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Tag: couchsurfing

What happens when you fall in love online

joel

It wasn’t the first time someone has fallen in love online.

It wasn’t the first time someone dropped everything to travel across the country to meet and claim the object of his affection.

But it may be the first time that someone has been able to get members of the public to help finance such a trip.

That’s probably because the girl of Joel Carpenter’s dreams was a dog — a husky-shepherd-collie mix named Sadie that he spotted on Petfinder and was so smitten with that he bought a one-way ticket to Minneapolis to adopt her, knowing full well he didn’t have the money to get back home to Maine.

“For whatever reason, Sadie just struck me,” the 23-year-old told the Detroit Free Press. “I felt like I need to fly out to rescue her; at the core, there was just this intense feeling that I was doing the right thing.”

“You could say I’m winging it a little bit,” he added in an interview conducted while he and the dog were stuck in Michigan. “I was just kind of following my heart.”

Joel Carpenter flew from his home in Portland, Maine to Minneapolis on Sept. 22 and adopted Sadie from a local shelter.

While there, what little money he had — what with taxi fares, motels and adoption fees — ran out.

It could be Carpenter is just young and brash and a poor planner, but, more likely, he saw the whole thing as an adventure.

He knew he might have to rely on ride-sharing and couch-surfing on the trip home — and things started out well enough when he got a ride from Minnesota to Grand Rapids in a kindly gentleman’s RV.

There, he found a couple that invited Sadie and him to stay in their home. But when he ran into trouble finding another ride he decided to call a local news station to see if they could help “spread the word that I needed a ride back to Maine.”

Here we have to question whether Carpenter was so gullible as to think a news station would gladly broadcast his ride needs, or so savvy as to know he was sitting in the middle of a pretty good story.

After the news report, Carpenter’s phone started ringing.

“News papers and News stations all curious about my story. What was most encouraging was the positive support for me and Sadie. Many people became invested in our adventure, and wanted to help out any way they could. Many people have told me we should try Go Fund Me … So here we are!” Carpenter wrote on the Gofundme page he established.

Between it and a Facebook page started by his girlfriend, donations and offers of help poured in — food, toys, motel rooms and, finally enough money to buy an airplane ticket.

On Wednesday Joel and Sadie hitched a ride from Grand Rapids to Detroit, where another good Samaritan bought Carpenter and Sadie a hotel room for the night. On Thursday, he and Sadie flew home.

The saga of Carpenter and Sadie raises more than a few questions — including just how loose a screening process that shelter must have had to hand a dog over to someone who lived 1,500 miles away, with no money, and no clear way home. Was that irresponsible, or did they just fall for the romanticism of it all?

I kind of did, and I’m a cynical sort. But then again I uprooted my dog from his stable home to spend a year on the road, traveling across America in a car but on a shoestring, including doing a little couch-surfing and a little relying on the kindness of strangers.

Is the saga of Carpenter and Sadie proof that love conquers all? Is it the epitome of irresponsibility? An excellent adventure? Or is it just the kind of thing dog-crazy people do?

I ‘d love to hear your opinions on all this (and unlike most websites that ask you for that I really mean it) because — other than being happy they are safely back home — I’m not sure what exactly mine is.

(Photo of Joel and Sadie from WZZM)

Couchsurfing in Albuquerque

At 56, it’s not every day I spend the night with a 25-year-old woman, and if it ever did happen, you’d normally be the last person I’d tell.

But, on Thursday night, that’s exactly what I did.

A “complete stranger” invited Ace and me into her home in Albuquerque, went out to dinner with us at a dog-friendly restaurant (Kelly’s Brew Pub) and, though still a kid (relative to me, anyway) taught me a few things about trust and keeping the doors to one’s life open enough that new people can get in.

And she saved me a few bucks, as well.

For this, I can thank couchsurfing.org, a website that, realizing not all of us have money to spare for mint-on-the pillow accommodations, unites people looking for a place to stay with local people kind enough to offer one — on a global scale.

I first heard about it through a comment left on ohmidog! — offering me, a penny pinching traveler with a dog at my side, some advice on finding dog-friendly, cheap, even free, lodgings.

