Kevin Lawrence had two options before him: he could either spend the next year waiting tables or take a three-month jaunt through Europe.
The decision was surprisingly difficult.
“As weird as it is, I thought I was going to disappoint the people around me. For some reason, I didn’t think it was that cool,” Lawrence said. “I was reluctant to tell people, especially since I thought it was going to fall through.”
A chance dream Lawrence referred to as “stupid” made him seriously consider the option in October 2012.
“It wasn’t a prophetic dream,” Lawrence began. “The dream was I was a barber in Colorado, but Colorado has always been this symbolism of adventure for me. I woke up and for some reason I wanted to go traveling.”
He began by planning.
Hours upon hours of research were poured out over the months from October till Lawrence’s departure in August. He detailed where he would stay, how he would support himself and what he would need. Paydirt was found in workaway.info.
The idea is simple: travelers exchange 25 hours of work a week for food and accommodation while interacting with the local community. However, users who do not properly research their hosts can find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. Lawrence heard mild horror stories from other travelers whose hosts referred to them as “slaveaway” workers.
Each of Lawrence’s hosts were given a critical eye — and it paid off.
“I had three fantastic hosts,” Lawrence said. “I was spoiled to death. I had unlimited food.”
He found it was better to be up front with questions during the interview process. This helped lower the chances of later being in an awkward situation.
The same wonderful experience could not be said for Lawrence’s couch-surfing adventures.
Again the idea is simple: travelers stay at a host’s house for free. The traveler has a place to stay and the host has the opportunity to interact with someone new. According to couchsurfing.org, the project began in 2004. It has since grown to include more than 100,000 cities and 6 million members.
“With couch surfing, you are just rolling the dice every time,” Lawrence said. “If you don’t do well in awkward scenarios, and they can happen, then don’t do it.”
He explained he experienced both ends of the spectrum. In Italy, he stayed with one of the coolest guys he has ever met. Lawrence’s host took him on a bicycle tour of Leon and invited him back after a missed flight to Croatia.
“But when I was with Peter [a friend] in Paris we had a super-awkward host who relied on couch surfing for a social life,” Lawrence said. “... The problem is when I had an awkward time in Paris I did not give him a negative review, even though I should have, to save other people the tragedy of staying at his place.”
Lawrence explained his negative review would have been met by an equally negative review by his host. This would in turn hurt his future chances of finding a suitable couch-surfing spot.
Aside from the awkward Paris host, Lawrence’s adventures were far better than he could have imagined. He flew out on Aug. 1 and landed in France for a 7-week stay. This was quickly followed by a weeklong excursion through Italy, a three-week stay in Germany, and trips through Prague, Budapest, Romania, Istanbul, London, Scotland and Dublin.
The first half of his trip was completed under workaway.info. He survived the second half as any good backpacker would: on his wits and tips earned waiting tables for three months.
He discovered he enjoyed traveling alone, and fellow backpackers are really friendly.
“The best thing I can relate it to is the first two months of freshman year of college where you have the green card to talk to anyone and it is not awkward,” Lawrence said. “You have the same questions you ask everyone as a freshman, and it is the same for traveling: where did you come from, where are you doing next?”
Continued Lawrence, “It is so easy to immediately make a friend group when you are alone, because you are desperate. When you are [traveling] with a friend, you will go off on your own. People may not approach you.”
There might have been times where Lawrence would have preferred to have a friend by his side. Like when he arrived in a Romanian city at 10:30 p.m. and could not find his hostel. Unknown to him, the train station was in a bad part of town.
He quickly caught on as he was chased three times down the street by dogs. At one point, he even had the jeering laughter of prostitutes to accompany his trials.
“Yeah, that was a low point,” Lawrence added.
Traveling with a friend might have made it difficult to connect with the Eagle brothers, who, Lawrence admitted, he initially thought were weird.
“Immediately they were like, ‘Our trip is actually focused on wolves and bears. So we want to take pictures of bears and listen to wolves.’ And I was like, you’re weird, I am going to the common room,” Lawrence recalled. “Later on I saw them again and it turns out they graduated with biology degrees from Oxford and they were really cool, and more importantly, they had a car, so I just kicked it back with them for two days.”
Now Lawrence is once again stateside and applying for master’s programs to study classics. Traveling reinvigorated his interest in scholarly achievement, but he feels bereft.
“It is kind of depressing because I feel like I am done with the highlight of my life,” Lawrence said. “Europe is over and college is over, what is next? What am I going to do now?”
A question whose answer seems to once again open the doors to unlimited options and a fair bit of adventure.