March 20, 2019

A form of temporary residence where travellers lodge with a family in a certain destination, homestays are traditionally associated with farm stays, remote locations, and mutually beneficial exchanges that allow tourists to work for food and shelter. These days, the concept has journeyed into cosmopolitan cities as well, following the model of Airbnb apartments and shared spaces.

A diversity of options are at your disposal now, but one thing remains the same—the intimacy of living with locals makes for priceless memories that beat luxury comforts such as room service and a concierge. Here’s why you should shake up your next vacation and give homestays a go instead.

1. Do as the locals do

With a homestay, you’re literally living among the locals, which is hands down the most effective way to immerse yourself in a foreign culture. Your host family doubles as human dictionaries, translating not only the language, but also the colloquialisms that every insider needs to know. Who knows? You might walk away with an unexpected fluency in a new tongue.

Get the 101 on the hidden gems and obscure attractions of the city from your hosts, who know their neighbourhood, its top vistas and secret passageways, like the back of their hand. Whether you’re exploring the underground bar scene or finding the best spot for a sunset picnic, they will be much more insightful than what Google is able to offer.

Above all, your personal tour guides will be on hand to ensure your safety in the more remote areas, and advise you on the local customs and regulations to abide by—what you consider common practice may not be too polite in a different part of the world.

2. Making new friends

A homestay is also the easiest way to make friends in a new city, and not just fair-weather friends but meaningful connections that could last a lifetime. Especially in this digital age, it’s become a rarity for strangers to form spontaneous bonds at a cafe or bookstore. Opting for a homestay, however, allows you to skip a step and go straight to being in close quarters with people who are, in fact, eager to get to know you.

Part of the fun is that, despite knowing what you’ve signed up for, there’s still no telling who you’ll meet. An Alpaca farmer, a veteran entrepreneur, a ceramic artist, or a train conductor… the more unlikely it seems, the more probable it becomes. And don’t fret about awkward silences. Homestay hosts are generally on the more loquacious, convivial and extroverted side.

3. More bang for your buck

While hotels typically hover around the minimum of $100 per night, a spare room in a lived-in house can be as affordable as under $10 for a day. A much less lonely experience, it often includes complimentary meals (or breakfasts at least) as well. Depending on the location (a modern metropolis vs a rural township), the prices will vary.

Although, you can sleep in peace knowing your dollars are going towards the good cause of sustaining the livelihood of the populace, as opposed to that of a multinational corporation. It fulfils a pertinent need for local communities in the countryside, in particular, that depend on such tourism, where profit goes directly to the individual, to survive. With commercial tourism, on the other hand, a global industry that’s valued in the billions, the money won’t necessarily have any impact on the local economy.

4. Unorthodox destinations and dwellings

In New Zealand, a converted barn offers unparalleled panoramas to an active volcano on a sprawling island. Another pared-down farmhouse introduces you to the village of the Karen tribe, a Chinese-Tibetan community in the mountains of Chiang Mai. Over in the sleepy commune of Avignon, France, an artist’s abode is a work of architectural art, while an actual treehouse built as part of an enormous tree sits on the hills of Costa Rica’s San Antonio de Escazu.

These four lodgings boast vastly distinct types of environments, atmospheres and lifestyles, but they’re all homestay options you could dip your toes in. Some of them come with an abundance of solitude and serenity, others entice you to take a walk on the wilder side of life.

For the travellers that chase after experiences beyond the ordinary, homestays certainly provide accessible ways to dive into the unusual, without compromising on the comfort of having a home away from home.