I went to the website, created a bare bones profile, paid a $25 verification fee (though they — see comment below — prefer to call it a donation), and explored the options, especially those members who lived along my somewhat fuzzy route who were open to opening their homes not just to travelers, but their dogs as well.

Jen Walker in Albuquerque was the first one I found. Through the website, I sent her a message, told her a bit about myself, and what Ace and I are up to, and inquired as to whether I might crash — a word I haven’t used in 25 years or so — on her couch.

Sure, she wrote back. She was cool with that.

She’s got a charming little dog of her own, an Italian greyound-Chihuahua mix named Cali who likes to hang out on the roof of the apartment that joins hers, and a cat named Autumn, who likes to crawl into suitcases and more than once has almost been accidentally abducted by a departing couchsurfer.

Ace, once spotting Autumn behind a pillow, immediately hopped in Jen’s bed to better stare at her. Jen was cool with that.

Jen, as she has been with the 67 previous couchsurfers she has taken in, was the consumate host — and even supplied an air mattress for me to sleep on instead of the couch. She’s working, and going to school at the University of New Mexico, and is a delightful young woman — God, how old do I sound? — with a laid back aura, a kind heart, and a curious and open mind.

Taking new acquaintances into her home, she says “allows me to meet people I probably otherwise would never meet.”

It occurs to me that, by hosting couchsurfers, she’s doing what I’m doing — both by taking this trip, and when I made the career choice to be a journalist: ensuring I would see new things, meet new people, keep learning, and not live the insulated life.

She’s made some lasting friends, and — one of the big side benefits —  accumulated a long list of places to stay around the globe. As with those who stay with her, she knows those she stays with will offer her much more than any hotel, or even hostel, ever could. Staying with a local person or family provides much better insight into local culture, far more tips on where to go and what to see and allows one to make a more intimate connection with the place they are visiting.

The concept is based on a slightly hippyesque, pay-it-forward kind of philosophy — taking in others leads others to take in others, and so forth. And it gives credence to the belief that in this world there are no complete strangers, only partial ones … friends we haven’t met yet, as I like to think — at least when the cynical journalist, untrusting, worst-case-scenario side  of me doesn’t get in the way.

Jen, in her two years as a member, has only couchsurfed once, in Durango, Colorado, but she’s hosted close to 70 times, many of those being visitors from other countries. They might stay a day, or even a week. (Jen is cool with that.) For her, it has led to many long term friendships and not a single negative experience.

In college, and even afterwards, she notes, she had a core group of friends — all with similar backgrounds and interests. Through couchsurfing, she has expanded her friend horizons, and met lots of different types of people.

Jen grew up in Hastings, Nebraska and at first was hesitant to tell her parents about her involvement in couchsurfing. When she finally did, “they thought it was great,” she said. “Some of my friends think I’m crazy, but I’ve met a lot of cool people.”

She’s now averaging two to six visitors a week, and I — who am sitting, not surfing, on her couch right now, Cali on one side of me, Ace on the other (Jen is cool with that) — am number 68.

As couchsurfing.org explains on its website mission statement: “For one reason or another, some of us may not have the opportunity to explore. There could be any number of obstacles that keep us from venturing as freely as we might otherwise, whether it’s economic limitations, cultural constraints, or simply fear of the unknown … If we could address and overcome those barriers, more of us would naturally tap into our own curious nature and actively explore the world.”

That philosophy, too, is sort of similar to the one behind my current journey — having no money is no reason not to travel; maybe, even, it can be a reason to travel. (Bear and his famiy notwithstanding.)

Couchsurfing.org got its start when founder Casey Fenton bought a cheap ticket to Iceland for a long weekend. Rather than stay at a hotel or hostel, he came up with idea of e-mailing over 1500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik and asking them if he could crash on one of their couches.

That led to numerous offers from Icelanders offering to show “their’ Reykjavik.” After his week in Iceland, he vowed to never again get trapped in a hotel and tourist marathon while traveling.

Originally, I planned to stay two nights, but after one I’m heading to Santa Fe to see an old friend who — assuming her three dogs get along with mine — might let me house/pet sit when she and her veterinarian husband are out of town for a week in July.

I’ll send Jen an email, and leave her a note — in case she’s not back from work by the time I have to leave. I’m sure she’ll be cool with that.

(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” click here.)