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Accommodation cheaper and cleaner than a hostel?
Often with food included and comprehensive local knowledge to help you get the most out of your travel experiences?
It’s time to go Homestay.
Staying with a local is the latest grass roots adventure to harness the power of the internet. Many millions of homestays can now be found online, with reviews from past guests and the ability to book online, direct and in advance.
But as the name suggests, you are entering into someone’s home, this is not a hotel and there is certain etiquette to follow, even if you are paying for the experience…
A lot of the information for Homestays online refers to student programmes. The information here, whilst applicable to students, is for opportunities that are available to non-students – because budget travellers want to Homestay too!
Hostel vs Homestay: Why homestay?
Almost everyone you know who is into budget travel has stayed in a hostel at some point. Everyone will have had different experiences, some positive, some negative and some downright horrific! From meeting amazing people to the grungiest toilets on the face of the planet, the spectrum is vast.
So, is plunging yourself into someone’s home a good, safe alternative?
I want to travel, but I have no money?
No problem. As we’ll see below there are plenty of free (or, almost free) options for homestays. If you are travelling on a budget and want more flexibility than depending on people to house you for free, paid homestays are closer to hostel prices but with the bonus of a specified level of service and fixed, booked dates in advance.
Is it Safe?
Nothing in life is 100% safe. The benefit of using a homestay network online is that people get reviews, references and verification (proving they are who they say they are). The community aspect of such sites improves the safety level. In fact, a solo female traveller, for example, can choose to stay with a family with kids, or with another solo female house owner, probably safer than staying in a budget hostel dorm with no locks and a lot of random strangers coming in drunk in the middle of the night…
Will I enjoy it?
Being thrust into the culture is often the best way to get a real feel for a country. Unlike at a hostel where you will doubtless only meet other travellers, homestay is a guaranteed local experience. You may not get on with every host you meet, but reading and choosing based on their profile in advance means you are more likely to get on with them.
And the best part of home stay?
Every host is different and this is part of the unique appeal! From getting a free guided tour of the city, pickup at the airport, local cuisine cooked by grandma… the endless list of possibilities is one of the major draws. You might not get any extras like this, but you often do, and its normally a wonderful surprise!
The Four styles of Homestay
The best example of this is Couchsurfing, there is no monetary exchange, the community is all about cultural exchange and about a mutual reciprocal accommodation network. Travel junkies offer up their couch or spare room to travellers, and then when they are travelling they will also Couchsurf – the “indirect one good turn deserves another” approach.
Through a system of references and recommendations being an awesome host or surfer helps to build your reputation and makes it easier for you to get more out of the community.
- Its free.
- Almost every member has a common interest in Travel.
- Clear information about the personality of the hosts on their profiles.
- Highest chance of proper interaction with locals.
- Although its free a good guest would be expected to contribute in some way: bring food, wine or cleaning skills!
- You are at the mercy of the hosts, if they are at work you may be kicked out on the street, or hosts may cancel last minute.
- Sleeping on the floor or couch and hence lack of privacy/comfort, but not always.
- Finding an available host takes time and effort as you have to apply.
Worked For Homestay
Helpx is a good examples of this. You offer up labour in exchange for food and board. Although conditions vary they will almost always be clearly set out prior to agreeing to stay. If you have no money at all then this is the way to go, the only contribution that is expected is your time. Along the same lines, and more worthwhile perhaps would be volunteer programmes. A lot of these charge huge fees but SE7EN is a site where you can find cheap and free programmes.
- You don’t need ANY money.
- Certain projects may benefit your CV or your soul – such as teaching English in 3rd world countries.
- Working as a small team can create great friendships.
- The hours you work may not reflect the costs of the room/food.
- More geared to mid/long term stays – rarely for only 1 or 2 nights.
- The hours of working take away from your free time to travel and experience region you are in.
Paid For Homestay
Airbnb (Get $25 of your first Stay with this link) is one of the up and coming examples of this latest internet trend. It’s the closest you’ll get to a hostel, but with the many benefits of a homestay (See above “Hostel vs Homestay”). Conditions vary from host to host, such as if there is a curfew or if food is included, but these rules should be stated at the time of booking, so read them carefully, if not you can email to ask about rules. Prices generally sit in a similar category to a hostel depending on the quality of room/service the host offers. Often
- Book rooms like you would a hotel, you don’t have to apply and cross your fingers.
