I travel alone but this is not a solo expedition. In every country, on every road, I am blessed to meet incredible people who guide me on my way:
Back home I have wonderful parents and a beautiful sister with a family of her own. Everyone was incredibly supportive as I planned and eventually undertook this adventure. They were nervous to see me go, but they bit their tongues and rallied behind me as I followed my dream. For that, I can’t possibly thank them enough.
I had to move out of my apartment at the end of May but, because of work, I didn’t leave for my trip until the middle of June. I was homeless, and by all accounts a pretty pathetic creature with just four panniers and a bike to my name. No matter for Krista, who happily let me crash in her apartment for 10 days. At a time when I had a million questions and must-do’s running through my mind, where I was going to live didn’t weigh on me in the least thanks to her. She’s about as generous as they come.
My first CouchSurfing experience was fantastic thanks to Lara and her wonderful hospitality. Her cabin was perfectly situated in the middle of nowhere, and the midnight sun gave us a great chance to talk about books over rum and coke – the first of either I’d seen since I left. A great person and a stellar host!
I biked 14 extra miles in the rain to make it to Talkeetna, but the thought never occurred to me after I met Jess. She set me up with hot food and cold beer at the restaurant where she worked, and the spot she offered at her cabin was exactly what I needed. I woke up with a hound licking my ear and water dripping on my head from the leaky roof. I couldn’t have been happier. I sincerely hope I get to meet Jess again, maybe even for a bike trip.
Dutch Cycle from Regina, Canada
Freddy and his crew taught me a million things about cycle touring and set me up with a top-notch bike that still makes me grin like a fool when I look at it. If you’re ever in Regina, take an afternoon to discover the Dutch touch for yourself. These guys are second to none.
Oh the fun I had in Pam’s company. She was my third CouchSurfing host, and the experience is one I’ll never forget. After dancing to an insane Celtic band at the bar, we wobbled our way around town on a quest for gas station chicken. She never made it, and I wound up wandering the streets in sock feet at 5 a.m. (long story), but it was one of the most fun nights I’ve had on my trip. Loved it!
Spending time with Bev added a richness to my trip that I will never forget. With a few beers and a lot of laughs, we spent hours on a clear night watching the full moon pass from one end of Teslin Lake to the other. When I awoke, sleepy-eyed and smiling on her patio sofa, she stuffed my pockets with dried fruit, smoked salmon and even a miniature Tlingit flag that I happily carried on my travels south. I can´t imagine my journey without the Yukon and I can’t imagine the Yukon without Bev – a truly special woman and someone I’m proud to call my friend.
At the Hazelton Cultural Days, I was holding a hotdog one moment and a toddler the next. I still don’t know how it happened, but it definitely broke the ice between his dad and I. While little Emery slept on my shoulder, Darren pointed out the other three youngsters in his care and said that if I could stand the chaos, I was welcome to pitch my tent at his place. In the end, I stayed with he and his partner Anissa for three days, and from the first moment I felt like a part of the family. The night before I left, Darren and I spoke under a starry sky about our journeys and the point of it all. What he told me opened my eyes, and my world has been a different place ever since. I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am to have met him.
Karen from Nelson, Canada
As I was grinding over the NWT/Yukon border, tongue hanging out and legs burning, Karen pulled up and invited me into her vehicle to get away from the wind. Once I was sitting down, she took the lid off a pot and presto, I was eating delicious salmon and buttered potatoes. It was the only supper I got that night, and I was floored by her thoughtfulness. Karen, from one cyclist to another, thank you!
I was exhausted after crossing the Rocky Mountains near Jasper. Luckily my old roommate Gabe invited me to stay with he and his family in Edmonton. Between beer in ambiguous white cans, backyard barbecues and garden apples, I was able to recuperate from the road while enjoying the company of a good friend. But the kicker for me was that Gabe, in the shortest of short-shorts, cycled more than 80 blocks with me so I wouldn’t get lost when I left the city.
Dazed from the grit of the Saskatchewan wind, I arrived at my friend Carrie’s place to find people in every conceivable corner of the house. It was madness, but also wonderful to meet so many folks from Kent’s family, reunite with my cat and stuff my face with hamburgers and mouth-watering steak from the barbecue. Then, as if that weren’t enough, we all piled into a few cars and made our way downtown to watch spectacular fireworks on the riverfront. To be in such wonderful company was a real treat for me, and I can´t think of two better hosts (and friends) than Carrie and Kent.
