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.
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.
Ed FitzGerald greeted us through retro half-framed glasses and a scruffy beard. He wore a light jean button up with khaki pants, and was the kind of guy who had a collection of fedoras and smoked out of a pipe. The walls of his small apartment held art he had bought at the Angola Prison Rodeo, and a giant brightly colored painting with the words "winner's bitch" in the bottom left corner.
After having dinner, we set off with Ed, his dog JP, and two of his friends to explore Natitoches. We drove through a drive thru daiquiri station, which is apparently a huge trend in Louisiana, and walked around downtown listening to Ed talk about the history behind the two story homes with the wrap around porches. It was a calm night filled with conversation, climbing trees, and Trivial Pursuit questions. But there were some awkward moments.
While Ed was friendly and I was accustomed to talking to strangers, being allowed to sleep in someone's home made me feel like I had to become instant friends with them. But by the time we settled in, and fell asleep on Ed's dark green floral couch, I was beginning to feel CouchSurfing growing on me.
The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed to New Orleans. Our host there had lost interest in the local tourist attractions, so we ventured out on our own and spent the day exploring the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, and the one-of-a-kind locals.
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Our second host, Rachel Roberts, lived behind the house where they filmed the last Exorcist movie. She had faded teal hair, a vintage style, and a tattoo of a whale and waves on her ankle. Her studio apartment doesn't have any doors, and came together with mixed-and-matched pieces of antique furniture. After watching the end of Time Traveler's Wife we went to Cowbell, one of the local restaurants, and then met up with Rachel's boyfriend at a local bar.
The second night was easier than the first. We tossed around jokes and I felt like I had gained enough ground with Rachel to earn a place on her burnt orange pullout sofa. I even felt a little at home when we settled in a few feet from each other at the end of the night. As I woke up the next morning and packed my car for the ride home, I realized I was going to miss this.
I'm not sure if I was reluctant to leave Rachel's home specifically, or just regretted having to drive back into a life of schoolwork and responsibilities. But the more I think back on how I fell asleep counting Ed's many hats, or the night we sat listening to stories in Rachel's backyard as she smoked a cigarette, the more I want to go back.