Backpack Home: Nine Months of Couch Surfing

After the fallout from my divorce, I was not able to afford an apartment for almost the entirety of 2023. Instead, I spent nine months couch surfing, living entirely out of a small, overstuffed backpack and shoulder bag; I am grateful beyond words to all my friends who were kind enough to let me stay with them. That time was such a wonderful way to get to know friends more deeply, or see folks I hadn’t seen in a while, or meet new people entirely. I felt such an expansive feeling of possibility and connection. It was also exhausting, a constant drum beat of figuring out where I could stay next, usually at fairly short notice.

Combined with a divorce process that was (and in some ways, still is) stressful and dehumanizing, I was ready for my itinerant lifestyle to end, far before it did. Yet end it has. I lucked into a room in Astoria, New York City, that I could afford, with wonderful roommates. I’m still settling in, and it doesn’t quite feel real yet, but the relief is real.

Now that I have a little space from it, I wanted to write about my nomadic experiences, specifically about all the people I’ve had the privilege of staying with. My stays were not a vacation for either me or them, we both continued to work, so I integrated myself into their lives as best I could. Most of the places I stayed were around New York to save on travel costs, but I also spent time in Massachusetts and Texas, and now Los Angeles.

This is the introduction to a series, each a recollection organized by people and places I stayed (not in chronological order).

Some things I’ve learned that was true of everyone I stayed with.

  1. Everyone is concerned about their home’s cleanliness/messiness. Folks have wildly different standards here, but universally they feel they are not meeting them.
  2. Most of the friends I stayed with have pets. They’re almost all cats.
  3. People have different assumptions about what time to go to bed, what constitutes a normal breakfast, what topics to talk about, and what soaps are in the shower. If you relax into it, you forget life was ever any different.
  4. Everyone was unaccountably kind to me. I try not to be a dick, but folks were over the top hospitable. I feel very lucky. It was, and remains, overwhelming.

I also (re-)learned that to integrate with folks as seamlessly as possible, you have to be a chameleon. I certainly have plenty of training on that from childhood, and while it’s an incredible asset, I have to be real careful not to lose myself down a pit of someone else’s point of view.

This is really an “issue zero” post, kind of rambling expository introductions, including this sentence of itself. Tune in next time for something more exciting, starting with my time in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.