One challenge for many solo travelers is finding their way around a strange country alone. What if you could arrange to meet up with a friendly local who could advise you on what to do and where to go? Today, guest blogger Brenna Mulvaney shows us how she’s done just that with Couchsurfing, a site that encourages cross-cultural education through free hospitality – which doesn’t always mean sleeping on someone’s couch.
I was flying into Paris late on a Saturday after a week of teaching English in Barco de Avila, Spain. Sunday morning I was running a half-marathon in Paris with 40,000 people. Trying to figure out how to pick up my registration packet for the race became a logistical nightmare.
How was I to do it?
Enter Couchsurfing. You’ve probably heard of it before – but have you realized all of its possibilities? Couchsurfing is not just for poor students surfing couches!
When I foolishly planned my vacation without enough time to go pick up my registration packet for the half-marathon on Saturday, I didn’t know what to do. I had been training for the race for over two months and did not want to miss out. I posted a call for help on the Running Paris Group on Couchsurfing – and got a response in a few minutes. Someone offered to pick up my registration for me! Once I chatted a bit with my surfer and sent him my race information, we decided to meet up Saturday night.
While I find Couchsurfing to be tricky as a solo female traveler, I have always trusted my gut and it has never led me astray. Not only did I have someone to welcome me once I got to Paris, I met up with my surfer for a Couchsurfing dinner party. While at the soirée, I met a marathoner from Slovenia, who gave me lots of advice for the big day. I also got some career advice from a German journalist, who was writing a piece on Couchsurfing. Plus, the local Parisian party host gave me some oats and a banana for my pre-race meal (I had been worried about the possibility of eating croissants!).
The next morning, I was so much more comfortable than I would have been solo. We decided to go together to the start – which relieved lots of pre-race worry! Soon enough, I waved goodbye to my speed-demon host. I concentrated on taking my time and breathing in the sights of Paris. At around twelve kilometers, we turned a corner and saw Notre Dame ahead of us, the Seine river glistening in the rare spring sunlight. While the race was a great achievement of one of my personal goals, it was nice to have someone to share it with afterwards. We shared a post-race meal of wine, cheese, baguette, and paté. A true French meal!
Couchsurfing doesn’t have to be just for finding a place to stay. When I first moved to my little rural town in France, I found another couchsurfer and invited him over for lunch. He ended up giving me an extra oven, not to mention a friendly face to see around my village. As a young person, I often escape the country on the weekend and travel to bigger cities. I have met a lot of new French friends that way. I have had so many wonderful experiences thanks to Couchsurfing – and hope to have many more.
Don’t let the concept of sleeping on stranger’s couches turn you off to Couchsurfing. Here are some other ways you can make the most out of this amazing organization.
Meet like-minded people in Groups
I got to hang with someone who shares my love for running – in a country that’s not known for athletics. We had some great discussions about sports in France versus my home country. Look through a town’s groups before leaving and see what events are going on.
Attend international gatherings
Local groups organize events all of the time – football games, happy hours, dinner parties – there is always something fun going on. Usually, CS plans large events as well – such as the Festival of Lights in Lyon, or the Christmas markets in Switzerland, Germany, and France. You can plan entire vacations around events – and always find someone to carpool with or even couchsurf with.
Get to know a new place from an insider’s point of view
Few people realize there is a meet for coffee only option when you search for couchsurfers. I have had many offers to see “the best coffee houses” in various cities. Don’t limit yourself to being content with meeting other travelers – immerse yourself in a new culture!
Brenna is an American who gave up her Uggs and peanut-butter sandwiches for knee-high boots and baguettes when she moved to rural France. She has been traveling solo around France for the past few months while blogging about her adventures at FabuleuxdestinBrenna.