get here?”
After we said our thanks and goodbyes, we loaded into the car and drove over to my friend’s place of work. To my surprise, that place was YouTube headquarters.
Up until that point, I had only seen places like that in movies. I can’t recall their titles, but I had seen countless movies that presented modern office spaces that looked more like playgrounds than workspaces.
And up until that point, I thought that it was all fake. I was wrong. As I entered, I saw walls lighting up, and lights moving to spell out “YouTube”. I saw plants, everywhere. I saw desk chairs replaced with bicycles or just space to stand. I saw scooters laying around every corner, there for the taking. And to my surprise, I saw a red, 5-seater slide placed right in the middle of the office.
Yes, you may be wondering, did I slide down it? Of course I did! The sign said “Employees Only”, but how often do you get a chance like that?
We walked around for a little bit, me, gawking at every site—and then landed at the juice bar. There was a large selection of juices and smoothies—healthy and plant-based, to top it off. We picked out what we wanted, and the barista whipped it up. No charge.
When the fun and games were over, my friend had to get to work. He left us in the RV. Yes, the RV. YouTube had taken an old RV trailer and turned it into a work/hangout space, right in the middle of the office. As I was rested on the couch and started to drift off, a security guard approached me. He sat on the couch next to me, very sweet. He informed me that we had to be with an employee at all times so that there wasn’t a chance that we would go wandering around. I couldn’t blame them for enforcing that rule. With swings, full (and free) plant based meals, walls made up of moving lights, a meditation room and massage chairs, who wouldn’t be tempted?
A couple hours later, I found myself singing and moving to sound in the car. I found myself laughing.. deep, hard belly laughs. I was too emerged in pure bliss to be thinking any logical thoughts.
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