Confessions of a first-time couchsurfer

November 16, 2010 in Philosophy,Travel

As a solo female traveler, I’ve always been a bit wary of Couchsurfing. Sure, the concept is great: instead of being isolated in a hotel room or surrounded by other travelers in a hostel, you’re immersed in the culture by staying with passionate locals. However, after joining the site, I noticed that many of the hosts are young, single males—and I was inundated by invitations for drinks, dancing, conversation by guys in whatever city I was in.

It weirded me out. Although Couchsurfing explicitly states that it is not a dating site, it seemed a bit too friendly. I realize that there are plenty of guys who are genuinely interested in exchanging conversation and culture—and the personal recommendations do help—but the vibe rubbed me the wrong way. Plus, I just wasn’t comfortable staying with an unknown single male by myself.

However, my Euros were quickly running out and I wanted to take advantage of being in France: namely, to speak a bit of French. I found a few women and couples in Lyon, and sent messages inquiring about available couches. Only one emailed me back, but she was wary—I didn’t have any recommendations or validation. After exchanging a few emails (and having all my uber-personal revelations on C’est Christine win her over), we realized we would both be in Paris on the same day. A coffee date was set, and our shared interest in linguistics, work-life balance and French food kept the conversation flowing. Boom. I had found a host for Lyon.

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After a bit of frustration upon arrival in Lyon—the bus depot is hard to find, my phone credit was out and it was already dark—I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of Su, my host, and Olivier, her boyfriend with whom she lives. As soon as I arrived, we sat down to chat over an apero, and then a homemade dinner.

Couchsurfing definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I quite enjoy being on my own: waking up whenever I please, snuggling up with my book or computer, that sense of accomplishment when I figure out the public transportation system.

Since I was visiting during the week, my hosts had work: that meant I was out tackling the town from 9 to 5. And I was up by 7 a.m. every morning! Instead of writing and Facebooking at night, I was socializing with my hosts. However, I still can’t believe that I met them less than a week ago—it felt like I was staying with long-lost friends, not strangers.

My second night was spent at the weekly Couchsurfing meetup at a bar in center of Lyon—with all organic drinks! Everyone was super friendly, and it was great practice for my French. Plus, there was quite a mélange of people—almost no one was native to Lyon, but everyone had adopted the city as their own and had plenty of tips to share.

Overall, I’m stoked that I took the plunge and tried Couchsurfing. As I told Su, they set the bar very high for all future hosts—I’m still shocked by their genuine friendliness and generosity. I’m still a bit wary of the invitations from men on the site, but I think the meetups are a great way to get an insider look at local culture—and the perfect way to practice the language!

Have you tried Couchsurfing yet? If so, what has been your experience? If not, why not?

  • http://twitter.com/conniehum Connie Hum

    Congrats for joining the Couch Surfing community! I’ve been a member since 2005 and it’s one of the best things to happen to me in my travels! Not only does it push you to explore people and places you never would have before, it also makes you appreciate what you have back home as well! As a host, I was always invited to things by my excited CS visitors in my city that I didn’t even know about! The way I see it, Couch Surfing really is a win-win for everyone involved! Congrats again and I hope you continue to have just as amazing CS experiences as your first!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks! I’m very excited to get more involved in the Couchsurfing community as I continue my travels–and perhaps become a host once I have a home again! Su and Olivier definitely set the bar high, but I’m hoping to meet lots more friendly people through CS!

  • http://fabuleuxdestinbrenna.wordpress.com/ Brenna [fabuleuxdestin]

    I love Couchsurfing! Lovely way to meet open minded French people :)

  • http://www.rockytravel.net Miki @Rocky Australia Travel

    I enjoyed reading your post Christine ! I definitely want to try couchsurfing on my next long travel in Australia ! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Anonymous

    So glad you had such a good experience – I’ve used it sporadically but so far always to really great results. Like you, I am very wary of the single males but have met some amazing couples along the way. What fun that you went to a meetup in Lyon as well :)

  • Eurotrip Tips

    I haven’t tried it, but a part of me keeps telling me I should. Especially since I travel with my partner, the whole concept of security is not such a big concern (try travelling with a 6’4” guy to see if you’re scared of something haha).

    Now this post just makes me want to try it even more – maybe even be a host myself!

  • Tour Absurd

    I’m so happy you tried it! I have been using CS for 3-1/2 years now and I just love it. Have made some lifelong friends and I know people from all over the world. And yes, it is most definitely not a dating site.

    I will say, however, that many CS-ers find the most compatible partners are fellow CS-ers. It can be hard to live with someone who doesn’t understand your bizarre desire to host strangers in your (and, by extension, their) home. Indeed, my husband and I were both living in Naples hosting people at each of our respective flats. We met, by chance, at a local CS gathering. There was never a time I needed to soothe his fears about inviting strangers into our home — he didn’t have any!

