For a truly immersive experience, homestays are a tried and true method. You are welcomed into a local's home and learn how a typical family operates day-to-day. It's a truly unique way to experience a country. You come away with a deeper appreciation as cultural subtleties reveal themselves in a way that is simply not possible when staying in a hotel or hostel. Some tour companies frequently offer a night or two accommodation in the home of a local family as part of the overall tour experience. Most homes are quite authentic, which in some countries, may mean modest accommodations. If you go in with an open mind and a thirst for immersion, you will likely emerge with rich, unique memories.
What is a Homestay?
A homestay is, simply put, staying at someone's home. But there are different types of home stay, and the experience varies according to where in the world you are, and how you go about organizing it.
Typical homestays involve staying in a local family's house, and living how they live. You may be expected to pay for accommodation and food (even if you are not directly asked to do so). These homestays can be arranged through a tour, or you may be lucky enough to meet someone while traveling who invites you to stay with them.
Some homestays are businesses that are established for the purpose of tourist accommodation. The family will live in the building, but there will be fixed prices, dedicated rooms for tourists, and perhaps even a menu. There may be a sign outside advertising it as a "homestay". These types of homestays can still give a more immersive experience than staying at a hotel, but you may feel cheated if you were expecting to live as the locals do.
House sitting, that is, staying in someone's house while they're away, can be arranged through various websites. These arrangements are usually good value; some are cheap, while others are free, and some people will even pay you to stay in their house rather than leaving it empty. While some may not see house sitting as a homestay (that is, the residents of the house are not there during your stay), it is a useful option for people who would rather have their own space to cook and relax, rather than just having a hotel room.
Benefits of a Homestay
The main benefit of a homestay is that it offers an immerse experience. You are surrounded by a new culture and get to learn more about it than if you were staying in a hotel. You also get to spend your time with new and interesting people and gain insight into how they live.
Home tays also allow you to offer insights into your culture. Your host will likely be just as interested in learning how you live, whether it's by looking at pictures of your home or listening to some of your favorite music.
Living with people who speak a different language to you is also an ideal way to immerse yourself in the language and to pick it up quickly. Not to mention you'll have native speakers on hand willing to help you with any language problems you encounter.
Things to Remember
Follow local customs when you're living with your hosts. They may be too polite to tell you what you're doing wrong, so the easiest way to avoid a faux pas is to do as they do. For example, do they take their shoes off when entering the house? Do they avoid using their left hand? And remember, what is considered polite in your culture may not be so in theirs. Even if your mother taught you to always clean up after yourself, if your host insists on taking your dirty plate, it may be impolite to insist on washing it yourself.
Spend time with your host family and live as they live. If you spend your evenings alone in your room, or go out to eat at restaurants instead of eating with the family, then not only will you be missing out on the experiences that make a home stay so wonderful, you'll also likely be seen as rude by your hosts.