Since arriving in France a couple months ago for a teaching English program through InterExchange, I've had the opportunity to take several side trips throughout the country. This has been an added bonus on top of the already enriching experience of living alongside a French family. In fact, the combination of these two elements has been my favorite aspect of the Conversation Coach in France program. It has allowed me to be immersed in French culture to a degree that would be impossible as a regular tourist. Whether during free time or a regular week of lessons, there is always something authentic and new to be experienced.
As far as side trips are concerned, France is a great place to explore whether you are interested in strolling through culturally rich cities or hiking secluded trails amidst natural beauty. I've taken advantage of the public transportation system here for my excursions. The railways will easily take you to most of the crucial locations on the list of attractions to visit. However, if you would rather venture to more remote locations to stay clear of tourists and busy cities then it might be necessary to take a bus, do some extensive walking or even rent a car. It all depends on what you are hoping to get out of your side trips.
I've come to realize that when you are visiting a country that has as much variety as France does then you need to be a little more selective than usual. In other words, trying to do too much can make planning difficult and usually ends up detracting from the experience. For me, it's been important to determine which places I am personally driven to see. There are so many options and suggestions flying around when you read through guides and get advice from other people that at some point you have to stop and identify what you, yourself, are passionate about. Once this is clarified you can then decide which options you can really do justice with the time and resources available to you. Some destinations may deserve their own individual trip in the future and are just too vast in scope and important to you to be attempted as a side trip. At the same time, as you move along in the decision-making process, certain options will begin to stand out as a good fit.
To summarize, staying with a host family can give you a unique glimpse into a culture other than your own while also providing a fantastic opportunity to do some exploring through side trips. Taking some extra time in advance to clarify what is really important to you and then assessing how to best approach and select from the options can be a great help in making the most of an adventure abroad.