Couch Surfing, or, How I Got Away from America and into the Heart of Living Abroad

Upon asking my photo professor what his wife did, he replied “she’s a lady of leisure...and she does my Photoshop work” and the idea has stuck with me. When you dream of what career to get into, few truly aspire and succeed to be an international lady of leisure. Just like Fred’s wife, the female students of Barcelona could be as well, at least in a temporary sense. All there was in Barcelona was leisure, since even the classes we took were cultural and interesting but not challenging academically.

The challenge was finding meaningful things to occupy my time and so I turned to the city of Barcelona, intent upon making it my hobby. Catalan and all. So ordered my café amb lait and struggled to get by alone in Catalan cafés, all while writing and taking photographs. Perhaps not even very good ones, for I prefer to shoot in daylight and outside and I know that’s lazy and I should know all about artificial lighting and all that to be a “real” photographer. But there are lovely pictures that I quite like, at least 8 of them from these four months, so maybe chances are that someone else might like a different 8 and then we’re on to something.

I also travelled. That is what students in Europe do. But I Couch Surfed to meet locals, a lifestyle choice I've since continued upon my return to the States. You stay with locals for free, go out with them and their friends, learn about the culture. And people think it’s weird and creepy that I like to sleep on strange couches in foreign countries and only talk to people who live there and maybe barely speak English at all. Maybe it is...I certainly appreciate that staying in a tiny studio flat outside of Rome with a large and lovable Italian man named Guiseppe may not be “comfortable” by normal standards. But when he began making dinner with his mother’s tomato preserves, her homemade olive oil, and secret meatball recipe, the old comfort was replaced by a new sense of being truly welcomed into this man’s home and life, if just for one night. In Couch Surfing, I have made Europe my hobby as well. Documenting photographically all the way, I have met and talked with locals from every city I have visited, often staying with them in their homes for days. The craziest things have happened. The stories are incredible and several are unbelievable. Beautiful and moving kindnesses, large and small, have been rained down upon me these 3 months and for that I am so grateful.

I am Katie Warren. I take pictures (some of which are beautiful). I write (occasionally). I Couch Surf (and put your stinky hostel to shame).

It is weeks later, holed up in the never-ending New England winter filled with new banality that the photos will come back to serve as a reminder of wilder times. They show that there is no reason not to flee to Europe alone on a blind and desperate mission to find some pulse of life.

Regardless of the writing, my camera has become an extension of my body now, a familiar appendage that has survived riots, breaking and entering, and couch surfing across the continent. The pictures serve as memory and perhaps little else, but they (and I) remain (which is a minor miracle, considering). Here are some of my CS hosts.

Beatles RockBand with Riccardo in Florence

Guiseppe took us to see the famous Pinnochio's of Roma!

Cool spot Enrique took us to

Enrique drove us all over the city to see beautiful night views for photos

The Italians' fridge in Granada

And they sent us to meet their gypsy friends at sunset

New friends on the beach in Málaga

Who took us to an abandoned mansion...nice pool, yeah?

Taking in the view with our new friends

Friends in Madrid playing international card games

Silly at the party

Firat! Great CS host in Istanbul

Part of the crew in Istanbul at a party

A photographer CS host took us to this beautiful neighborhood to shoot

New best friends in Istanbul

Rooftop club in Istanbul

Firat told us to "listen to the sound of the Bosphorus" to understand the grey city. He was right.

I am so fortunate.