Since extensively traveling Europe in 2015, I’ve accumulated plenty of experiences from staying in free accommodations, namely through Couchsurfing. I’ve already detailed the merits and drawbacks to it in a previous post, but I didn’t share with you some of the bizarre, hilarious, and just downright uncomfortable situations I’ve had through this site. The time is better than never to share one with you today!
Before I get started, I’ll preface by saying that, despite having had some not-so-great Couchsurfing experiences, the majority have been nothing but incredible. The online community is amazingly supportive of travelers and, as long as you keep your wits about yourself, it should be nothing but memorable moments along the way.
Any case, on with the story…
Crazy Travel Story #4: That One Time I Stayed with a Crazy Couchsurfer…
It was February 2016 when I decided to visit Toulouse for the first time– it was my first year teaching as an assistante in France, and it happened to be my two-week vacances d’hiver, so I wanted to take advantage of it to see as much of southwest France as possible.
Prior to that, I’d already had some experience Couchsurfing in the UK, Ireland, and Switzerland. I had mostly good stays with my hosts, and I was interested in continuing that in France. I had a wild, but enjoyable stay with my host in Bordeaux just beforehand (aka too much partying), so I was expecting another good time in Toulouse.
A few weeks before my trip, I’d sent couch requests to a few dozen hosts. One of them accepted my request and, upon looking at his profile, he didn’t seem to come across as strange. He’d already had over 30 references, all of them positive, and his profile– picture and description– didn’t look out of the ordinary. With that, I was set for my three-night stay in Toulouse.
I should’ve suspected something was a bit odd about my host (whom we’ll call “M”) when he proceeded to call me not once, but twice, to confirm my stay with him before I arrived. At first, I thought it was nice and considerate of him to do so, but when it happened the second time, I found it strange. But of course, I let that slide…
From Bordeaux, I spent a few hours visiting Pau before catching a BlaBlaCar to Toulouse in the late afternoon– I got into Toulouse in the early evening, but it was already dark (wintertime, no less). Taking the metro, I got off at the nearest stop to my host’s flat, located in the city center. He picked me up, and the second thing that I found super strange was when we greeted each other with “la bise.” Normally, it’s just a matter of pressing your cheek against the other person’s and making the “kissing noise,” but he really went for it, planting cold, moist kisses directly on my cheeks. Now mind you, I do not believe it was a sexual kind of thing– the way he did it was just overly-friendly, because he didn’t do anything else after that. Perhaps I’d attributed it to the idea that Toulousains were just really-friendly people, but still, I was really taken back.
We walked over to his flat. Upon entering, we had a late supper together, as he was kind enough to have prepared a simple meal. While eating, we talked and got to know each other. M was a man in his mid-thirties who was the director of the local choir– besides working, he was also quite the adventurer, having visited the States and other parts of Europe. We even talked a bit about Los Angeles, since he’d been and I grew up there. Conversation went well, although I noticed that he was quite talkative, and that he dominated the conversation more so than myself– I didn’t mind so much, since I tend to be more of a listener than a conversationalist. Eventually, we turned in for the night– M offered me a mattress to sleep on in the living room, and he retreated to his room. Tired after a long day of travel, I promptly went to sleep.
Sometime around midnight, I woke up to the sound of screaming– a human’s scream, no less. It sounded like someone was being murdered, and that was enough to jolt me awake. Apparently, it was M, which really surprised me. First thought that came to my mind was, “What the fuck?” as I was disoriented from being woken up so abruptly. I put two-and-two together and guessed that M was having a nightmare, so I went back to sleep.
3:00 came, and again, I was jolted awake from M screaming, this time even more intensely. It sounded as if he was having a life-or-death kind of nightmare, because it sounded damn terrifying. At this point, I was both nervous and irritated– was he going to continue doing this all night? Even worse, I had to go to the bathroom, and I could only access it by walking through his bedroom– I did my best to tiptoe as silently as possible past him, but unfortunately he woke up with a yelp, which made me jump five feet in the air. Now, I was pissed, and I asked him, “Was that you who was screaming?” and M, who was half-awake, mumbled “I don’t know,” and returned to sleep.
