Like many inveterate wanderers, I’ve done my share of couch surfing. But never until now have I asked complete strangers if I can spend the night on their couch. Like many new authors, I have a marketing budget of zero. But how could a traveler sell an adventure memoir and not take her book on tour? I knew I had to hit the road, and the only way I could afford that was to plan a route that would rely mostly on staying in hostels or in the homes of friends and family. A shoestring book tour seemed fitting, since They Only Eat Their Husbands: A Memoir of Alaskan Love, World Travel, and the Power of Running Away is largely about my shoestring trek around the world.
I underestimated how far I’d have to take that idea.
A shoestring tour seemed fitting, since They Only Eat Their Husbands is largely about a shoestring trek around the world.
I won’t receive the first revenue from book sales until May. Yet I’m going on my tour from March 20 to April 16, right when I’m approaching the limits of my credit. I believe in the power of networking, so I’m not shy about sharing my goals with supportive friends—and it was one of them who suggested, “You should check out the couch surfing website.”
My mouth dropped. I wasn’t surprised that there was a couch surfing site – it’s one of those “of course” sorts of ideas. At first I was simply surprised at myself for not thinking of it sooner. Then I was shocked to realize how ready I was to consider the idea, even though what came out of my mouth was, “Stay on strangers’ couches?”
“I’m sure it’s safer than you think,” my friend Chelly said.
After I started mentally tallying $40 and $50 motel stays in Wyoming and Montana, I was ready to believe her. So I signed up at CouchSurfing.org. I gave as detailed a profile as I could, including my philosophy, interests, tastes, and especially my travels – in hopes of matching up with the most compatible people possible. When I told my husband what I was doing, he gaped.
“I’m going to worry about you,” he said.
“Well, if I get axe-murdered, at least I won’t have to worry about the rest of the tour.” Not that I’m not excited about it, but I am driving a rattling ’95 Honda Civic Hatchback through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, plus taking a quick flight to Alaska – all in just four weeks. So a little trepidation seems in order.
Anyway, trying to keep the Craigslist Killer out of my head, I started to surf for generous fellow-wanderers with free couches. And as I read their profiles, I started to get excited. Each couch surfer’s page not only includes detailed personal information, but also reviews from other couch surfers who’ve stayed with them or hosted them. As I read on, it became apparent that I’d found another part of my tribe: informed, open-minded, adventurous people like me, who sometimes want or need to travel for less. I’ve put in two requests so far, and one woman in Montana has already offered her futon. She’s a veterinarian, world traveler, and outdoor enthusiast, who believes in eating dessert first. I can’t wait to meet her.
Couch surfing among friends has become one of my keys to a wider world. When I applied for a job in Salt Lake I stayed with friends, and while they were at work, I alternated job interviews with ski days at Alta. I also got to share a family tradition with their kids: they pulled out a basket that held a different candy for each night, along with a Christmas story to go with it. When I was in Nepal, I trekked with a German woman who a few months later invited me to crash at the London home she shared with five roommates. One night at Piccadilly Circus, she asked a police officer if it was true that if a pregnant woman has a sudden need to pee, a Bobby must give up his hat. The answer, after much laughter, was no. “So this American and this German walk up to this British Bobby…” The multi-cultural experiences don’t get much better than that.
Although I haven’t couch-surfed among strangers before, I’ve done plenty of stranger-surfing. I’ve often decided on gut instinct whether to trust a fellow-traveler to share the road, a ride, or a room. Each has taught me new things or led me to new experiences. A young Dutchman took me to a dark Chinese restaurant where I’m still not sure if we ate cow intestine, although the waitress was delighted with Rolf’s mooing. An old Spaniard took me to a crater near his home and told me the story of a young woman who leapt into it to avoid an arranged marriage. Many friendships I’ve made on the road have been temporary, but no less meaningful for that.
I see this book tour as an opportunity to reinforce my memoir’s themes: running away is underrated, the hardest journeys are the most rewarding, and going it alone leads to new friendships. If life isn’t about the destination, but the journey, then the journey isn’t just about the road, but the people along that road. This book tour won’t just be about bookstores, coffee shops, or speaking venues. It will be about people, each one a new wave of possibility for this little couch-surfer girl.
If you want to join my Book Tour Adventure…
You can soon find out more about my tour at my Events page. You can also follow my wanderings here on my blog, or @CaraLopezLee on Twitter, or on the Facebook Fan Page for They Only Eat Their Husbands. If you’d like tips on planning your own adventures, I’m offering FREE Girls Trek Too workshops at several stops. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the tour, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.