I cycled through the Dutch capital for an entire day and never once knew exactly where I was. Annoyed at being lost, I sat on a bench and grumbled over a map. That’s when Julie biked past and, without asking my name, invited me to stay at her apartment. The next evening we joined her friends for dinner on a houseboat in the canal. Amsterdam is a nice city, but that night it was beautiful.
William from Dawson, Canada
Caught in a rainstorm and cold beyond shivering, I let myself into William’s empty hunting cabin to dry my dripping clothes. He arrived a short time later, but instead of getting angry or kicking me out, he invited me to spend the night. William is a saint. I spent the night in a cozy cot – my first bed in nearly two weeks – as a warm fire crackled in the old stove beside me.
Bordeaux was the first city that I well and truly adored, and I’ve no doubt that Margot was the reason. A spunky Irish/French chatterbox, she whisked me in and out of narrow streets, pointing to the sights while picking my brain about everything from God to Gypsies. She was a gem, a total sweetheart, and I still consider her one of my favourite CouchSurfing hosts.
Yolanda was the kindest, most gentle host I could ever imagine. I picked up a dreadful stomach bug in the north of Spain, but with her help I was finally able to get back on my feet. She patiently offered food, a badly needed shower and even a place to do laundry. I spent an entire day laying on her couch while her dog Lala snuggled beside me and licked my face. When I left her apartment, I felt stronger than I had for weeks. Yolanda deserves more thanks than I’ll ever be able to give.
Sol is beautiful in a hundred ways. We met under barroom lights in Spain and when the dancing was done she made me promise to call her when I arrived in Portugal. I did, and even though she was already late for a dinner party, she walked me to a top-rate hostel and paid for my stay. I only hope we somehow get to meet again because our time together was all too short.
Gerald and Jullian from McBride, Canada
This wonderful couple invited me to stay at their house, where they stuffed me to the gills with delicious food. Jullian even did my laundry! The next day, the two drove me to the foot of Mount McBride so I could get off my bike and do some hiking. When I asked what I did to deserve their generosity, Gerald smiled and said, “Nothing. It just makes us happy.”
When we met, Jen thought I was a homeless person. I thought she was stoned. We were wrong and then we were friends. She bounced me between Spanish sights, hazy bars and a dizzying array of wonderful people. When I left for a rest on the coast, she generously offered to keep my gear in storage. Sort of. There was a threat of bodily harm if I didn’t enjoy her favourite book and a not-so-subtle hint that she’d sell my bike if I didn’t visit her again. Jen will always be tops on my list of ex-patriot vegetarian lesbian CouchSurfing hosts.
I wonder if Aviva knew what it meant when she invited me to stay in Punta Umbria. I wonder if she knew how badly I needed a rest, how exhausted I had become. My legs were weights, my head going nowhere. Does she know she saved my trip? For a month I lived on tiny Calle Salmon, laughing with Aviva and her friends, preparing feasts, playing dice and blowing smoke. It was exactly what I needed. Thanks to her generosity and hospitality, I was able to get back on the road rested in body and mind. Without Aviva, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and with each mile I cycle, my debt to her grows.
Marseille is one of the least bicycle-friendly cities in the world, but that didn’t seem to matter after meeting Mathilde. She hosted me for three days, and while I always had the freedom to explore the city alone, she was also kind enough to show me sights I could never have found on my own. My time in Marseille was a delight thanks to Mathilde.
Ralph and Sarah from Moerkapelle, Netherlands
My first day in Europe was a comedy of errors, and by late afternoon I was completely lost. I didn’t even know what village I was in. I sat for a while on a park bench, trying to make sense of my map, but eventually I gave up and walked to a nearby pub. There I met Ralph and Sarah, who insisted that I stay to watch the football match on television and afterwards sleep in their guest bedroom. Ralph even let me borrow an orange shirt so I would fit in with all the other crazy fans at the pub. And when the night came to an end, I dug into my pockets for my wallet, only to find that my new friends had paid my entire bill. Such kindness toward a complete stranger still boggles my mind, but I am forever thankful. Ralph and Sarah turned a miserable day on my bicycle into an affection for Holland I’ll carry always.
Sarah has racked up some serious karma points by hosting me twice – first in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, in 2009 and then a year later in Italy. She and her partner Armando transformed a chaotic city into a playground to be explored and adored. By the time I left Rome I’d seen and savored more than I ever thought possible. Enjoying their company wasn’t just the highlight of Italy – it was one of the best parts of my trip.
