There are two types of travelers. The first is the kind who would never sleep on a stranger’s couch. Especially if they are all alone. It doesn’t matter if it is through an app and the stranger has good references. They just don’t feel comfortable. Then there is me. The adventurous and thrifty solo traveler who will do anything to save a buck. Sleep on the floor of a stranger man’s kitchen with the cockroaches in a remote village in the middle of Africa? Is it free? Sign me up.
Don’t get me wrong, I am cautious. But over time, I can admit that I have probably become too comfortable. I have been lucky and had so many fantastic experiences staying with strangers. And these experiences have caused me to completely let my guard down. I had forgotten that there is still danger in this world. That sometimes it is good to be more cautious like the other type of traveler. But don’t worry, I will be reminded of this. The hard way.
RENTING IN LA LA LAND
When I made up my mind to quit my job and travel, I took the next logical step and sold every single thing I owned. Which included all of my furniture and household goods. I didn’t want to have anything tying me down to any one place. And it felt great. It made me feel free. But I still didn’t feel ready to leave Los Angeles yet. So I decided to rent month to month until I felt the time was right to leave.
In case you have never lived in LA, rent is pretty dang expensive. [Me looking at places.] Oh look. A place in Santa Monica. Weird, it looks like a massage parlor. Oh, it IS a massage parlor. Rent one of our tables to sleep on as long as you are out before we open each morning. Honestly, that is pretty tempting for only $700 a month. Oh here is a place for only $900 a month in Hollywood! What does BYOT mean? Ohhhhh. Bring Your Own Tent. Duh. Pitch a tent in our front yard for a low monthly rate. Bathroom not included. Hmmm sounds okay but a little far from work.
Finally, I find a furnished room in someone’s house in Marina del Rey for around a thousand a month. I immediately book it, pay for three months, and head that way. The owner, Jenn, seems really sweet. I am also introduced to her boyfriend, Steve, who lives there as well. She gives me the key and shows me my room. Her and Steve’s room is directly next to mine. They will be just a knock away if I need anything at all. Perfect. I tell her thanks and head to my car to move a few things in before I head to work.
WHY YOU WEARING DEM SHORTS
I get home from work late that evening. It has been an incredibly long day. But luckily I recently went on a date with a guy who was bragging about his weed and gave me some to try. As if on cue, I get a text from him. “You try any of that weed I gave you yet?” Not yet dude, I will here in a minute.
I drop off my stuff in my room and then head out front to smoke a joint. It is a little past midnight. The moon is full and bright. The air is still warm. A car pulls up to the house. Jenn walks past me and jumps in. She waves and says, “I will be back later. Have a good night!” I smile, say goodbye, and spark up the joint.
I take a seat out front on the curb while I smoke. When I look back towards the house, I notice Steve standing in the doorway, staring at me. His expression looks slightly angry. Weed is legal here so hopefully he isn’t mad about that. Then, under his breath, I hear him saying something about me wearing shorts. Hmmm. He is swaying as he stands there like he has had too much to drink. This is weird. Maybe if I disappear for a few minutes he will forget I am out here. I take a walk around the block. When I get back, I peak around the corner and see he is gone and the front door is closed. I drop what is left of the joint and tiptoe past his door to my room.
Back in my room, I lie on my bed, close my eyes, and enjoy my high. In the room next to me, I can hear that Steve is still awake. He is talking to himself and still sounds quite angry. He is mumbling words under his breath that I can’t quite make out through the wall. This goes on for about fifteen minutes and then there is silence. He must have fallen asleep. Maybe he was even sleep talking to himself in the first place. That would make sense. I close my eyes and drift off to sleep.
Suddenly, I am jolted awake as I hear a loud crash that sounds like a beer bottle being thrown and breaking against the wall. I sit up straight, as tense as can be. I quiet my breathing. I can hear his voice again, this time louder. He is roaming around the room. Bottles and cans are being kicked over as he stumbles into them. It sounds like furniture is even being pushed around.
It is like he is in a blacked out rage or something. Either that or pretty fucked up on some kind of drug. And of course, I am here alone in the house with him. His screaming starts to get louder and he starts yelling out, “MOOOOOORE!!!! MORE!!!!” over and over and over. Then he continues to say things in gibberish that don’t make sense. Please God, don’t let him remember I am here in the room next to him.
Right then, I hear footsteps walk up toward my door. The footsteps stop and there are a few moments of silence. I hear two loud knocks on my bedroom door as his fists pound against it. Shit. I stand up very quietly and stare at the door in silence. I watch the handle jiggle. He knocks again. Obviously there is no way I am opening that door after how he was looking at me from the front porch. He will have to break it down if he wants to come in here.
I look around for something, anything, to protect myself with. On my desk there is a brass elephant I got from Thailand. Probably the heaviest thing in this room. I tiptoe softer than I ever have in my entire life and grab it. Turn around and face the door. Ready to strike if he gets the door open. I stand up in the middle of my room and just stare at my door. Watching the handle continue to jiggle. Does he have a key to my room?
I grab my phone and text Jenn to tell her what is happening. I ask her when she will be home. I get a message right back saying that he is probably just locked out or something. She will be home a little later. Hmmm that’s not really what it seems like. I continue to stand in the middle of my room staring at the door. Phone in one hand, ready to call 911. Brass elephant in the other. I text the guy I am dating and tell him what is happening. Damn how much weed did you smoke? I told you it was strong. I barely smoked any. And it was only decent.