- A Minimum level of service, such as a Bed and private room (in most cases!).
- It costs money, obviously.
- The hosts may just be out for money, not cultural interaction. Still, many hosts we have had have been very friendly!
Free accommodation in return for caring for pets, gardens and property. The amount of hours your “work” varies. Some sits require many hours per day. Others just to feed the cat twice a day. It depends.
Most Opportunities are in westernised countries. It’s Hard to find sits elsewhere. BUT, this means its easy to find free accommodation in expensive countries like USA, UK, France, Australia, Italy.
With many sits being a week or more, this is ideal for travellers who want to take their time in a destination, rather than those on a whirlwind tour.
- The annual fee for signing up is easily covered by the savings you’ll make on your first sit – not having to pay for accommodation
- Housesitting is fun, especially if you love pets.
- You may get to stay in some truly luxurious places, for free!
- Not ideal for a backpacking trip as sits are often in odd locations – not tourist hot-spots.
- High competition for the best locations.
- You may spend a short time meeting the owner, but you normally won’t get an extensive local experience – though you can go out and find one for yourself!
Take a look at Trusted House sitters The most active housesitting site that we use regularly.
Want to get into housesitting? 10 simple steps: Housesitting zero to hero in 3 months.
Etiquette: what is expected of you as a guest?
Even if you are paying to homestay, you are still in someone’s home and should respect their house rules and maintain a high level of polite etiquette. Here are some simple points to help make your homestay a success!
- Be polite, courteous and respectful. Staying with people of different cultures may mean they have different customs: Ask your host about them or read online in advance. For example, don’t play loud music without asking – some hosts want to rock out, drink to much and party with you! Others like to sleep at night…
- Ask your host about house rules when you arrive so you don’t unknowingly break any. For example, there might be certain rooms in the house you are not allowed in, curfew times, no smoking, etc.
- Don’t take liberties, like: Taking 20 minute showers, taking over the lounge/kitchen for hours.
- Bring a gift. Not necessarily expected if you are paying/working, but just a small token can sometimes be enough to win the heart of your host and get a lot more out of the experience. Offer to cook – If you can cook that is, don’t poison your host, thats another important rule!
- Respect property: Don’t use/eat anything belonging to your host without permission.
- Keep it tidy: If you make a mess, clean it up! Your host is not your maid. Even offer to help with the washing up if you like.
- Overstays: Its better to mention that your plans have changed WITHOUT asking to stay longer. If your host wants to offer, they will, don’t put them in a position that will make them uncomfortable.
And the golden rule… “JUST ASK” in a way where the host is not obliged to say yes if they don’t want to. Any reasonable request, ask before you do and everyone should be happy campers.
Homestay Website directory:
This is a comprehensive list of Good & Bad for you to compare, although I have noted our top picks. If there are any I have missed, please leave a comment and I will include them :-)
Trusted house Sitters (TOP PICK) – The House Sitting site we have used to get free accommodation for about 50% of our time in Europe over the last year. They also have loads of house sits in The USA, Canada, UK and other parts of the world too. By far the best housesitting site.
Couchsurfing – over 5 million members (2013), they have a great system for verifying and vouching members (to keep you safe), comprehensive user profiles (To check if you’ll get on with people), a thriving community of local events with most cities having social groups where you can meet other members and learn about the experience before trying it for real. Read our Complete guide to Couchsurfing for hints, tips and more info.
Global Freeloaders – About 100,000 members. A less developed version of Couchsurfing but might be worth a look if you want to use a site other than the big daddy of CS.
Tripping – They offer both free homestays and paid rental/b&b accommodation (which is private, not homestay). The structure of the homestay section has a similar style to couchsurfing but without the same feeling of it being an active community – after looking at many of the thousands of profiles that were the top hits for various cities, I couldn’t find one person who had ever actually home-stayed or hosted using this site. If you use this site please comment below and let us know!
Hospitality Club – For a 1990’s version of couchsurfing, try this site… or, on the other hand, don’t. If you have a shocking internet connection this might be the low bandwidth solution though… let me know!