Panni and her wonderful family saved me from a park-bench weekend in Budapest. On ultra short notice they invited me into their home, making me feel welcome from the first moment. We shared meals, laughed around the kitchen table, and lounged in the backyard while Malvin the dog snored on my chest. This is to say nothing of the pálinka-fuelled adventure Panni and I had in the capital. Looking back now, I’ve no doubt Hungary wouldn’t have been Hungary without the Vekerdy’s.
I was spending an afternoon playing with mutts in Slatina’s village square when Nenad pulled up on his bicycle. He spoke little English but that didn’t stop him from drilling me with questions about my trip. Before we parted ways an hour later, he invited me to stay at his place a few kilometres down the road. It was one of the best stops I ever made. I stayed for a full week, meeting his family and friends, sharing fresh food from his garden and laughing over endless shots of rakia. I’ve met many wonderful people on the road, but few have a heart bigger than Nenad’s. He is a true gentleman.
Dany from Vilvoorde, Belgium
Late one night, not far from Brussels, I found myself standing in the pouring rain with a broken tent pole in my hands. Soaked and without a place to stay, I resigned myself to a cold night on the streets. Then I happened upon Dany. He kindly invited me to his house where he insisted I eat supper and dry my gear while his son fashioned a new tent pole for me. The pair even gave me maps and helped me plan my route to the French border. I don’t often need to be saved, but I did on that night and Dany was my guardian angel.
Strange that a quick water break should turn into three of the most powerful days of my life. Podunavci is poor – a Gypsy ghetto, really – but I hadn’t been there 10 minutes before I had a homemade sandwich, a cold beer and an entire village of new friends. People invited me into their homes as though we’d always been neighbours; they shared with me what was barely enough for them. The Jovanovic’s in particular treated me like a son and few days go by when I don’t think of them.
I was picking berries near the highway when a young boy and his grandmother approached. They stared at me in alarm and then walked away hurriedly. A few minutes later the boy returned with his sister Teona. In broken English she explained that her grandma was afraid I’d be eaten by wolves and insisted I stay at their nearby farm. Whether I was in real danger is debatable, but of Kalandarishvili hospitality there is no question. When I set off the next morning, I could barely balance my bike with all the fresh food they’d given me.
Igor and Natalia were absolutely fantastic CouchSurfing hosts. Despite their hectic schedules they found time to make my stay in Tbilisi one to remember. They picked me up on the night of my arrival, waited patiently as I collected my onward travel visas, and shared enough delicious food to fill a hungry cyclist.
The Ollersdorf Football Club from Ollersdorf, Austria
Soaked and cold, I pulled into Ollersdorf and asked if I could sleep under the awning of the stadium. The manager kindly agreed and I happily settled into my first dry night in a week. I was almost asleep when the senior team invited me into the clubhouse for post-practice drinks. They wouldn’t let me open my wallet all night, and when the last bottle was finally emptied, the players insisted I sleep inside so I could take a hot shower in the morning. It may have been a small thing for them, but it was a huge deal for me.
I’d been in Iran 10 minutes and already I had a phone call. The trouble was, I didn’t know anybody in the country. A bunch of guys at the side of the road were holding out a mobile saying, “For you, for you!” I half expected to be kidnapped, but curiosity got the better of me and I tentatively answered. Yaser introduced himself and explained that his friends had spotted me crossing the border. Excitedly he invited to stay with him in Choobar, where I was stuffed with food, taken sightseeing and introduced to his family. What a wonderful introduction to Iran!
I don’t know what I would have done without Reza and Angel. They invited me into their home and waited graciously as I collected my onward visas – a nearly impossible task in Tehran. I would set out early in the morning and return hours later, dejected and empty-handed. They always assured me that things would work out, “Insha’Allah” (God willing). They were right. After a week of pounding pavement I’d finally secured all my stamps. Yet I was sad to leave. Reza and Angel taught me so much about faith and patience. I knew I would miss them terribly. I still do.
Majid, Habib and the beautiful Zahara inspired me. Whether we were in their home, on a family picnic or strolling the streets, they offered love and a gentleness of spirit I hardly knew existed. When I left Mashhad they bought me a bike tire and, embarrassed, said it wasn’t enough. I gave Majid my solar radio, the only thing I had worth giving, and understood exactly what they meant.
