Experiments

Electronic hitchhiker

Credit: Katharina Birkenbach

I’m officially homeless, and the sum of my possessions fits neatly into a 60-litre backpack. My journey will begin as soon as I sell my car. In the meantime, it’s coffeeshop office space and Victoria hospitality. My first destination is Montreal and a ragtag den of unwashed artists and writers, all good friends.

This is just one leg of a revolution, and it’s all online. Where some see a cheapening of social interaction, I see a surge of possibility.
I’ll climb aboard the Swartz Bay ferry with a cardboard sign: “Heading east. Anywhere east.” This first stage, I admit, is conventional.

Armed with an overpowered netbook that puts your iPad to shame, I will set my course by WIFI hotspot. Craigslist and ride-share boards let me hitchhike online, a choosier and (hopefully) more assured method than upraised thumb. And for those cities where my friends and relatives are not able to proffer lodgings out of their own social networks, I will turn to the couches of strangers. “Couchsurfing.org is like Facebook for your couch.”

My bicycle-loving friends Arlene and Fraser travelled to Portland on this tip, staying with randoms who became quick friends. Their week of adventures rivals some tours of Europe. A local connection is key.

The couch-surfing creed is simple: offer a free place for fellow travellers to stay. Meet people and, in turn, create contacts for your own future travels. After each encounter, couch surfers
and couch owners have a chance to review the experience. This keeps everyone honest, and you can get a good sense of people from the references posted to their profiles. Word
of mouth now travels at the speed of a status update. I’ll be travelling at a more terrestrial velocity, but the connections I make will be
forged in frames per second. And meanwhile, I’ll never be far from family and hometown friends, whether by Skype video chat, blog post or photo journal.

David Griffin Brown is on a one year leave of absence from his work at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Stay tuned for updates to his online/offline adventure via geezmagazine.org.

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