After about 2 hours, she is still not home but the knocking has finally stopped. I am guessing he fell asleep outside of my door. It is now about 3 am and I am also exhausted. I decide to try to get some sleep. I quietly slide underneath my bed, curl up into a ball, and eventually fell asleep. The next morning, I grab as much of my stuff as I can, open my door, and run to my car. As soon as I get to work, I contact the rental company to tell them what happened. I have already paid for 3 months but there is no way I am going back there.
IF THEY WON’T HELP YOU, TWEET ABOUT IT
The rental company is not much help at all. They say the only way I can get out of my lease is to talk to Jenn about what happened. If she agrees to let me leave at all, then it is up to her to decide if she wants to also refund the money. I am slightly scared to talk to her because I don’t want her to ask Steve about it and for him to get even more upset with me.
Why won’t this company help me? I feel like I am in danger. I used their app to book this place. I try to think about what would make a company want to help me. I decide to tweet about it. “Umm hello. I am in a scary situation. In case something happens to me, I just want people to know.” I @ the company. Seconds later I get a message from them. Of course. They agree to let me out of my lease at the end of the month. I guess that is better than nothing. Only two more weeks here. They say they will call Jenn and tell her whats up.
I also send Jenn a message and tell her I am slightly scared to come back. She apologizes and says that Steve was really drunk last night and that he says he is sorry. It won’t happen again. They even left me a box of chocolates and a gift certificate for a massage on my desk to make up for my troubles. She reassures me that it won’t happen again. Plus, they are going out of town today so I am free to come back and stay without worry. Okay. I will head that way after work, thank you.
SOMETIMES DATES ARE FOR DINNER AND SOMETIMES THEY ARE TO SAVE YOUR LIFE
The next week, I have a date with Brett, a pretty looking muscly bartender guy I met over the weekend. Not really the look I usually go for, but maybe that is a good thing. He picks me up and we go on our first date to a restaurant near by. While at dinner, I get a text from Jenn saying that they are coming back in town. Ugh, great. The rest of the date goes okay even though while Brett is talking about his love for working out, all I can think about is how I am scared to go home. When Brett drops me off, I see that Jenn’s car isn’t there yet. Great. They must not be home yet. I head to my room.
As I close my door, I immediately hear that Steve is home and talking nonsense again. This time in the hallway. You have got to be kidding me. He is roaming around aggressively, pounding on the walls. He sounds much, much angrier than last time. Jenn said she wasn’t going to leave me alone with him. She has to be here. But I definitely don’t hear her. Great, now I am alone with him and he knows I complained to the company about him.
Ugh not this again. PLEASE. Steve is pounding on all of the walls around my room as he walks up and down the hallway. Maybe he doesn’t know I am home yet. I hide in my wardrobe. I immediately call 911. Tell them what is going on. They say someone will be here shortly. Who knows how long that will be with LA traffic. Fuck it. I call Brett. Tell him I need help. Ask him if he can please come back to where he dropped me off and help me get the fuck out of here. He is confused but says he will be back here in a few minutes.
About five minutes later, I hear the front door open. I am guessing Brett is back. I then hear Steve run towards him yelling. What are you doing in here! He slurs. I am here to visit my friend. He says okay and lets him continue walking to my room. Well that was easy. Must have something to do with the fact that Brett is built like a Greek God. He walks me to his truck and says to wait while he grabs my stuff. I don’t see Steve anywhere but sit on guard just in case he comes out. I am shaking and decide to smoke a joint while I wait. I open the truck door and the alarm goes off. Fuck.
I immediately see Steve open the front door to see where the noise is coming from. He is yelling. Still angry. I don’t see Brett anywhere. Steve and I make eye contact and he starts quickly heading toward me in the truck. Oh Universe, please let me survive. Please. I am praying at this point for the police to come or for Brett to come out of the house. The Universe must have been listening because Steve randomly turns around and heads back into the house. Right then, Brett comes down the driveway with two suitcases full of all of my stuff.
Here you go, I think I got everything. He loads up my car and asks if I want him to wait with me for the police to come. I say no thanks. I wait 40 more minutes for the police to come. They never do. I call them and cancel. Drive off and never go back again.
THE UNIVERSE WILL ALWAYS GIVE YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED
I am still slightly traumatized by this event because it reminded me how small I actually am. For so long, I felt invincible. But this experience reminded me that not everyone is always kind and caring. And for that reason, how important it is to keep your guard up a little bit in order to stay safe. I think after traveling for so long, I became too trusting. I forgot that there are people out there who can actually hurt me. While it did shake me up, I think this happened at the perfect time and was just the reminder I needed right before I left to go on my 10 month solo journey.
As for Brett, we never ended up talking again after he saved me that night. He must have thought the situation was kind of crazy given that he had no context or idea who this guy I was living with was. But it is amazing that out of all nights, that was the one we ended up going on a date. The night I needed him the most. Life is absolutely wonderful like that. People are often like angels the Universe sends to us at exactly the right time to help us along our path. And then they are gone. I am so thankful Brett was there to help me that night. If he hadn’t been, who knows what would have happened.
Moral of the story. If a big buff dude asks you to go out on a date with him and you don’t normally go for that type, do it anyways. He just might end up saving your life. Oh, and be careful when you stay with strangers.
When you have been traveling for close to ten years, you are bound to have a few bad experiences. Couchsurfing Chronicles are written not to scare you or to make fun of anyone. Just odd stories that remind us not to get too comfortable when staying with strangers.
Staying with locals is something I support 100%, while traveling or even in your own city. Whether it is a rental, a homestay, or legit couchsurfing, it is the absolute best way to really get a feel for the culture, to meet new people, and maybe even save a few dollars.
* These stories are not all exclusively from couchsurfing.com, they are a collection of stories from people we stayed with via all apps and websites, and sometimes just meeting people randomly. Names have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned.