My Perfect Adventure
It’s the people that make a place, as the saying goes—and Sebastien Le Tuan has taken it heart. Le Tuan, who was born in France and moved to California with his family when he was 10, traveled to Spain in his teens and stayed with a local Catalan family while he was there. The family treated him like one of their own, like part of the family, and he never forgot it. Their hospitality helped shape his travel style in the coming years and, perhaps in some ways, a new travel movement.
Le Tuan is one of the co-founders of CouchSurfing, a site that helps travelers meet locals when they go to a new destination. Before a trip, travelers looking for a place to stay can search CouchSurfing’s global network for people who live in cities they’re planning to visit. Through a messaging system, they can request to “couch surf”—or sleep for free at a local person’s apartment or home while they’re in town. If they already have a hotel booked, they can also message locals to simply meet up for coffee or take a quick tour of the sights. The arrangement is useful for globetrotters on a budget, but it’s about more than saving money: The interaction is meant to be a cultural exchange, and couchsurfers, as they’re called, are encouraged to connect meaningfully with the people they meet and to give something back, perhaps taking their hosts to dinner or leaving a personal gift in exchange for the hospitality.
Le Tuan, 37, helped create CouchSurfing in 2002 with the original founder, Casey Fenton, and two other co-founders, Dan Hoffer and Leonardo da Silveira. Since then, the network has grown to include more than five million members in every country and more than 97,000 cities. Today, Le Tuan continues his regular career as a software product designer and lives in San Jose, California, though he travels often and does what he can to keep the CouchSurfing spirit alive. In this interview, he takes us to Easter Island, where lessons can be learned, as well as Tetiaroa, where he had one of his most memorable CouchSurfing experiences (blacktip reef sharks were part of the picture), and he shares some advice for first-time international travelers.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
I’m in a place I find beautiful, where the air is fresh, the sun is shining, the landscape is colorful, and sounds of nature are plentiful. I start my day with the sound of birds chirping, telling me to do a big long stretch in my bed and shake my body to get the blood flowing. I sit up, stand, and go outside to the morning air with my mat, for either five minutes of warm-up and then five minutes of stretching, or the Five Tibetan Rites. After that, I go and fix myself a nice breakfast of fruits, nuts, a smoothie with rice or almond milk, some eggs, and a big glass of water with some coconut water and pineapple juice mixed in.
Then I take a look at my to-do list for the day (which I prepared the night before), make any last-minute changes, and get on it. One thing I strive for is balance, and though I know it's not realistic to always be balanced (in fact, sometimes you do need to focus more on one thing at the expense of another), if I can have a balanced day, those are the days I enjoy most.
During the day I'd work on a project that I feel passionate about—something, perhaps, that satisfies my need for creative expression. For lunch I enjoy a picnic with friends and loved ones, followed by a one-hour relaxing siesta (the Spanish have it right) before getting back to productivity. Come 4 p.m. it's fitness time. I do something to keep my body fit, but in a fun way: maybe a 20-minute swim in a lake, or perhaps I combine being active with learning a new skill, like slacklining (which is on my to-do list), while meeting new and interesting people with amazing and inspiring stories to tell (CouchSurfing is absolutely the best for that).
By evening I'm relaxing with loved ones and friends, old and new, enjoying a tasty dinner while watching a colorful sunset over the horizon. I take a look at my to-do list and everything is already checked off. Maybe I'll veg out tonight, or maybe.... That is a perfect day.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
Easter Island, off the coast of Chile. There are many documentaries that you can watch about what might have happened there. It's a special place to me because it's a micro-scale hint of what can happen when humans get wrapped up in pride and greed—and destroy their environment in the process. I'd like to go there, meditate, and touch the Moai (stone heads), which are a constant reminder of why humans working together with nature, not against it, is the way to a better world.