    Also, having moved internationally 2 times now, I never worry about making friends in a new place. I already have a built-in network. Indeed, when I moved to Ireland, I had to fire up the ol’ Google calendar to keep track of all the social events to which my fellow CS-ers were inviting me.

    Awesome site, awesome mission! And don’t be afraid to leave HONEST feedback — it’s what makes the system work. Congrats and welcome to the CS community. :D

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    CSing changed my life and my travels hardcare. I’ve written extensively for many, many sites on CSing. I’m SO excited you tried it and had a fabulous 1st time experience. Hope you continue using it and posting about it.

  • Anonymous

    And such an awesome way to practice your French!

  • Anonymous

    No problem! I bet Couchsurfing would be lots of fun in Australia–every Australian I’ve met has been so friendly, open-minded and ready to have a good time!

  • Anonymous

    I think I’ll stick to couples in the future–it’s a nice dynamic. I lucked out being there on a Monday, the night of their weekly meetup–a great way to meet more people and get tons of Lyon tips!

  • Anonymous

    If I had a home, I would definitely host! And I think traveling with someone else would definitely ease my concerns–even if it was just another girlfriend. Totally recommend it on your next travels :)

  • Anonymous

    I definitely think I’ll keep using it and crossing my fingers that each experience is better than the last (even if that doesn’t always seem possible)!

  • Anonymous

    How funny–my hosts actually met each other through Couchsurfing as well! So even if it doesn’t claim to be a dating site, it obviously brings like-minded people together.
    I just wish I had discovered it earlier in my time in Nice–I think it would have been an AMAZING way to make some local friends! I’ll definitely use it in the future as a networking tool in new cities.
    Excited to be a part of the CS community! :)

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    I’ve never had a bad experience to date, and I’ve met thousands of
    CS’ers!!!

    In a message dated 11/17/2010 5:15:48 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,
    writes:

    camorose wrote, in response to GlobalButterfly:

    I definitely think I’ll keep using it and crossing my fingers that each
    experience is better than the last (even if that doesn’t always seem
    possible)!

    Link to comment: http://disq.us/s7h2v

  • Anonymous

    We couch surfed a couple times, but like you, I also got the strong dating vibe from the website (even though my profile clearly states that I’m married)! So I haven’t done a lot of the meet up type things with single male travelers, but we’ve hosted a few couples and surfed with a few couples. Our experiences were overwhelmingly positive. It really does seem like a close knit community!

  • http://www.marisawilliams.com Risamay

    Great post. I’ve always wanted to try Couchsurfing, but have been wary for the same reasons. Also, in terms of hosting, there are so many hundreds+ beds available here in the San Francisco Bay Area that I’d be lucky if anyone even wanted to crash at my pad. But I’ve had a Couchsuring profile for a while. Just never used it for anything. Hopefully though, one day soon …

  • Anonymous

    I’m definitely interested in seeing what the CS community is like in my hometown! While the single males weird me out a bit, I feel comfortable being hosted by couples–I think that’s what I’ll stick to in the future!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I’m sure there are SO many places in the Bay Area! I can’t imagine anyone would want to stay with me in Sacramento either!

  • http://www.marisawilliams.com Risamay

    Yeah. Though it’s the state capital, Sac isn’t exactly a major tourist destination ;)

  • http://kharlamovaa.wordpress.com/ Arina K

    You know, I was wary of travelling as a single female too – and still am, a little bit. The idea of a female host eases my worries slightly, and a couple sounds ok. I’m glad your experience was so positive… there’s a lot of “warnings” out there for female travellers and a lot of them get to me head as someone who’s never travelled alone before. But I definitely want to give it a try one day.. when I get to travelling, that is!

  • Anonymous

    As a solo female traveler, I think all you need is a bit of common sense! The world’s really not as scary as everyone makes it out to be.

  • Ninjagrover

    Speaking as a single male who has a couch available, I can see you concerns (like when a guy has a preferred gender of female, I immediately think: creep), however you could be stopping yourself from meeting a great person. But I go off their profile too, and if it reads as a bit sleazy, +I just ignore it.

    I also don’t send random drink invites out to surfers that are in my town, but I have accepted a couple and have had a couple of fantastic evenings talking to some great people.

    Mostly I think it just comes from a desire to meet people from different cultures. But I get that a guy travelling alone approaches things a little bit differently that how a girl might have to.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure the majority of the guys have the best intentions, but it’s hard to weed out the good ones from the creeps online (well, actually, it’s not always TOO hard). I think I’ll stick to group settings and females/couples until I get a little more comfortable.

  • http://cruisesurfingz.com roy | cruisesurfingz

    Glad you took the leap Christine. My suggestion for solo females CouchSurfing for the first time is to stay with women or couples – until they are comfortable with the system. There is a divide between the genuine nice people who host and go to meetups, and the people who trawl profiles inviting girls for dates. 

  • Anonymous

    Couldn’t agree more–was very happy with my experience with a couple, and would happily do that again sometime!

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