We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
Experience can’t be bought, experience is something that becomes our most valuable asset and a story to tell. In our age traveling is not something only chosen people can afford. It is no longer a luxury. Staying in a hotel and having a full board no longer guarantees incredible experience. Now we need something more – we want to escape comfort zone and learn something new from our travels. A cozy hotel room with impeccable service has nothing to offer a real adventurer. Instead of it they grab a backpack, order plane tickets or hitchhike at the roundabout to finally catch the spirit of freedom. The greatest feeling is when you do not have the faintest idea what the next day will bring you, where you will turn up, with whom you will eat your dinner and chat on your plans. This is real wanderlust!
I have to share my experience with you to demonstrate that traveling can go beyond a cozy hotel room, that it should not necessary cost a fortune. Luxury can cost much less than you expect. Interesting, isn’t it? Then read this post!
Couchsurfing – traveling to Marseille
A lot of people have already used Couchsurfing that is the best thing ever for travelers. Couchsurfing has enabled people to host and be hosted all around the world for free. The only price is to share your culture, experience and having fun together. But it is the price worth paying! Thanks to CS traveling has become affordable. Moreover, it has become more inspiring because of the integration with natives.
Interaction is what really mattered to me when two years ago I visited Provence (the south of France) with my friend, Eugenia. I could barely afford a stay in a hostel as a student. We both were on a student exchange. I was in Germany and Eugenia – in France. Having had no plans to visit our families on Christmas, we decided to spend time in France. Though we both did not know how, where and with whom – we simply wanted to change sceneries. I heard of Couchsurfing that time – it seemed an interesting idea for me and I was brave enough to suggest this option to Eugenia. She caught it up and we both started planning our route and looking for people who could have hosted us in their homes. We did not pay for the accommodation. We moved around with BlaBlacar (service that enables people to travel from a city to a city with someone who has the same destination). This way of moving was extremely convenient for us.
In the hindsight we could pay more for higher convenience – a hostel and trains, but it would not have been that journey, that would have been another story – mainstream and not different from hundreds of traditional touristic experiences. I liked interaction with natives – that was priceless, I also enjoyed their company and hospitality. I’ll be grateful for that forever!
I have decided to interview my friend Eugenia and one of our hosts, Geoffrey Merran from Nice to tell you more about our advantages. And maybe these words will motivate you to go for your journey with few bucks in your pocket!
I explored Provence with Eugenia, a brave girl
When did you start using CS?
G: I created an account on CS in November 2014. I am living in Nice and there are always foreigners in this city. I was also relatively good at English, I had lot of free time out of the university, so I was curious about hosting someone I didn’t know.
E: My first experience with CS was at the end of 2014. I had a trip around south of France with my friend Margaret. We were planning a great tour and were expecting to have lots of fun and feel the atmosphere of Provence. So we thought that living with natives could help us a lot.
How did you find out about it?
G: I found it by chance. After high school exams, my friends and I wanted to travel to Croatia so we looked for accommodation and if possible not expensive. I found CS. In the end we didn’t go, but I kept CS in mind.
E: I heard about it from Margaret and, to be honest, I liked the idea of CS a lot! First, I was a bit afraid of being hosted by the people I don’t know. But because we were going together I hoped everything would be ok.
How many people have you hosted? (How many people have you visited?)
G: I think I hosted around 10-12 people in one year (from November 2014 to August 2015), I got everyone – a couple, boy, girl, from everywhere… Italy, South Korea, Argentina, Ukraine, Russia, Canada and the USA.
The most exhausting moment was when I hosted three girls. You can’t imagine how many things a girl needs. It is multiplied by 3 ! [laughing]
E: I visited three people: a girl from Nimes, and two guys from Marseille and Nice.
What was the most interesting moment with CS? (some crazy, inspiring moments etc.)
G: For me the best moment with CS is sharing time. I mean when people tell their stories and you start to learn about them, what they do, what they can teach you, why they are here in Nice.
I remember, for example, when I hosted Italians, they were coming back from Spain with BlaBlacar because they sang in a chorale so they just had to spend a night in Nice. I invited some friends, one was a guitarist so in the end all the night they sang, and it was really nice.
Also, I have learned a lot about drinking games from everywhere (South Korea one is the best =)
E: I remember one story from Marseille. The guy who hosted us had a really big dog. It was even mentioned in the description on the website. But we decided that it was not a problem for us. The moment we entered the apartment this huge dog (but I should say really friendly and cheerful) almost knocked us out of our feet and all the time we had to be really careful. The next day we decided that as the dog was nice, we would take him for a walk. That was not a good idea! [laughing] Two tiny girls… we ran with him because he was too strong. It seemed that the dog took us for a walk! We ran around the streets and down the huge stairs. And when we came back home our hands were red because of the lead. I still don’t know how we managed not to fall.
