Couchsurfing.org is one of the more popular “hospitality exchanges”. These sites and organizations offer travelers around the world short-stay accommodation with local hosts, with no expectation other than the pleasure of each other’s company… and maybe some help with dinner. The fundamental premise is that the cultural exchange is a two-way street, and the hosts should enjoy the experience as much as the travelers.
There are a number of hospitality exchanges, and some might be more suitable for the older traveler. If you “surf” with a 20-something host, there’s a good chance you will be sleeping on a couch. The average age of a Couchsurfer is 28, and only about 3% of users are over 50. Still with about 5 million members, that’s 150,000 “golden age” surfers and hosts.
We decided to search hosts who were couples over 50, something fairly easy to do on the site. We also restricted our searches to “verified” profiles with pictures, and read all the references carefully. The listings generally indicated that their offer of accommodation was at least a private bedroom. Still, to be on the safe side, we decided to try it out nearby before heading to France. (We’d done the same thing with AirBnB.) Our first Couchsurfing experience was in the seaside town of Sequim, Washington. Our host, Teresa, was both interesting and gracious, and the accommodation offered us by our new friend was as good as any an old friend might provide. After one more local test run, we were ready to try Europe.
Our chosen hosts in Avignon included facility with English on their profile, so we figured we could revert to our native tongue if our fractured French was found wanting. In our message exchange before our arrival, we were careful always to include a Google Translate French translation of every message we sent. It turned out to be unnecessary as our hosts were fluent in English.
We were pleasantly surprised with the responses we got from our query. Another host who couldn’t accommodate us went out of her way to recommend nearby B&Bs and restaurants: “Tell them Pauline sent you.” We received an unsolicited offer of accommodation from a retired judge who’d spent six months in our hometown years earlier. By then we were already “booked” with the couple we’d selected.
Our hosts, Monique and Jean-Paul, had offered to meet us at the boat docks – later switched to the train station due to flooding on the Rhône. We easily spotted each other, and much to our delight, they proceeded to drive us – with a few sightseeing stops en route – to a 400-year old Provençal six-bedroom farmhouse, hidden away on a quiet country lane, and surrounded by vinyards and fruit trees. Our “couch” turned out to be a very comfortable bed in a second-story bedroom with ensuite, balcony overlooking the gardens, and kitchen facilities. The kitchen was hardly needed as our hosts fed us delicious healthy home-cooked French cuisine three meals a day for our entire stay. In addition, they drove us to many area attractions – including some we’d never heard of, and certainly would never have visited but for their hospitality. What’s more, given their patience with our halting efforts, our French improved dramatically over just two days – although it never got anywhere near as good as their English.
Our visit to Avignon was a perfect example of the objectives of hospitality exchanges. We talked about many subjects over our two days, comparing French ways of doing things to those back home – not to mention all the other countries that each of us had visited. Like many Couchsurfers, our hosts were globetrotters, so we had the chance to live their adventures vicariously – as did they with ours.. And pick up some tips for the road. It was the most memorable two days of our entire trip. Couchsurfing will be high on our list for our next trip. We’d recommend it for yours.
This story about our first real Couchsurfing visit was taken from a longer post at our personal blog: https://blog.nopensionwilltravel.com/2013/08/16/couchsurfing-on-a-feather-duvet/