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.
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?