FOREWORD: The following was cut and pasted from an Austin Statesman newspaper article about my friend and ex-roommate. Before this bike adventure our Austin apartment was a revolving door for travelers: a Kiwi mopeding from coast to coast, a barista duo roadtripping the States’ best coffeehouses, an Australian music critic, Mr. Vomit, to name a few. Our lives were more interesting thanks to these characters’ company. If you yearn to travel but can’t, consider inviting the world into your living room. Couchsurfing makes it possible.
Austin Statesman: Joshua Adair curled up for a nap on a circular chair in the lounge of the Black Swan Yoga studio in downtown Austin.
The 25-year-old yoga instructor had been moving from couch to couch for a few weeks, waiting for the perfect housing situation after a three-month trip to India.
For this blond, dreadlocked and bearded man, couch surfing has become a way of life — one that is shared by almost 2 million people worldwide. Adair, a seasoned surfer and host who grew up in Pflugerville, also is a “CouchSurfing City Ambassador” for Austin, where he now has an apartment.
He got the title through the international nonprofit organization founded in 2004 by Casey Fenton and three others that connects people globally through its website — CouchSurfing.org — for friendly cultural exchanges and a free couch to sleep on. With an online profile and a $25 donation to verify their location, users can offer up their couches for travelers or choose to surf on some themselves. Austin is ranked ninth among U.S. cities for couch surfing with almost 6,500 surfers, according to the website.
Over the past four years, Adair says he has spent the night on 20 couches in 15 cities. At home, he’s hosted about 70 couch surfers.
Hosting strangers from other places is “kind of like vicarious traveling,” Adair said. “You just get that flavor of the world on your couch all the time.”
As an ambassador, his job is to unify Austin couch surfers by organizing events, such as house parties, river excursions and camping trips.
“I think it brings back the old days of travelers, before youth hostels and backpackers and hotels, when you’d show up dirty and dusty and tired from the road at some random person’s house and ask for shelter for the night, and they’d give you a spot in the barn or something,” Adair wrote on his online profile. “Except now, you can check them out first and offer them a couch.”
Through the website’s interface, users can protect their couches and themselves by screening requests and choosing carefully among foreign couches.
Marcy Etemadi, a 38-year-old former Austin couch surfing ambassador, has hosted 54 surfers and surfed on nine couches in seven cities.
“For some reason CS-ers just seem to be a different breed,” she said. “They don’t mind having strangers in their house.”
She met her husband, Ata, another couch surfer, at a CouchSurfing happy hour in Austin two years ago, and they’ve been married for more than a year. They have a 9-month-old daughter, Sarah.
Adair’s couch surfing career grew out of his desire to travel the world as cheaply as possible after he dropped out of Tulane University. He started in Utah, working for three months as a house framer and then traveled to Costa Rica with his mountain bike, where he rode for 110 miles along the coast, lounging and camping out.
He moved to Austin in August 2005, did data entry at his uncle’s educational research company and saved money for almost a year. Then he headed to Australia, where he got his yoga teaching certification.
From Australia he went to New Zealand, where he happened upon the CouchSurfing collective — a group of about 18 of the San Francisco-based organization’s core — who choose a different place every year to expand the presence of couch surfing. In 2006, they chose New Zealand.
Adair said that when he met them, he thought he had “stumbled into a great secret of the universe.”
He stayed with the members of the collective in a house on the coast for three months. In exchange, he taught them yoga and did a few household chores. There, he learned the ways of couch surfing.
“There’s all these different styles of couch surfing,” Adair said. “You basically just trust the couch surfing experience.”
Some couch surfers freestyle, showing up to a city with no plans and no place to stay, and end up finding shelter using their charisma.
Others barter with their surfers or hosts, getting a place to spend the night in exchange for sharing some knowledge, skills or a cultural exchange.
Adair calls himself a cultural surfer — he’s looking to understand the world by connecting to people who live in different parts of it.
“For me, it just came down to having a little trust in humanity and a little bit of research,” Adair said. “You build a connection with people, and when they ask for help, you help them.”
In 2007, Adair moved back to Austin and met his future roommate, Trevor Wright, at a CouchSurfing party. The two moved into an apartment off South Congress Avenue and began hosting about nine people per month on their leather, L-shaped green couch.
Their biggest couch surfing party consisted of five people — three girls from Minnesota with a traveling massage business and a brother and sister from Spain.
Adair says he hasn’t had any truly negative experiences, except for the time he and Wright hosted a writer from San Francisco who came back drunk from a night out on Sixth Street and covered their couch with vomit.
After nine months of hosting travelers, the couch had to go — the roommates gave it away on Craigslist.org.
Now, back from a 10-day trip to a Kundalini yoga festival in New Mexico, Adair is getting settled into a new apartment near Barton Springs with two roommates.
“After all my travels, (Austin) is still my favorite place in the whole world,” Adair said. “This is where I want to invest my energy fully.”
He says he plans to start hosting couch surfers again soon. As soon as he can secure a new couch.