187: CONNECTICUT, USA: Couchsurfing with New Friends

March 17, 2021

In this episode, I leave Providence and head to Connecticut where I Couchsurf my way through the city and make new friends at a CouchCrash.
We tour the Mark Twain House & Museum and I take a drive with a former nomad, the local Margaret Webster.

Greetings from Connecticut, USA

Welcome to the third instalment of Season 6 of The Radio Vagabond travel podcast series. In this episode, (#187 of my entire nomad journey!) you’ll join me for an exciting Couchsurfing adventure through Connecticut, New England. But first, let’s start where I ended off in the previous episode in the smallest state in the USA, Rhode Island. I’m about to check-in to my Airbnb in Providence…let’s do this!

Let's start where I ended off in the previous episode in the smallest state in the USA, Rhode Island.

ARRIVING IN PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

As I knocked on the door of my Airbnb, I was immediately greeted by my wonderful host family with a small, very energetic (LOUD) dog. It took a day for the puppy to warm up to this dashing Danish vagabond, but we established an understanding.

I headed south to the famous Cliff Walk to take in the scenery
I headed south to the famous Cliff Walk to take in the scenery

I spent my first day in Providence working in my room directing a voice-over recording from Denmark, which meant I had to set my alarm for the early hours of the morning (#nomadlife). After I finished work, I decided to take a drive through the city while continuing to listen to Crime Town, a true-crime podcast set in Providence. 

There are some big houses in Newport, RI
There are some big houses in Newport, RI

NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

The next day, I decided to trust the internet suggestions of ‘things to do in Rhode Island’ and headed South to the famous Cliff Walk to take in the scenery. The cliff walk is exactly that: a slow, wandering stroll on the cliff edge overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean. It is so peaceful here, I really love the smell of the ocean.

After I had enough of soul-searching on the cliff edge, I returned to my Airbnb in Providence and gathered my things: it was time to hit the road again.

NEXT STOP: CONNECTICUT

The next day, I arrived in Connecticut – the 3rd of the 6 states I will visit on my road trip. I decided on trying out a different method of accommodation this time around…I joined the Connecticut Couchsurfing community!

CONNECTICOUCH: A COUCHSURFING COMMUNITY

Let me tell you a bit about the Couchsurfing concept before I meet my new friends here.

Couchsurfing.com is a free platform where travelers and hosts can find each other and organize a place to spend the night. It’s called Couchsurfing, but you typically don’t sleep on a couch. I’ve done it all over the world and every time I’ve had my own room.

You basically just sign up and get free access to all available hosts. Couchsurfing was launched in 2004 and today they have more than 15 million users. You can search for hosts in over 200,000 cities all over the world and you have the opportunity to message these hosts and kindly ask for them to open up their home for you – for no cost.

No money changes hands, but you shouldn’t see it as a free hotel. It’s expected that you talk to your hosts and get to know them. I mean, that’s why they are opening their doors in the first place. It’s nice to save money when you’re travelling, but that shouldn’t be the main reason!

It’s also normal to give them a small gift. It can be a bottle of wine, or you take them out for dinner or bring something iconic from your hometown. But it can also be you singing a song or telling a story…

We meet at Eli Cannons Tap House
We meet at Eli Cannons Tap House

MEETING JASON

A man walks into a bar and meets Jason and his partner, Lee… I know it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that’s what’s happened.

Jason Griffing is the driving force behind ConnectiCOUCH
Jason Griffing is the driving force behind ConnectiCOUCH

The bar was expectedly noisy and not ideal for podcast recording, so we went out back and found a quieter location for a chat over some ice-cold beers.

Jason is one of the main organisers of ConnectiCOUCH, a Couchsurfing meetup (CouchCrash) hosted in Connecticut. Ittakes place over a weekend every other year. “This is our second event after a successful launch event two years ago. We’re trying to bring people from all over the world together to show how really great Connecticut is” says Jason.

Not only is this my first CouchCrash, but it’s also my first time in Connecticut. And I’m not the only one – not that many tourists come here even though it’s so close to both New York and Boston.

“Even though Connecticut is a tiny state, there is a lot of really interesting and neat stuff happening here. There is a lot of history and outdoor beauty. But Connecticut is a place of a lot of ‘firsts’: the first American hamburger was made here, and the first telephone booth in the country was made here too.”

When Jason is not hosting vagabonds from all over the world, he works as a manager of the retail department of a big casino in the state. 

COUCH-CRASHING

The Couchsurfing community also organises CouchCrashes: multi-day events that members put together to celebrate their local Couchsurfing community. This is an awesome way for locals and travellers alike to connect, learn about the area, and see the cities in the state in a whole new way. It’s also a great way to make new friends and enjoy an unforgettable and unique travel experience.

I’ve heard about them during my travels but never had the opportunity to join – until now. 

“It’s a great way to bring all the devoted Couchsurfing hosts and members around the country to come to Connecticut and enjoy what we have to offer. We did our first ConnectiCOUCH in 2016 and we had a lot of people attend which propelled us to make it a bi-annual event. We wanted to make sure that there is an activity or event that caters to every taste: outdoors adventures, historical excursions, bar crawls, river tubing, history museum tours, etc.”

