The Social Adventure
on being a transnational friend slut
I’m no badass long-distance hiker. I quit the Pacific Crest Trail after 2 weeks.
I’m no outdoor survivalist. I don’t tolerate extended heat, cold, humidity, or hunger. God forbid someone needs me to build a shelter or start a fire.
Surfing and mountain biking scare me. Skydiving and bungee jumping don’t attract me. Rock climbing? Beautiful, poetic, and… I’m happy to watch.
In many ways, I’m a softcore adventurer. But when it comes to the social adventure, I’m a goddamn lunatic.
By this I mean: Making new friends frequently. Reaching out, staying in touch. Visiting, revisiting. Circling back, going out of your way. Making plans to meet again, and keeping those plans. Harnessing networks like Couchsurfing and Warmshowers to meet interesting people on every continent.
As evidence, I hereby submit the last four weeks of my life.
Cycling from Freiburg to Strasbourg with Jacky, Couchsurfing amiga extraordinaire, who will soon visit me in Patagonia to kick off a year of South American travel.
Staying in Strasbourg with Kasia and Kacpur, Couchsurfing friends who educate me about the sorry state of reproductive rights in Poland and teach me a fantastic board game involving birds (for which I can hardly stay awake).
Crashing in Mulhouse with Celine: an artist, French teacher for refugees, Warmshowers host, and former Harry Potter Café manager. Taking advantage of her funemployment to a wine festival, watch movies, and bake indulgent American-style brownies together. I absolve my gluttony with repeated 50-meter baptisms in the nearby Olympic pool.
Flying to Krakow, I share dinner and breakfast with Dan, a kind-hearted Californian who cold-messaged me on Couchsurfing seven years ago, simply because he thought we’d get along. A humanitarian then and a humanitarian now, he works with Medecins sans Frontieres and live with his Polish partner. Even if we don’t meet for another seven years, he is a gem.
Dancing three long nights in Krakow. Renting an Airbnb apartment and inviting two other dance friends to share it. Meeting connections from previous events, making new ones from across Europe. DJing the final set. (Partner dance is magic.)
Hopping the train to Warsaw with Weronicka: dance partner, cuddle-buddy, partial soulmate. Long conversations, quiet afternoons, and a contact improv jam.
Flying to Bern, staying with Sarah (Couchsurfer I met in New Zealand) and her soft-spoken engineer boyfriend, Kevin. We go to a bouldering gym, house party, and “Swiss Movement Jam” where I introduce them slacklining and acroyoga. (They’re hooked.) Over morning coffee we discuss: Why is Switzerland rich?
Lingering in Bern for two more days with Rita from Couchsurfing, who works with the children of immigrants to Switzerland, and helping me remember why some school systems absolutely must exist. I cook her pasta, help her plan a cycle tour in the Southwest USA, and abashedly lose her house key.
Hopping the DeutscheBahn to 's-Hertogenbosch (“Den Bosch”) to stay with Ellen, a Dutch traveler I met in January while leading teens through Mexico. She works for the government, loves the flexibility—they let her travel for six months, twice—but still dreams of running away for longer. We feed each other’s wanderlust.
Popping over to Utrecht, I stay with the night with Remy, a kind French dancer I met in Krakow. We attend a dance organized by a mutual friend and nerd out on Eurogames.
Scoot-scooting to Amsterdam, I check-in to a dingy hotel surrounded by “coffee shops” (weed stores) and promptly leave to meet my sister Liza and her husband Robert, with whom I spend the weekend walking and eating and not much more—fantastic. In the early mornings I pilgrimage to the one (actual) coffee shop that’s open at 7am to write. While Liza and Robert take a quiet Saturday date night, I meet my Dutch friend Josine for her friend’s house-warming party (theme: “Australian Summer”). I leave with a koala attached.
Visiting another Dutch Couchsurfing friend, Naomi, who I first met in 2014 at her Amsterdam “anti-squat.” Now she’s the mother of a 2-year-old in the suburbs of Amersfoort and hasn’t lost a single ounce of cool.
Taking another DeutscheBahn to Berlin to do research for Unschool Adventures. But first, meeting an old friend from the unschooling world, Serena, before she leaves town. The next day meeting Alex, a German friend who runs an alternative school, for another beer and a World Cup match.
Returning to Mulhouse by plane for two more chill days with Celine, including a Christmas Market, youth orchestra performance, and Spice Girls revival. I retrieve my touring bike, which Celine kindly let me store in her basement.
Biking back to Freiburg in a steady cold rain, hopping a local train when I can’t feel my toes anymore. Moving into a flatshare for a month; my new housemate has cooked me dinner.
Is this sustainable? It is not.
Now I’m thrilled to stay in one place (Freiburg), write every day, hang out with local friends, and go almost nowhere for a month.
Extraverted adventures beget quiet ones,
good-weather adventures beget drizzly ones.
It’s a cycle of connect, retreat, repeat.