Editor's note: Stephanie Embree, an SMU student and Observer photo intern, braved the world of CouchSurfing for a school project. See her slideshow, The Photo Chronicles of a CouchSurfer, and read about her adventure here.
Most of my friends thought I was going to die. They were supportive at first, even entertained by the notion of me CouchSurfing my way to New Orleans. Then I explained that CouchSurfing meant I would be spending the weekend sleeping on the couches of people I had met online, and panic began to set in.
I've always romanticized the idea of being a vagabond. Of walking away from responsibility, living simply, wandering to my heart's content. So I jumped at the chance to try this unconventional way of traveling. I threw everything I had learned about stranger danger out the window, and started planning my trip.[jump]
To become a part of the CouchSurfing community, I had to fill out a profile more extensive than what I was used to. I shared things ranging from a personal philosophy to an explanation of what I could get from and give to my fellow members.
Once I created a profile I started searching for people to stay with. All I had to do was search a location, add any extra filters like gender or experience, and I could send as many couch requests as I wanted. Originally I sought hosts who had a large amount of positive reviews on their profile. But receiving responses to my requests was harder than I thought it would be. Ultimately, I just ended up sending requests to anyone who I thought looked relatively safe. Eventually found two hosts, one in Natitoches, Louisiana and another in New Orleans. So I threw my backpack in the trunk of my Hyundai, convinced a friend of mine to sit in the passenger seat, and sped toward the state line.
We reached the apartment of our first host Friday night, and as we walked around the side of an old white house that had been converted into apartments, I tried to keep myself from comparing my surroundings to those of a horror movie. It wasn't until we fumbled our way up a darkened staircase and I saw the door of the place we would call home for the night that it hit me just how little idea I had about what I was walking into.
I was so nervous I almost turned and ran. But I reminded myself that this was an adventure, and knocked on apartment D's door.