all you need to worry about bringing

“I can’t go to dinner tonight,” I told Yasmin with an exasperated look on my face. “I’ve got too much to do before I leave tomorrow.

“What? Aren’t you already packed?” She questioned.

“Well, yeah. But I’ve still got to look up all the directions to the places I’m going to be staying and make sure I know how to get from each place to the next.”

Yasmin started laughing uproariously. “Oh, come on!” She said between laughs. “You know how to read. When you get to wherever you’re going, you can read the signs and maps in the train stations. No pasa nada, Kisha. Stop worrying. This isn’t like the United States. It’s much easier to get around here.”

I wasn’t quite convinced, but the thought of spending a couple of hours googling transit and walking directions was far less exciting than going on a last-minute trip to have dinner at the mall with my roommate.

“Besides, the only thing you need to worry about bringing with you is tampons if you have your period, and condoms, if you don’t.”

Now it was my turn to laugh uproariously. “Ah, screw it,” I said, still shaking my head at Yasmin’s last remark. “Let’s go to dinner.”

***

I’d only been living with Yasmin for the past month or so. I’d found her ad for the room only 3 days after I’d arrived in Spain. I was nervous as hell when I called the number on the ad. My high-school Spanish was shoddy at best, but I’d looked up and practiced several of the terms I’d need to inquire about and eventually rent a room. Yet when Yasmin had answered the phone, one of the first questions out of my mouth was, ‘Hablas ingles?’ Thankfully, her answer was an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’

Aside from that stroke of good fortune, her place – a 3 level traditional Spanish style townhome in a gated middle class neighborhood of Marbella – was much nicer than any of the other apartments I had seen during my hunt. Plus, Yasmin and I were closer in age (she was 30, I, 36) than any of the other potential roommates I had met. She had grown up in the area, and the house we lived in actually belonged to her parents. After having lived in other parts of Spain and in Germany for many years, she had returned to Marbella a few months ago to start working alongside her sister in the family law practice. Perhaps the most fortunate coincidence of all was the fact that even though Yasmin was technically Spanish by birth, her father was Iranian and her mom was German. In many ways, this made her as much of a foreigner as I was, and we would often trade stories about how irritating the close-minded habits and customs of many of the Spaniards were for both of us.

Like most Europeans, Yasmin was a serious traveler, even a bit of a nomad, you might say. In addition to her time living abroad, she had visited most of Western and Eastern Europe, parts of Northern Africa and the Americas, and had friends from all over the globe, of various ethnic backgrounds, and of varying sexual orientations. I could tell she was as thrilled to have me – a somewhat quirky black American woman as a roommate as I was to find probably the one Spanish woman in town who spoke fluent Spanish, English, and German and whose short, curly hair nearly mirrored my own curly natural ‘do. Occasionally, however I felt her German side was a little too cool and reserved compared to my often carefree, nonchalant nature. Still, we got along well, and when I decided to take advantage of my first long break from school by doing my own one-woman multi-city tour, she was the first person I sought for advice.

“Ok. So I think I’ve got my plan mapped out for the puente at the end of the month,” I shared with Yasmin one evening as she was prepping a quick dinner.

“Good! Where did you finally decide to go? Amsterdam? Brussels? Paris?” She queried.

Pues, the cheapest flights I found were for Barcelona, Amsterdam, and London. So I’m going to do 2 days in each, and I may spend a final night in Malaga to catch some Carnival activities on the way back in.”

“Ooooh!” She crooned, “That’s great, Kisha! Have you already bought the flights?”

“I’m gonna finish booking everything this evening. But what do you think, are those cities cool to visit? I mean, I’ve been to Amsterdam and London before, but never Barcelona. Any ideas or suggestions?”

“Oh, you’re going to love Barcelona, I think. It’s a really cool town, lots to see and do. There’s all the Gaudi architecture, great parks, museums, and it’s a good town to make party!”

I laughed at Yasmin’s expression. Yeah, I definitely felt like making some party. It was the off-season in touristy Marbella, and our recent attempts at clubbing around town had fallen short of my expectations, to say the least.

“So where are you staying? Have you figured it all out yet?” Yasmin asked, as she munched a bite of the salad she’d just finished whipping up.

“Welll… no. Not really. That’s the hard part actually. I’m really trying to make this a budget-friendly excursion, but I don’t know how I feel about staying in a hostel. The whole shared dorm room, shared bathroom thing… eh, just isn’t my speed. I’m an old lady, not a college student, you know.”

“Hmm…” Yasmin munched thoughtfully before continuing. “Have you thought about couchsurfing?”

I crinkled my brow at the mention of the idea. I’d heard about couchsurfing from a friend of mine back home who was a frequent host for couchsurfers. Apparently, he would open up his home and his spare couch to travelers who not only needed a place to crash, but also wanted to get to know a local who could show them around a bit. The best part of it was that there was absolutely no payment involved. Unlike a vacation rental where you paid the owner of the place a rate that was typically less than a hotel, with couchsurfing, you paid nothing at all. It sounded like a really cool idea, but I had a lot of reservations about the concept – was it safe? Why would anybody let you stay at their house for free? What was the catch? Still, the idea of free accommodations and an in-the-know local was appealing, especially on my limited budget.

Frowning, I expressed my concern to Yasmin, “Ehhh…. I don’t know. It crossed my mind, but I’ve never couchsurfed before. I keep thinking that I’d probably end up chopped up and stuffed in the back of someone’s fridge.”

Yasmin dropped her fork onto her plate and doubled over laughing. My English expressions tickled her as much as hers did me.

Once her laughing fit had subsided, she replied, “Nooo, Kisha. It’s not like that. Well, I mean, you have to use good judgement and really check people out before you think to stay with them, but I couchsurfed all over Europe and it’s no problem at all. It’s really a good way to make a friend and not spend much money. You have the right personality for it, I think. “

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yes. It’s more for people who are open and who like to get to know the other person’s culture and all of that. I think you would enjoy it! I made some really good friends from couchsurfing. We still keep in touch.”

Hm. If Yasmin was recommending it, maybe it wasn’t so bad. Besides, if I was really aiming to take advantage of travelling European style, maybe this was a great way to have the full experience.

“Mira!” She continued. “I have some friends in Barcelona who host couchsurfers. If you want, I can send them a message and see if they have a couch available when you will be there. That way, at least you know that someone else you know knows them. Later, when they make barbecue Kisha from the freezer, at least you will be shared by friends!” Yasmin barely finished the last words, before cracking up laughing.

I tried to resist laughing myself, but quickly caved and giggled along with her at her gruesome joke.