Couchsurfing in Europe: My Experiences of Couchsurfing in Europe

Couchsurfing france Switzerland

I’ve already posted a full guide to Couchsurfing: how to set up your profile, how to find the best hosts, the best way to organise your requests and of course, tips on how to stay safe and have a great time during your stay. This time I’d like to share a few of my experiences Couchsurfing in Europe to show how varied, crazy and fun it can be. I’ve couchsurfed quite a few times in Europe and twice in India so I have a range of experiences to dwell upon.

Here are a few of my most interesting Couchsurfing stories in Europe over the years.

Couchsurfing in Europe: Marseille, France

My first time Couchsurfing in Europe was in Marseille, in the South of France with one of my friends, Cloé. Naturally, being our first time Couchsurfing in Europe, we were a little apprehensive about what to expect. As it was my decision to couchsurf and come to Marseille, I also felt like it was up to me to make sure that we were both safe and had a good time.

couchsurfing in europe

We arrived at the station in the dark, having no idea how to get to the address and both our phones on low battery. I quickly charged my phone for a little while in the station while frantically messaging our host to check that he’d definitely be in. He answered that he should hopefully be home by the time we arrived so with that utterly reassuring confirmation, we set off.

Going against all the safety advice that I’d ever read, we wandered through the streets, our phones shining bright in our faces, walking round in circles and down dark alleyways, looking dangerously like a couple of lost, vulnerable girls with expensive technology (which is exactly what we were). We eventually arrived at the address on a dark, narrow street with a large wooden bolted door. Buzzing at the door, we were relieved to find our host was in.

couchsurfing in europe

His flat was pretty small with a communal kitchen-come-living-room from which his room and the bathroom were attached. We spent some time chatting with our host, who had recently graduated from the university where we were studying. He was pretty young and emanated a relaxed vibe, recommending us places to eat and drink in Marseille, all whilst chain-smoking himself into a stupor.

Our bed was in a separate building to the main flat, across a tiny courtyard, so it was an ideal situation for a couple of nervous first-time couchsurfers, having all our own space to get changed and sleep.

We were given our own set of keys and told to use the bathroom and kitchen at any time and at that, he went out for the night. I was in shock at how much trust he had in us but then I started to understand that that was the whole point, we trusted him and he trusted us. That’s what it all balances on: trust.

couchsurfing in europe

So, we made ourselves comfortable in his living room, making close friends with his old, grey cat who purred immediately whenever we entered the room and curled up on our laps.

We didn’t see much of our host as we had completely different itineraries. He went out both nights, and although he invited us along we had to decline as we had plans for early mornings and long days hiking. Find out what we got up to by reading my top things to do in Marseille.

However, the times that we did talk to him we were glad about how chilled and friendly he was and went away from the whole experience eager to couchsurf again.

Couchsurfing in Europe: Geneva, Switzerland

A few weeks later, we arranged to couchsurf in Geneva, a place that had been on my bucket list since the beginning of the year. After an extremely stressful journey that involved forgetting our passports and having to rush back to retrieve them before our coach left without us –we made it by the skin of our teeth with many thanks to Nadia, who delayed the driver- we were glad and relieved to finally arrive in Geneva.

couchsurfing in europe

Arriving in the flat, we were briefly shown around and horrified to find that there was one bedroom with one bed, no living room or couch, a bathroom and a kitchen. Cloé mouthed to me ‘where are we going to sleep?’ and I shook my head in bewilderment. Were we going to share a bed with an old man we didn’t know? I’m pretty sure he hasn’t specified this on his profile.

We sat around the kitchen table, him drinking beer and us sipping on mint tea whilst he offered to cook us some chicken for dinner. We told him that we were vegetarian and he laughed in surprise, saying that we had better find food elsewhere, as he wasn’t sure how to cook for vegetarians. Then, he addressed the sleeping situation- he said that we would sleep in the bed and he would sleep on the floor, on a mat, on the floor in the bedroom, unless we preferred him to sleep in the kitchen.

couchsurfing in europe

It felt like an uncomfortable position to be put in: of course, we couldn’t tell a man we’d rather he sleep on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor in his own house while we curled up warm in his bed. So, we acquiesced to sleeping in the same room. However, I was a little put out by the fact that he hadn’t told us that this would be the arrangement beforehand, in our conversation online. Then, at least we’d be prepared and if we were uncomfortable with the idea, we could politely decline and find elsewhere to stay. I felt forced into an arrangement that I wasn’t sure how I felt about. He seemed a nice enough man but not exactly attentive to the apprehensions of young, female travellers.

