Couch Surfing in France: 7 Reasons I Stayed with (New) Friends

Couchsurfing, Featured, Finances & Savings, France, Solo Travel — By on August 23, 2010 at 3:00 am

by Sarah Bailey
Special to Lost Girls World

At first mention,  couch surfing seems like a somewhat sketchy idea.  You meet someone from a foreign country on the Internet and then go live at his/her house for a few nights for free?  The potential to end up with a socially awkward weirdo and/or klepto seemed high, but I gave the site a whirl anyway because I wanted to spend two weeks in France and am too cash poor for European hostels.  Immediately upon meeting my first host in Bordeaux I realized couch surfing is not just a way to secure a free bed for a night, but a life-changing opportunity to see a country with its locals.  Over the past 14 nights I have stayed with five different hosts and each of them has bettered my time in France — for seven reasons in particular.

1.  I had instant friends in each city

I had two weeks to travel by myself in France and I get lonely after too much solo time in foreign lands.  My hosts all became friends who showed me around the city, took me to concerts, movies, museums and drinks at local pubs.  In Lyon I even set up a running date with a couch surfer who wasn’t hosting me.  He took me on an hour and a half run through new parts of the city and I was happy to have a running buddy – the time flew by!

Tip: Take time to read the profile of a person before you email him/her. In Toulouse I stayed with one guy who was nice, but he didn’t want to go out past 9 o’clock and, on a Saturday night, I wanted to see the town!  Make sure you find someone who has your same interests in mind.

2. I saw parts of France I wouldn’t have visited on my own.

Lonely Planet will never replace first hand recommendations from locals.  In Toulouse, my host who informed me that I must go to a music festival in the South of France before leaving town. So we hoped in a car and drove two hours to the small town of Pau for a huge festival and I had one of the best nights of my life.  We drank cheap beer in the camp ground outside, made friends with strangers and danced and sang from 5pm until 2am.  I never would have had this experience without her.

Tip: Be open to changing your schedule.  I was supposed to stay in Toulouse for two nights with Elisa but when she asked me to go to the concert I extended my stay to five nights.  If you have a good thing going, stick with it!

3.  I felt at home – and I didn’t sleep on a single couch!

In each place I stayed I had my own bed in my own room.  In Lyon my host actually had to go to Paris on business and left me and another American couch surfers the keys to his apartment.  Having a place to empty my suitcase, sleep quietly until 10am, do laundry and eat Cornflakes in the morning really eases the stress and fatigue often associated with extended travel.

Tip: The profile has a place that describes where you will be sleeping.  Make sure you read it.  If you don’t want to sleep on a couch, you don’t have to!

4.  I practiced speaking French!

One of my big goals in France was to hone my (extremely) rusty high school French.  Each host spoke to me slowly in French and was patient with me as I tried to string together phrases.

Tip: If your goal is to learn the language, tell your host upfront.  In Bordeaux my host spoke English so I didn’t even try French.  With my next host I started right away into French and tried to speak it the whole time. By the end of my two weeks I could hold a decent conversation.

5.  I found local money saving tips

My Toulouse host introduced me to a service called Coivoiturage, an online site that sets up shared rides from city to city in France.  So instead of splurging on train fare I just had to chip in for gas and tolls.  I used the service to get to Nice, Lyon and then to Geneva.  In total I saved $134 on traveling.  She also taught me how to make my own shorts and shirts.  Bonus!

Tip: Tap into your host for tips on saving money while traveling.

6.You will better experience a country’s culture

My iPod playlist increased by more than a hundred songs during my stay in France and I sampled the region’s finest foods at their homes.  At my first stop in Bordeaux my hosts greeted me with bottles of wine and a homemade feast of Foie Gras and Duck Confit.  What better way to say, “welcome to France!”

Tip: Be eager to learn from your host.  Ask lots of questions and show that you want to know more about where they’re from.  They will be thrilled to share.

7. I saved so much money

Keeping cash in your pocket isn’t the main point of couch surfing but saving money is always important when traveling.  In 14 nights in France I spent ZERO dollars on accommodation.  I also went grocery shopping at local markets and ate delicious meals on the cheap in cozy French kitchens.

Tip: Couch surfing can take some time to set up.  You should email people 2-3 weeks in advance of your stay and email at least four people in every city because you might get some negative responses.  But the effort you put in is so worthwhile

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Want to read more about Sarah’s travels? Check out her website at  sistersbailey.wordpress.com.

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    9 Comments

  • Emily says:

    That’s awesome that you ended up with a bed at each place! I’m not a good sleeper and have trouble falling asleep on couches, so that’s one reason why I’ve avoided Couchsurfing. I’m happy to hear that’s not always the case! It sounds like it really is a good way to see parts of a country you normally wouldn’t. I came close to Couchsurfing once–I was going to meet up with some Couchsurfing people instead of staying at someone’s place, but I got shy and backed out. But now that I’m older and a more confident traveler, I might have to give it a whirl–this post is really encouraging to me!

  • Shauna says:

    I couchsurfed in Spain last summer and it was one of the best experiences of my 3+ month long trip. I was scrambling for a place to stay last minute because of a change in plans in Barcelona, and wound up finding a wonderful pair of sisters to stay with on the outskirts of the city. I had my own room as well, had wonderfully prepared meals, met all of their friends whom I practiced my Spanish with (and they likewise were able to practice their English), and saw a side of Barcelona and Catalan culture I would have missed otherwise. I actually ended up staying with them again after my original stay as we had such a good time together. My friends think I’m crazy for ever trying it, but I would do (and have done) it again in a heartbeat!! It takes a certain level of trust, but once you couchsurf you realize most Couchsurfers are in it for the experience and love of culture sharing, not the bad reasons most people assume. I would (and do) recommned Couchsurfing to anyone!!

  • Eeva says:

    I’m glad to see that you’ve embraced CouchSurfing. I am a member and have been for almost a year. I haven’t surfed (yet) cause I haven’t travelled much and I will be opening up my home to host next month. Couchsurfing isn’t just staying at someone’s place either. It’s an opportunity to organize or participate in many local activities. I am actively involved in the Vancouver chapter in this way. I’ve organized and partcipated in many local event around Vancouver. I’m met a tonne of fantastic people and never had a bad experience yet. As their slogan says: “Creating a better world, one couch at a time.” is very true.

  • Victoria says:

    Hi! I’ve been hearing such great things about couchsurfing but still am a little hesitant, especially since I’m a 18 year old female. Did you go traveling by yourself?

  • Andre says:

    I like what you are doing,please send me more info
    Thanks.

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  • Sharon says:

    Hey I have met CS’s in India when they visit my city but have surfed with them and it’s been a really great experience have even travelled with some of them and they are really good friends now! I am trying to find a place for me and German friend (Guy) of mine when I visit Europe in October (we are doing a road trip)! But I have not got any response positive or negative! Any tips? Help! Looking for a place in Nice, Copenhagen and a few other places

    I do have a completed profile with really good references! Sent a few personal request as well as a group requests