CONNECTICOUCH AND COVID-19

This episode was recorded pre-Covid. Jason told me that they were planning to do another ConnectiCOUCH in 2020 that unfortunately got cancelled. The next one is scheduled for August 2021, but only time will tell if that is too soon. You can find all upcoming events all over the world on the Global Couchsurfing Event Calendar.

Hartford from above
Hartford (from above) is one of the oldest cities in USA

COUCHCRASH TO MAKE FRIENDS

CouchCrash is about getting to know the area but most of all it’s about meeting up with friends and making new ones.

“It’s a great way to meet so many different people, especially when people have come from afar to experience the couch surfing vibe in Connecticut. The tagline for Couchsurfing is ‘Meet friends you haven’t met yet’ which encapsulates exactly what this movement is all about. I have made some long-lasting friendships thanks to Couchsurfing, it’s amazing to be able to build such unique friendships.”

I still maintain friendships with people I have met Couchsurfing to this day. It really is a way to forge strong bonds with people from all over the world. You never know where you’re going to end up and having a network of friends around the world who you can meet up with and stay with for a few days is really magical.

A great Mark Twain quote
A great Mark Twain quote about travelling.

Yes, it truly is an enriching experience. Before I became a nomad, and actually had a home, I was also hosting people. I had a German guy and a Colombian woman staying with me. The German was on a bicycle trip from southern Germany to the northern tip of Norway, and back. An interesting guy with a lot of stories. And the Colombian woman was teaching maths at a university in Copenhagen and wanted to see more of Denmark. So, I showed her around and at night she taught me how to salsa.

I’ve also been Couchsurfing with my kids. On a road trip from Denmark to France, we stayed with some wonderful people in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Gent in Belgium, and Normandie, France. Totally unique local experiences that we wouldn’t have gotten, had we stayed in hotels.

The Mark Twain house measures more than 1000 square meters‚ and has 25 rooms distributed through three floors.
The Mark Twain house measures more than 1000 square meters‚ and has 25 rooms distributed through three floors.

MARK TWAIN HOUSE & MUSEUM

The next morning, I met up with ConnectiCOUCH event organisers at a square in Hartford to get ready for our day’s excursion. With 125,000 people living here, Hartford is the second biggest city in Connecticut after the slightly bigger Bridgeport. Actor Katharine Hepburn was born here, and for 17 years another famous person lived here: his name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but we all know him better as Mark Twain.

The house that Mark Twain lived in with his family is now a museum: the Mark Twain House & Museum. And that’s the ConnectiCOUCH event I chose to do, even though that river tubing sounded interesting…

Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain was born in 1835 and died in 1910. In 1874, when he was in his late 30’s, he had this house built and wrote some of his most famous books here: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He’s known as “the father of American literature” and the “greatest humourist the United States has produced.”

Mark Twain was also a Vagabond
Mark Twain was also a Vagabond

I took a tour of the house and museum and learned a lot of interesting facts about the author and his work. According to the tour guide, the house cost around $40,000 to build which is the equivalent of around $990,000 in today’s pricing. Coupled with the interior design and furnishings, it is collectively worth an estimated $3 million dollars. His wife’s inheritance footed the construction bill as Mark Twain was not yet the literary demigod, he went on to become.

The house measures 11‚500 square feet (more than 1000 square meters) ‚ and has 25 rooms distributed through three floors. It’s quite big for an unknown writer but you can do that if you have a wife with money. The house itself is a work of art, whether your interest is Mark Twain or architecture. We learned a great deal about the history of Mark Twain‘s house, Twain himself and his family, and the staff that helped manage and care for the home.

If you want to visit (after the pandemic – they are closed right now in March 2021), I highly recommend you make a reservation for tour tickets as far in advance as possible: it’s a very popular attraction here, and you might not be able to get in if you don’t.

Fellow nomad Margaret Webster, took us on a tour around Hartford.
Fellow nomad Margaret Webster, took us on a tour around Hartford.

MEETING MARGARET WEBSTER

After the tour, one of the local event organisers, Margaret, took us on a tour around Hartford in a big ass Chevy truck: which has a backstory.

“I was renovating my house and needed a truck to help with logistics, so I bought a Chevy Silverado. When my kids grew up and left the house, I decided to take my truck on an 8-year road trip around the USA armed with a tent, a kayak, and my laptop. When I returned, I sold my trusted truck and house and bought an RV.”

After buying and disliking a Jeep, Margaret bought a new Chevy Silverado to continue her cross-country adventures.

When people ask me how long I’m going to keep travelling, and when I’m going to settle down again, I always say: “Until one of my kids starts having kids themselves and I become a grandfather.” Both of my daughters are only in their mid-20’s and busy studying in university. Amanda is studying arts and design at the prestigious Danish Design School in Kolding, Denmark, and Clara is studying Anthropology at Aarhus University, and actually just wrote her Bachelor dissertation about digital nomads.