I did my business in the bathroom, and I bolted out of his bedroom as quickly as possible– at that moment, I wasn’t feeling comfortable staying with M but, since it was literally the dead of the night, there was no way I could leave and get another host. Also, I thought that it was just a strange, but harmless quirk about M, and perhaps I could survive another two nights with it. All the same, you can bet that I didn’t sleep well that night.
Morning came, and M was the first to get up. Without saying “good morning,” he left the apartment around 9:00, presumably to go to work. Assuming he had the only key to the flat, I couldn’t go out and explore without the key or at least telling him that I wanted to go out– best thing to do was to wait for him to return, perhaps around lunchtime, to talk to him about it.
Three, then four, hours passed, and he still didn’t return. I loafed around in his flat, using Wifi to plan my itinerary for Toulouse. I even tried calling him on his cellphone, but after several attempts, I realized that he’d left his cell phone in the flat, as it kept buzzing without being picked up. Eventually, I gave up and decided to head out around 13:00 to explore on my own. Never mind that I didn’t have the key to lock the door– I would just try to figure it out after I returned.
It was a beautiful, sunny day as I wandered around the city– I visited the main attractions and the parks around M’s apartment. A couple of hours later, I headed back, and I happened to run into M, who was at a local bio store and chatting with the cashier. Together, we headed back to his apartment, where we had a mid-afternoon tapenade and talked some more. He apologized to me about the night screaming, saying that he had a nightmare (called it!) and that he didn’t mean to have frightened me. I told him that it was okay, although I still found it so strange.
However, what was even stranger was that the more I talked with him, the more I started to notice that he was extremely odd…besides being extremely talkative, he would constantly interrupt me to change subjects, to the point that it was hard to follow him, let alone being coherent in his speech. He also told me the story of how he had a brain tumor a decade ago, and that he had to go to Los Angeles to remove it– since then, he told me that he’s been having faulty memory. I found him extremely erratic and, despite being a really nice guy, I was about to go mad just being in the same room as him.
The icing on the cake was, as we were talking, he got a call from his mother. After hanging up, he abruptly told me that I couldn’t stay with him anymore, because she would be coming the next day to see him. Mind you, I had some similar Couchsurfing experiences where the host did that to me (really shitty of them), but I was still shocked. At the same time, however, I was relieved, since I didn’t really want to put up with him anymore, after seeing how crazy he was. Eventually, we negotiated and I was allowed to stay with him that last night– in the meantime, I reached out to another host whom I’d originally cancelled since finding M, and I was lucky that the host agreed to host me for my last night in Toulouse.
Even though I wasn’t liking M at that point, I still opted to go out with him on a walk around Toulouse that afternoon. Plenty of *incoherent* conversations and weird encounters with pot-smokers and homeless people at the jardin japonais ensued, as M basically hopped from person to person, making five to ten-minute conversations with each of them as I awkwardly stood there, wondering when we’d leave. Throughout all of this, I was way past any emotion, except extreme discomfort. We eventually went back to his flat, and we had dinner together– M cooked once more, and we conversed some more before turning in for the night.
I had to be out of the apartment by noon, but I ended up packing up and jetting out by 10:00, since I had no desire to deal with M any longer than I should have. Still being polite, I did say a *hasty* goodbye to him, and I got the hell out of there. Later, I met my other host, who was also eccentric, but much better than M– in fact, we ended up keeping in touch long after my stay, and I even revisited him this past January! If anything good came out from this situation, it was that I made a new friend.
Overall, this particular Couchsurfing experience wasn’t necessarily a bad one, but one of the strangest ones I’ve had. It left me with more questions than answers, since M was one heck of a guy with his weird behavior and logic. What made it even more bizarre was that none– none!— of the References on Couchsurfing suggested that he was absolutely nuts– this goes to show that you can’t always expect anything from a profile. Thankfully, he wasn’t dangerous, but I wouldn’t choose to stay with him again.
Thanks for reading this *long* post– I definitely have other weird Couchsurfing experiences, but I’ll choose to write about them later. Until then!