“Angry Mob” from the Azerbaijan/Iran border
This border exit was a single chain-link door blocked by hundreds of screaming and sweating travelers. The guards at the gate were enraged, cursing and pointing their machine guns at the crowd. Amid the chaos I found myself lifted by unseen hands and shouldered to the front of the queue. My bicycle followed a few moments later. Quickly the guards whisked me through the door, and as it clanged shut I turned to look at the mob that had pushed me forward. The faces I saw on that hot awful day just looked at me and smiled.
Near Tashkent I was robbed at knife point and left with nothing. Alisher, a local policeman, promised everything would be okay. True to his word, he helped round up the thieves. My bicycle and bags were found shortly after. I considered it a miracle, but the real blessing was that Alisher invited me to his home when the fiasco was over. We shared a dawn breakfast as his children beamed at me, pouring cup after cup of hot coffee. The next day he gave me a new set of clothes and had a squad car drive me the rest of the way to the capital. After seeing the worst of Uzbekistan, the Shukarov’s showed me the very best.
Suffering from dysentery, I was bedridden in a hostel with a terrible fever. When I couldn’t eat or even walk to the toilet, Richard slung my arm over his shoulder and dragged me to the nearest hospital. He translated for me and made certain I got proper treatment. In the end, I needed an IV drip and three weeks of rest to recover. I have no doubt: without Richard, I never would have left China on a bike.
Thailand was paradise and nowhere more idyllic than the seaside town of Hua Hin. Douglas, a friend from Canada, and his partner Paul invited me into their home and guided me through the labyrinth of downtown markets and bars. Between drinks and dances we met an elephant on the street and Gao, a monkey sage reclining on the beach. I enjoyed every moment, and when I look back now, I’m grateful to have shared my days with such fine people.
Yun from Yining, China
China overloads the senses and I felt inundated by the time I reached the northwest city of Yining. I saw thousands of faces, all of them curious and none especially friendly. Yun was the exception. He waded through a throng assembled around me and quietly asked if I wanted some company. We shared a meal that night and later he insisted on buying me a hotel room. In the morning he knocked on my door and thrust two bags of groceries in my hands. “For the journey,” he said before shaking my hand and disappearing down the hall. I spent five eventful months in China and that simple act of kindness is still my fondest memory.
Desy spotted me from his scooter as I ate lunch at the side of the road. He swerved through traffic and pulled an impossibly tight u-turn just to say hello. Within minutes of meeting, he invited me to spend the night in his home where I not only met his family, but also half of the neighborhood. In the end I stayed for three days, sharing food, stories and laughter. As a snapshot of village life and an example of hospitality, the experience was nothing short of wonderful.
It seemed no Indonesian welcome came without a warning. I was told everywhere to be wary of bandits and terrorists. Camping at night was unwise and certain areas were to be avoided altogether. It was even suggested that the only way to stay safe was to sleep at police stations. Reluctantly I agreed, and to my amazement the police welcomed me with open arms. Not once in my two months in Indonesia was I refused a spot to pitch my tent. The officers always insisted I shower at the station and, with huge grins, offered food, cigarettes and stories. With their help I learned the language and discovered a side of the country that would otherwise have been hidden from me. I’ll never be able to think of Indonesia without remembering the gentlemen who helped me through it.
After quitting my job in Darwin, I had to leave Australia to cancel my work visa. I wanted to do something “good” so I contacted Darren and Deborah, who run an orphanage and birthing home near Manila. They enthusiastically invited me to stay with them and volunteer. I spent three weeks landscaping, painting and holding beautiful kids who almost broke my heart. When I returned to Australia I was at peace, and keenly aware of just how lucky I am. The Gustafson’s and their work will always be in my prayers.
Ben and Michelle from Yabberup, Australia
I had a short chat with Ben and Michelle on a lonely stretch of highway. A half hour later Ben reappeared in his truck and said he hoped I didn’t think him “weird” for asking if I’d like to stay at the couple’s house. I readily accepted the invitation. On one of the coldest nights of the year I was treated to dinner and wine beside a crackling fire, plus a cozy sleep in a backyard caravan. Why? Because Ben and Michelle are good people – the very sort you hope to meet – and there will never be anything weird about that.