Shortly afterwards, we left him behind to find a vegetarian place to eat and being in Switzerland, a notoriously expensive country, we ended up in McDonald’s of all places. Chomping slowly on our veggie burgers, we confessed to each other that we didn’t really want to go back to the apartment.

couchsurfing in europe

We felt trapped there and didn’t like the complete lack of privacy, scared to settle down and spend what we anticipated to be a sleepless night in a room with a strange man, in his bed. Reluctantly, after a slow dinner, a slow wander around Geneva and a long, slow pint in a nearby bar, we made our way back to the apartment.

In the end, it wasn’t so bad. We got changed into our pyjamas in the bathroom, chatted to our host for a while and then chatted amongst ourselves whilst he watched a movie on his computer and let us be. Sleeping was no different to being in a hostel, we felt pretty comfortable once we’d accustomed to it, despite feeling guilty that our host was sleeping on the floor so that we could use the bed.

Ultimately, I think we learned a lot from the experience: not to freak out, take things as they come and not to be so suspicious of the human race.

Couchsurfing in Europe: Clermont-Ferrand, France

The best (and worst) thing about Couchsurfing, to me, is that you really have no idea what situation you’re going to end up in. You might get a private room, you might get a sofa, you might be sharing a room with a stranger or you might even be left with a whole apartment to yourself for a weekend (this happened to me once in Dijon). The main thing is to brace yourself for the unexpected and try not to get too overwhelmed.

By the time we couchsurfed in Clermont-Ferrand, we were pretty experienced, by which I mean we knew to have absolutely no expectations. Indeed, there was no way we could have expected what happened on this weekend.

We were picked up at the bus station by our host and a friend, who took us back to their house. Our host lived in an absolutely massive house that he shared with many other students. They hung out mostly in the converted garage that was decked out with sofas and musical instruments and we got to know them and their cat for a while before they asked if we’d be interested in exploring an abandoned abattoir (slaughterhouse).

Even though my first instinct was to refuse on account of our extremely early morning the next day and of course, fear and confusion about what an abandoned slaughterhouse entails, I ended up accepting their offer. Thus, after dropping our stuff off in the attic where we were staying for the weekend, we set off with a group of strangers in the dark to explore an abandoned slaughterhouse.

We climbed through the fence, up a wall and into the abattoir with the help of our new friends. Armed with a few torches and my camera, we wandered cautiously around in the shadows. As a disclaimer, I should say that my host was exploring the abandoned space in order to find out if he could turn it into an independent event venue. This was not an everyday activity for him and his friends (that I know of).

Artwork in the abattoir

The abattoir was expectedly creepy, with meat hooks, broken down conveyor belts and spine-chilling artwork plastered over the walls.

After thoroughly creeping ourselves out in the abattoir, our hosts took us to a lovely bar where they were having an open-mic night. The music was delightful and after a couple of drinks and an extremely tasty wrap from a takeaway, we called it a night and went back home.

The next day one of our hosts took us to Puy de Dome where we spent the day hiking. Puy de Dome is a dormant volcano that last erupted 5760 BC. It is possible to hike up the volcano or take the train for beautiful views over the Chaîne des Puys, a chain of lava domes in the Central Massif of France. At the top of Puy de Dome, we explored the information centre and then relaxed at café and watched the paragliders float around in the air.

To read more about this amazing experience, check out my full post on my favourite day trips from Lyon.

I was blown away by how accommodating and helpful our hosts in Clermont-Ferrand were. They gave us lifts to wherever we needed to go, invited us along to all their plans and made us feel like part of the group at all times.

By Couchsurfing in Europe, I had experiences that I would have never had by travelling alone and found cute, local spots that I would have never discovered. I really recommend it to anyone who is trying to make their trips around Europe a little more interesting, and also would like to save some money on accommodation.

If you have any interesting stories from Couchsurfing in Europe, don’t hesitate to get in contact with me in the comments below.

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