Homestays - The Essence of Experiential Travel

One of the best parts of traveling is that it is easily adaptable and can be made to fit any personal preference. One excellent way to expand your travel horizons and change up the pace of any trip is to vary the type of accommodations that you use. Luxury hotels, hotels, hostels, and homestays are obviously all very different from each other. Apart from variance in their cost, the type of lodging that you choose will also dictate the type of people you interact with, the activities that you participate in, and how much of the country you’ll see. Once I sat down and thought about it, I was surprised at how much accommodation dictates the rest of your trip. Many people know and are familiar with hostels and hotels, but not all are so familiar with homestays.

What Is A Homestay?

A homestay is lodging in which you live in the house of a local family. Sometimes the local family is staying in the house with you while you live there and other times the family isn’t at the house. Depending on your preference, it’s possible to rent a room or whole house/apartment. If you rent just a room it’s more likely that you’ll be staying at the house with a family. Homestays have recently been made popular by the site Airbnb. I know you’ve heard of that company. Airbnb and sites like VRBO, Tripping.com, and HomeAway are all great examples of other homestay lodgings. I personally stay in homestays all the time while I’m traveling. One of my favorites was this homestay we stayed at in Koh Phangan. It was beautiful, relaxing, and made us feel like queens.

Homestays, the essence of experiential travel
More and more business travelers are choosing to stay in hosted accommodation, attracted by its affordability, home comforts and the experience of having a host or family on hand to give advice and local knowledge. Booking statistics from hosted accommodation provider Homestay.com reveal that there is a growing demand from business travelers booking homestays for work-related trips, including an increase year on year for female business travelers. (Source: Homestay.com, 1/27/2016).

Why Try A Homestay?

Homestays have many fantastic features. If you are a frequent traveler and are tired of the rowdiness of hostels but don’t want absolute tranquility. Homestays are the perfect mix of each.

Value For Money

Visiting top destinations like Europe are often very expensive.  A large part of the expense of any trip is accommodation. Hotels are usually expensive. This is mostly due to the additional costs of running a hotel. These expenses can include staffing costs, licenses, and building maintenance among other things. They all add up and result in the client of the hotel paying higher fees than at a homestay. In a homestay, since there usually aren’t any other licensing or staffing costs associated with the house or room. Homestay prices are typically much lower. For example, 1 night in a hotel in London in a hotel costs between $50-$100 a night. In comparison, a homestay via Airbnb will cost $30-$50 a night. As you can see the cost of a homestay is almost half that of a hotel.

Meet Locals

Most travelers would agree that they would prefer to have more meaningful interactions with local people. There are different ways to do meet locals like hanging out at a coffee shop, meeting people at bars, and jumping into pickup games. These are excellent means to come in contact with the local people but all of these efforts require an outgoing, fearless, and enthusiastic attitude, which let’s face it can be hard to muster. Staying a homestay is an easy way to put yourself in a position to meet as many locals as possible; because homestays are where the locals are. You’ll have local neighbors, markets and stalls, bars, parties. Since homestays aren’t on a tourist strip you’ll be immersed in a local experience.

Get Off The Beaten Path

On the same note as above. Homestays make it easy to visit other more local and unexplored parts of the city. Often hotels and hostels are in a central localized location. The center of the city is always full of tourists and tourist attractions, which although they are great to see can be draining to be around. Homestays are always all over any city which allows travelers to explore new neighborhoods and possibly discover new up and coming travel hotspots.

Host Families

Another lovely aspect of homestays are the host families. If you rent a homestay that is just a room in a house more often than not you’ll be staying with a host family. This is excellent news for travelers. As host families are very helpful and will usually show you the great local hangouts. They might even help out your budget by providing meals from the local cuisine. It’s nice to make connections all over the world as it brings our world a little bit closer together. If you get the opportunity to stay with a host family, enjoy every minute of it!

Learn A Language

We all know that the best way to improve our possession of a language is total immersion. Staying at a homestay with a host family who doesn’t speak any of your primary language is perfect!! Time to practice the new language you have been learning! Learning a language takes a long time, and staying in a homestay will definitely give you a running start in improving your language skills and speeding up the learning process.

Build A Lasting Connection

Host families are a great connection to have as you travel and go throughout life. It’s less likely that you’ll have time to build this sort of relationship with your family unless you’ll be there a while. But take it from me it is always nice to have a local who’s got your back. It’s really enjoyable to watch from afar as your family grows and changes. It’s an especially rewarding relationship because it makes the world feel closer and more familiar in these times of strife.