They both say that if that’s what I say, I’m going to be travelling for a long time because they are nowhere near starting a family.

Connecticut State Library & Supreme Court Building
Connecticut State Library & Supreme Court Building

Margaret’s story is quite similar. She also used to be a nomad…

“When I became a grandma, I met somebody and fell in love. I always told myself that if I had the chance at love I would settle down and take it. But even though I am still very much in love, I miss it terribly and still find myself scheming ways to get back to my life on the road.”

The reason we’re in Margaret’s car is that she’s going to give us a tour of Hartford. And that’s something she’s done before, as she works as a tour guide. 

Margaret and her big-ass Chevy
Margaret and her big-ass Chevy

FACTS ABOUT HARTFORD

  • The first English settlers arrived in 1635 and their settlement was originally called Newtown but was renamed Hartford in 1637. So, almost 400 years old, Hartford is among the oldest cities in the United States.
  • Being such an old city, they have a few firsts here: Hartford is home to the nation’s oldest public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the oldest continuously published newspaper, The Hartford Courant.
  • Hartford is nicknamed the “Insurance Capital of the World”, because the headquarters of many insurance companies are here, and insurance is the region’s major industry.
  • The city was the setting for the Amy Brenneman series Judging Amy, which aired from 1999–2005. However, it wasn’t recorded here.

Margaret lives in Manchester just outside of Hartford where we are right now – but she grew up here in Hartford.

“I know Connecticut doesn’t get a lot of press from the international and local communities, but I really like it here. If you like American history, there is a lot of interesting information here about how our democracy was formed.”

Geting lost

As Margaret was telling me her story, we took a wrong turn and got a little lost…or we took the scenic route.

GET MARGARET’S BOOK

By the way, you should check out Margaret’s blog and consider getting the book she wrote after her life on the road. It’s called Lessons from the Road, USA by Margaret Webster. Let me read a few words about the book from the back of it:

“Lessons from the Road, USA shares the travel adventures of a funny, single, 50-something-year-old woman, traveling across the U.S. in a pickup truck.” 

And then it goes on to say: 

”Webster is navigationally challenged…”

After getting lost with her just now, all I can say is: “No shit, Sherlock”. 

You can order Margaret’s book on Amazon here. Her blog is called lftrus.com (short for Lessons from the Road, US). Like the book, it is packed with some really great travel tips. 

“So, Connecticut is purported to be the richest state in the country but that is not entirely reflective of reality. This is because Connecticut is the insurance capital of the country and the companies are the invisible bankers which make a ton of money which skews the figures.”

That’s all we have time for in this episode. Tune in next time to hear Margaret tell a funny story about the Yankees became the Yankees…

I’m Palle Bo – ending on a cliff-hanger. And I gotta keep moving. See you.

VOICE MESSAGE FROM A LISTENER

Phil from sunny Yorkshire clicked on the banner on theradiovagabond.com where it says, “Talk to me” and sent me a lovely voice message.

”Hi Pablo. It’s Phil Chatterton. I’m here in sunny Yorkshire. Just wanted to say thank you for the podcast. You got me so far through the lockdown here in the UK. It’s great to travel with you every week as I do my cleaning around the house,feed the dog, bake some bread, and go to different countries with you. It’s been a really long hard lockdown, and we’re not through it yet. But what’s really kept me going is listening to you. Listening to the places you’ve been and the people you’re talking to. It really gives hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you ever so much and keep travelling. Take care now.”

Thank you, Phil…! Wonderful that you would take the time to say hi. I’m not going to spend much time talking about the fact that my name is Palle, not Pablo. I know it’s a difficult name for anyone who isn’t Scandinavian but as long as you listen, Phil, you can call me Pablo anytime. Trust me, I’ve been called worse…

If you also want to do what Phil did. Click on the “Talk to me” banner above – or in the link in your podcast app. And then record your voice – and re-record if you don’t like what you said. Once you’re done, you click send and I get a little soundbite I can use here on the show. 

If you prefer to write, you can send an email to listener@theradiovagabond.com or go to Contact on theradiovagabond.com and fill out the form.

Thanks…

SPREAD THE WORD

I’d like to ask you for a favour. If you like this episode, please tell a friend. I’m dead serious… Pick up the phone or send a message to a friend telling him or her about this podcast. 

It’s the best way to spread the word about this podcast, and I’ll be so happy if you could help me this way. You are the best. 

SPONSOR

A special thank you to my sponsors, Hotels25.com, who always provide me with the best, most affordable accommodation wherever I am in the world. 

The Radio Vagabond is supported in part by Hotels25. And something exciting is happening soon – they’re building a new improved website with more inspiration and even better results. It’s so exciting what’s going to happen and I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

If you’re listening to this episode sometime in the future – after mid-March 2021 (I know a lot of you guys do) it’s already there. So, head over to hotels25.com and make a quick search. I guarantee that you won’t find a better price anywhere. And in fact, if you do, Hotels25 will refund the difference. 

RADIOGURU

This episode was produced by me and my production company, Radioguru. If you need any help starting a podcast or if you need voiceovers in any language for online videos and other things, please reach out.

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