For those unfamiliar with Couchsurfing it is a global network of travellers which are either prepared to offer a place to sleep or looking for some accommodation. It provides thousands of people with a cheap place for the night and often some great tips within the destination too.
There are some considerations to be taken into account before setting off intending to Couchsurf as a budget option.
Those seeking a place to lay their head for a night obviously need to adjust their expectations. Accommodation ranges from anything from a place on the floor, a comfortable bed, a hammock outside or as I have experienced a yurt in the grounds of a Baron’s chateau.
Cheap accommodation is not the only benefit however, there is the opportunity to meet great people with similar interests that can often become friends for life.
Members of the couchsurfing community that live in a particular city are a great sources of information that makes perfect sense to ‘tap’ into. Even if they are unable to offer a bed, it is always worth contacting and hopefully meeting them. Advice about places to visit, nightlife, public transport availability and reliability will be readily available. They can also possibly connect you with other couchsurfers. Nobody knows their city better than a local.
When travelling solo it can also provide some welcome company during the trip, a companion for a coffee or even a night out on the town. It can often be the start of a great long-term friendship, with many travellers that meet via the couchsurfing route keeping in touch regularly for many years to come.
I have been fortunate to have enjoyed a number of great experiences and met even more amazing people whilst travelling and several of these have been the result of couchsurfing. Many of these new-found friends left an indelible mark upon me and still keep in touch now.
I have even stayed with a genuine Baron in Corsica, his Chateau is near Corte, an eccentric with scores of eco-friendly ideas for his land. A proud Frenchman but an even prouder Corsican. There was a constant flow of scouting groups in and out, they were not charged for their stay but completed several cleaning up tasks around the site during their visit.
Couchsurfing hosts usually do not allow their guests to stay for more than one or two days but altogether I remained there for ten days. Initially sleeping in a yurt on my own which was extremely cool but as the weather was so great moving outdoors to a hammock, still all to myself however (unfortunately).
There were also three family groups there, friends of the Baron but they all really made me feel a part of the party. We enjoyed some late night drinking until the early hours, resolving the problems of the World. They insisted on me joining them for all meals, keeping me well fed and inviting me to trips down to the town and swimming in the local river. Like any good couchsurfer though I did make dinner for them all one evening, this is good etiquette within the community.
It was a hardship to leave, they even reminded me about my birthday when I had forgotten it. However there are now another three new places for me to stay when travelling within France.
Not all couchsurfing experiences are so much of an adventure as this, include a Chateau or as exciting as sleeping in a yurt. So far however there have not been any ‘bad’ trips, whether it has been just sharing a coffee and a chat, getting a guided tour around the city or a decent and cheap night’s sleep they have all added to the trip.
I have slept on floors, hung my hammock in the garden, slept in an attic with a view of glorious scenery, been the guest of a Baron and slightly less high born hosts but their hospitality was never any less gracious. It is unimportant where or with whom we stay the only important thing worth remembering is that these hosts have given up a little piece of their homes to you.
There is a bond of understanding and kinship which travellers share and by providing a place for others to sleep when they are able to do so is a great expression of this comradeship.
I mentioned the etiquette involved earlier, it is good practice to return the favour and ‘pay back’ your host for their hospitality. This can merely mean, buying a good bottle of wine to share, do some chores around the house or offer dinner one evening before departing.
These can often provide the lasting memories and are always greatly appreciated by the host. Cooking dinner for three families became interesting; gröstle seemed easy but on the camp stove provided for the task proved a little more difficult than anticipated.
On more than one occasion sharing a bottle of wine has turned into a full on party with a number of the friends of the host turning up with the right ‘attitude’ for a good time.
This also brings up the obvious question of possible couchsurfing romance; what happens in couchsurfing stays in couchsurfing! I am considering however writing a thesis on the aphrodisiac qualities of a bottle of wine. Personally a great many adventures and misadventures are the result of a little wine or alternative refreshment.
There has been plenty of excitement on the road whilst surfing the couches of the Planet and this is reason enough for me to continue. I look forward to many more adventures in couchsurfing in future.