Late Sunday night found my roommate and I sitting on top of a dune in White Sands National Monument with an English couple we'd met earlier that morning. We'd lent them a tent, dropped their backpacks at our house and set out for a five-hour road trip through southwestern New Mexico. Bring a swimsuit for Elephant Butte Lake, we said, and a sleeping bag.
As bizarre as it was for my roommate and I to find ourselves camping with strangers, it was stranger for Julia and Fen who had started the day at Einstein Bagels without a plan.
Such is the beauty of CouchSurfing.org, a global nonprofit network connecting travelers with locals. The network encompasses more than 230 countries and three million members.
Each surfer (or surfer-couple) creates a profile describing their interests, goals, travel stories and pictures. Travelers send out messages asking if they can crash on a couch during their time in a city. Some people host every week, others only do so occasionally. No money changes hands, although it's considered polite to offer a bottle of wine or a home-cooked meal.
It takes a lot of trust to open your doors to a stranger or to spend the night on a foreign couch, so the network has set up a series of verification practices. The site confirms a member's name and address but the community relies on hosts and surfers vouching for each other. Perhaps the leap of faith is that the person you connect with will be someone with whom you want to spend a couple hours or even days.
While the four of us lounged on the marshmallow frosting dunes, we discussed the unusual circumstances that brought us together. Perhaps all CouchSurfers share a willingness to be spontaneous in the search for adventure—even if it means journeying deep into a 275-square-mile desert with strangers.