Homestays, the essence of experiential travel
In Malaysia, a homestay program is operated by the government tourism office to provide tourists the experience of life in a kampung or a traditional village. According to their website “the kampungs involved in the homestay programme are committed to ensure that visitors experience village-style living first hand. All kampungs taking part in the homestay programme are carefully selected and comply with strict guidelines from the Ministry of Tourism in order to bring out the best of Malaysia.”

Homestays Are Not For Everyone

Homestays don’t have too many cons, but like with any good thing there are some negative aspects of it too.

Difficulty Finding a Location

It’s a double edge sword staying in a location that’s off of the beaten path. It’s great because you get to see neat places that most tourists don’t get to experience. Homestays can be more expensive to get to and sometimes they can be especially hard to find. For instance, in Marrakesh, Morocco if you want to stay in the old city it can be near impossible to find the location unless you’ve hired a pickup from the airport. This of course will only last until you are more familiar with the neighborhood. Think of this as an upfront cost to experiencing the best parts of the city..

Easily Isolated

One of the best parts of traveling, like we’ve been discussing is meeting new people. Homestays are great at allowing travelers to do if you don’t speak the local language and are more introverted it can be hard to get out of your shell. Even though homestays position travelers to meet others, if you don’t go out of your way to meet new people it can be a bit lonely. There are many factors that come into play with this but staying at a homestay might require going more out of your comfort zone in order to connect with others. This of course maybe part of the reason you want to take this trip, but it’s something to be aware of.

Dos and Don’ts of Homestays

Do’s

Communicate as much as possible with your host family. Find out any rules that they have, for example a curfew at night or what time they have dinner. Find out if they expect you to be at all family functions. If you have any questions about anything make sure to ask.

Express your needs. If you have any sort of special dietary restrictions or preferences make sure to tell your host family or the host of the homestay. Host families are very accommodating as they want to make sure you have an excellent stay, so as long as your requests are reasonable I’m sure they’ll meet it.

Explore with and without your host family. It can be easy to get involved in an open and friendly host family and forget about venturing out on your own. Don’t let this happen to you! As fun and easy it is to travel with them make sure that you get out and experience the city your living in without your host family too.

Research local customs and expectations. Make sure that the clothes you bring on your holiday are acceptable attire for the location you are staying. If you are renting a homestay follow all cultural norms and rules of the house. If you are staying with a host family make sure that you are aware of local familial norms and have questions ready to ask your host family about any cultural norms you don’t understand.

Don’ts

Don’t be a slob. As soon as you enter a new home take note of its general order of cleanliness and make sure to maintain your room, the kitchen and bathroom at these standards. This of course is slightly different if you are renting a room or house as you won’t be expected to clean but regardless be respectful of their home and house. Treat it as nice or nicer than your own place.

Don’t be afraid to try new … foods, styles of dance, languages, and all the wonderful life opportunities that come your way. Some situations like trying a new language may make you feel embarrassed and put you slightly out of your comfort zone, but these experiences are what make your adventure so unique and wonderful.

Homestays, the essence of experiential travel
Homestay is a popular form of hospitality and lodging whereby visitors stay in a house or apartment of a local of the city to which they are traveling. The length of stay can vary from one night to even a year and can be free, in exchange for monetary compensation, in exchange for a stay at the guest’s property either simultaneously or at another time (home exchange), or in exchange for help on the host’s property. Longer term homestays are popular with students that are participating in study abroad programs. Homestays are examples of collaborative consumption and sharing. In cases where money is not exchanged in return for accommodation, they are examples of a barter economy or gift economy. (Source: Wikipedia)

Homestays are more than just an accommodation option. In this time of terrorism and challenging political environments it is all the more crucial that travelers go out of their way to develop relationships with those outside of their regular social sphere. These relationships make the world smaller and safer. This is how we will unite the world and protect ourselves from global warming, world hunger, poverty and other worldwide problems. Next time you are traveling and choosing a place to stay consider a homestay and bring the world one step closer to unity.

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Hailey Sexton
Hailey Sexton is an avid world traveler. She currently is teaching in Thailand while freelancing and running her travel blog, Mentor Travel. Hailey started Mentor Travel as a way to teach new travelers how to travel. Through the business she now offers travel budgeting and planning services for businesses, independent travelers, and digital nomads.