What was the least pleasant moment with CS?
G: I guess it’s the selection time. Couchsurfing is a website with people where people are looking to stay somewhere and you do not know them. You have to select someone you can trust. And for that, you need to examine every profile, and if someone seems ok or interesting, you send “yes”.
At this moment, when they come, you have always that feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety, because you don’t know if everything goes well, if you can trust those people… Even though I have not had any bad experience so far.
E: It is the fact that you know nothing about people you’re going to stay with. It is always some worries if they are nice and whether it is safe to stay in their place etc. But if you think about it, you could have the same risk everywhere, because hostels and hotels may turn out to be not the best place either. Anyway I was lucky because my hosts were great.
Why do you like CS?
G: I guess the way how it changes you as a host. My first guest was a Canadian girl. I didn’t really know what to do so I just prepared the bed in the living room, and that’s all.
But after you start to understand what you guests need, like where there is a shop, a bio market, a vegan market, when you are asked to give a towel, a sun cream, you get excited.
In the end I anticipated almost everything! In fact, if you wish to work in hostel, it can be good training! [laughing]
E: I like it because it is such a great experience when you’re trying to learn more about the culture of the other country. What could be better than staying with natives? They could show you the places you would never find on a tourist map or go with you to the best local cafe. You’ll see the life of citizens from within. Moreover, you’ll become a small part of it.
How do you spend time with your guests? (How did you spend time with people who hosted you?)
G: I show them the Old Nice, where there are all the pubs, how we “party” in Nice, we usually go to wine bar too, I show them the best beaches to go, I make some cocktails at home, sometimes some friends come to my flat so we spend the night with them.
E: With one host we spent the whole day. She met us in the evening at the bus stop and the next day she showed us the city, all tourist places and also the places she liked. It was really interesting to see the parts of the city which were not marked on the map. We also went to cafe she liked. With all hosts you always have an evening when you tell a lot about yourself, where you are from, what you like and they tell their story. Usually you find lots of things in common. We had evenings like that which we spent with drinks listening to the music we loved.
Have you ever become a guest?
G: One summer, one of my highschool friends suggested me to go Croatia again by car, and this is time I said: “Yeah, why not”. The next week we took the car, we went through Milan where one Argentinian guy I used to host, hosted us in return. He showed us Milan and it was really cool, even if it was only one day.
How did CS change your life?
G: The last time I hosted three Russian girls, in August 2015, it was a really nice moment, but at the end I was exhausted. They went diving to Monaco, I brought them to St Tropez, we went to the Old Town, well we did a lot of things, had really good moments.
But the story doesn’t finish here. I stayed in touch with one of the girls, we have a lot in common, we kept talking a lot, like every day for months, and one day I just woke up and said “I come to you, to Russia for your birthday” (her birthday is 3 day after mine). I came for 10 days to St Petersburg – it was one of my best trips (be careful, Russians don’t speak English) and finally she became my girlfriend. We are still together, we have some plans and everything is going very well, so YES. CS has changed my life.
E: I couldn’t say that it has changed something completely. But after living some time in Europe and doing CS or traveling with BlaBlacar I started to trust people more. Now it doesn’t seem to me such a crazy idea to stay for couple of days at some Italian girl’s home or to go to Paris by car with a French family. I just realized that there are thousands of people looking for the same things as me: new friends, bright memories and vivid impressions.
Will you host more people in the future? (or Will you use Couchsurfing in the future)
G: Maybe yes, but I can’t tell for now, it depends if I live with a roommate – I have to ask if he/she agrees. And now I don’t have so much time like before, but I still enjoy traveling a lot!
E: I am almost sure that I will. But I think that it’s better to couchsurf when you travel with several friends, it’s not that suitable for the family.
What would you recommend people who want to host and start their advantage with CS?
G: Be curious, be careful, and let yourself give it a try. I recommend you to fill your profile with the most information you wish to put, make peoples “want” you! Be open-minded if you’re a host, show your guests your country’s specialties, the city, your skills (I was making cocktails for example), don’t hesitate to hang out with them if they want.
And if you’re a girl traveling alone, make sure you can trust your host, because some confuse CouchSurfing with a dating app. I don’t say you shouldn’t do anything with your host, but some get requests like it’s Tinder app. It’s not that spirit.
E: Everyone has doubts before starting using CS. But you never know until you try. So I would just recommend choosing your host carefully, chat with them, ask questions and call your best friend to join you during the trip. You’ll see that you’ll have fun and there is nothing to be afraid of.
What do YOU think of Couchsurfing? Share your opinion in comments!