Some people ride their bike to the mall. Jayne rode hers through Tajikistan. She is up for anything, including hosting a scraggly Canadian cyclist covered in red dust. I spent a whirlwind week in her company, hiking at Mount Cooke, pedaling to Kings Park, tipping pint glasses and watching random movies. But what I enjoyed most was ogling Jayne’s cycle tour pictures. It’s not often I meet another person who takes photos of roads because they see more than just bitumen.
When I met Peta in Canada, she said she came from the prettiest little corner of Australia and someday I should visit. So I did. I took a 5,000 km detour to Boyup Brook only to find that its uncommon beauty seemed small compared to her family’s hospitality. I hoped only for a place to pitch my tent, but was treated instead to homemade cooking, sightseeing, cider tasting and a most entertaining debate about how best to build a dog house. Peta’s mother Sue even took me for an after-hours tour of the local insect installation. When it comes to friendly faces, a weary traveler could do no better than the wonderful White family. They are missed.
I hadn’t had time to lift my camera to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse before Paul raced across the grass and invited me to spend the night in the caretaker’s cottage. There were no questions, not even an exchange of names – he just breathlessly told me he was a fellow cyclist and I was welcome to stay. As a storm raged outside, we sat in Paul’s cozy stone home, trading stories from the road and shaking our heads at the bikes that make it possible. Not many folks have a chance to sleep on Australia’s extreme southwest corner, and I won’t forget the gift anytime soon.
Gideon from Nillup, Australia
With rain driving on his Hobbit feet, Gideon shook my hand and grinned, revealing toothless gums and a heart of gold. He said I was welcome to stay in an unused caravan on his farm until the storm passed. I later asked the clerk in the general store if it was a good idea, and she just smiled. “He’s nuts – sometimes he farms naked – but he’s harmless.” That was good enough for me. The next morning Gideon clapped me on the back and gave me a bag of oranges he’d collected from his yard. I realized it didn’t matter if he was crazy. His kindness meant everything.
Denmark was perhaps the most welcoming town I visited in Australia, and no face was friendlier than Ian’s. He found me eating expired sausages outside the local IGA and promptly invited me to share a homemade meal instead. I don’t remember the dinner or the wine, but our conversation is still etched on my mind. Ian’s wisdom changed the way I travel, for which I am forever thankful.
For people who train for triathlons and bike in Laos for fun, Graham and Karen were remarkably relaxed. They opened their home to this weary traveler and welcomed me as one of their family. As we shared stories of our biking adventures, I bounced their grandson on my knee, cheered on their son at football and even convinced their fraidy-cat dog to go for a walk. It was a wonderful time with wonderful people, and certainly my fondest memory of the Eyre Peninsula.
Great hosts have great couches, and Erin and Pete’s was possibly the world’s comfiest. They also had a magical cookie jar that never ran out of ginger snaps and enough laughter and backyard vegetables to fill even the hungriest of cyclists. Together we raced Dragon Boats, tended honeybees and drooled over ridiculously expensive cheese at the downtown markets, making for a fun-filled week in South Australia’s beautiful capital.
The community of Lorinna, Australia
I planned to visit Lorinna for two weeks and ended up staying for four months. Though the valley was beautiful, what kept me there was the people. They patiently taught me so many things I never knew I wanted to learn, from tending sheep to gardening to the lost art of cribbage. Thanks to their hospitality, Lorinna will always be one of my fondest memories of my time in Australia.
It was after dark on a night without a spot to camp when Rosalie pulled her truck alongside me. Instead of saying hello she looked me up and down and asked if I was an axe murderer. “No way, ” I said. ” I’m strictly a hatchet man.” She didn’t have to laugh, but she did. She didn’t have to make me dinner and give me a bed, but she did that too. For taking a chance on me, and for offering warmth on a lonely road, Rosalie has my sincere thanks.
I planned to sleep at the Christchurch airport and arrive at Biffy’s home the following morning, but instead she surprised me at the gate and drove me to her place in the middle of the night. A month later, after my tour of the South Island, she graciously agreed to host me again. Thanks to her hospitality and expert route advice, my first impressions of New Zealand were nothing short of fantastic.
Warmshowers, the hospitality network for cyclists, would never work without people like Patrick and his partner Dolores. I hadn’t even unpacked my bags before Patrick gave me a pile of maps and pointed out the best places to explore in downtown Wellington. Later he helped me choose a route across the North Island and organized more hosts further down the road. Who could ever ask for more?