“My name is Monica,” I said to the two boys from Germany as I pointed to my name tag. As I moved my hand, it brushed against something sticky tangled in my hair. When I realized that my name tag was balled up and crumbled in my hair like an unlucky bug in a spiderweb, I awkwardly laughed and went to rip it out, trying to save myself from my inevitable embarrassment.
“Hah, it’s tangled!” I hoped pointing it out would make the moment less awkward, which was definitely not the case. I pulled the name tag out and stuck it back onto my shirt along with a few strands of hair, which became nothing but gross decorative pieces that hung from the name tag and stayed on my shirt the rest of the night.
As if he had watched this awkward interaction, a Turkish guy came up to the three of us at the most opportune moment and said, “want to go outside?” I turned to the two Germans, shrugged, and all of us walked outside of the bar and onto the gum infused sidewalks of New York City. We joined a larger group with a girl from Egypt, two French girls, and a few more Americans.
Proper exchanges of “where are you from?” and “what do you do?” quickly turned into contagious laughter as people shared stories from their travels. One of them was about a confusing, 3 a.m. exchange between a traveler and a deli counterperson who was drinking Bud Light from a straw and trying to convince the guy to come on his boat the next day (only in New York…).
This was my first Couchsurfing meet up. Recently, I’ve been itching to travel again, to Couchsurf, to sleep in hostels with 10 other strangers, and to feel foreign soil on my bare feet and in between my toes. Suddenly, it came to me: why not be a traveler in my own city? And what better way to do that than to go to a Couchsurfing meet up?
I felt like I was in another country, having just met these people at a hostel, and here we all were on our first night out together. The conversation between one another was genuine, the compliments were real, and the desire to learn about another person’s home country was powerful.
I was standing on the sidewalk in a city I knew so well, feeling like a traveler. I loved it. I loved seeing New York City through the eyes of someone who was just visiting for the first time. I had only just met these people, but already I was sharing stories about the corneal ulcers I had had just a few months ago (thankfully this happened when I was at home… or it’d be another one for the books), and showing them my hula hooping videos.
I was amazed at how many people showed up to this event. There were over 70 people at the bar, all from different places in the world, all connecting over one thing we know we truly love: travel. Couchsurfing is not only there as a resource for free accommodation, but it’s there more importantly as a way to meet other like minded travelers and make new friends. I’m going to make it a priority to try and go to at least a few more Couchsurfing events while I’m still in New York, and eventually, go to ones around the world.
We spent the rest of the night bar hopping around Manhattan, and eventually stuffing our faces with dollar slices of pizza. I went from knowing no one to having a really fun night with a new group of friends.
As a solo traveler, I sometimes feel anxious about meeting new people: what if I don’t make any friends, or don’t talk to anyone? What if I’m left out of the loop and alone? However, every time I prove to myself that making friends or meeting people is not as hard or scary as I think it will be.
When I first walked into the bar for the Couchsurfing meet up, I was a tiny bit overwhelmed with the thought that I had to pick a group of people and approach them. That thought is terrifying.
I immediately went over to the bar to buy myself a drink to delay having to approach anyone. Granted, it only takes a few minutes to get a drink, so when I turned around and decided to face my fear, I saw the host of the meet up wave me over to talk to the group of people he was talking to (the song Hallelujah started playing in my head over and over). From there, conversation flowed from one person to the next the rest of the night.
Going to these meet ups as a solo traveler is the most ideal way to teach yourself how to meet new people. Most of the people at these meet ups are traveling by themselves, which is a reassuring thought (they are probably just as nervous as you!).
Of course those of us Couchsurfing and going to meet ups still have to be cautious; don’t take a drink from a stranger, or put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. I went to this event as a solo female and still had an incredible time and felt completely safe throughout the entire night while also paying attention to my surroundings.
After the event, I kept in touch via Facebook with a few of the travelers I met. I ended up hanging out with a few of them a couple days later. They wanted to have a non-touristy experience of New York while they were visiting, so I took them to the south shore beaches of Long Island and a few locals towns. They were so thankful to experience this area of New York that most foreigners don’t see, and I was even more thankful to have been able to show them.
There are so many of these meet ups around the world. All you have to do to find out about them is to join Couchsurfing.com, and then search for events in your area! There are a ton of events every day in New York City and other cities around the world, that it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be able to make it to at least one.
And to think I was debating between going to this event and staying home and watching episodes of Family Guy and South Park…