Helpx (TOP PICK) – Worldwide opportunities of varying style, we’ve seen anything from child minding to teaching English, looking after the dog and of course agricultural work. Join up for free to build a profile and look at opportunities/be contacted by hosts. To be able to apply to an unlimited number of jobs costs 20 Euros (about $28) for a 2 year membership. Jobs are advertised and applied for online.
WorkAway (TOP PICK) – Like Helpx this site has a variety of skills to match from teaching violin to gardening! and like helpx it has a nominal fee to join for 2 years: 22Euros solo, or 29 euros ($40) for a couple. I find the interface a little more modern than Helpx, they have less hosts, but its growing and already has a good list, so definitely worth a look and it may even take over from Helpx in the next couple of years as the market leader.
Wwoof International – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Help out as an agricultural labourer for free room and board and learn about organic farming techniques. The international site links up to all the local chapters in over 50 countries. Whichever country you are visiting you will have to buy the wwoof book (either online or hard copy), the price varies, and your legal ability to volunteer will also vary depending on the country and the visa you will enter on. Once you have the book you can phone or email the hosts directly. The downside to Wwoof is, of course, it’s all farm work, if you have trained skills you might want to use them for a better deal than toiling in the fields.
Wwoof Australia – Willing workers on Organic Farms – specifically for Australian Farms. $65 gets you a 12 month membership and a hard copy of the complete list of wwoof hosts and info about the opportunities they offer. If you are on a work/travel visa these can contribute to your 3 month work requirement to get the 2nd year visa extension. On a tourist visa some volunteer jobs are legal, but check with immigration rather than getting arrested!
Help & Host – Also a variety of exchange jobs, but the website seems pretty limited compared to the others and I couldn’t find a browse feature so ended up tying in random keywords in the vain hope of finding opportunities… Signing up is free though, but whether it is worth the effort, i don’t Know! Feel free to leave comments below if you have had success with this site.
SE7VEN – Its closer to Volunteering than homestay but if you pick the right project you will almost certainly be interacting with the locals and getting involved in the culture. Unlike many other volunteer programmes you can find free ones on here, some may not provide food or board, so read carefully to find the perfect opportunity. 15 Euros to sign up for 2 years of online directory access.
TEFL – Teach English as a Foreign Language. I don’t want to go too far off topic… but TEFL can sometimes lead to you being placed with a host family, and getting paid! So if you haven’t considered it yet then take a look. Getting qualified is reasonably priced and teaching English is better than working in the fields, right?
AirBnB (TOP PICK) – Airbnb (Get $25 of your first Stay with this link) They benefit from being one of the most comprehensive sites in their field. A massive worldwide database with rooms from $10 (plus 12.5% fee). Anything from shared rooms in Bangkok with free cooking lessons for $20, to hotel style beach houses, to rooms in Reykjavik, Iceland for under $25 (very cheap for Iceland!). There are plenty of homestay options but also many are guesthouse style accommodation, so read the profiles to know what you are booking and whether it will be an authentic experience.
Homestay Booking (TOP PICK) – plenty of choice and the homestay search is separate from the guesthouse search. You can also search by map (very useful) but can’t filter by price (annoying), and prices are quoted per person, not per room, so some of the cheapest options (in the $10 to $15 mark) are actually nearer $30 per couple. However, with the minimum price of $1 /night/person it is possible to find cheaper homestays than Air BNB if you search for them!
Homestay International – Pretty limited and basic compared to the other two above and doesn’t seem to have a review/reference system?
Homestay Friend – Specifically for homestay in the UK. Search by town and price from a moderate size list of homestays.
FlipFlop – Homestays all over the philippines for $12 a night. Its a small company with a small focus, but they appear to be doing a great job with the site – sometimes its nice to support the independents, right?
Google – Yes, google. it does everything! The word “homestay” along with the name of the town you’ll be visiting can yield some surprising results, and sometimes its better to go direct instead of through a site like Air BnB which is charging 12.5% commission.
Trip Advisor – They don’t need any further promotion from me… but under speciality lodging you do find homestays advertised. The search system isn’t really designed for it though.
Here are the 4 main housesitting service we use. I’ve included some pros and cons of the services.
Trusted House sitters (TOP PICK) – The most active housesitting site that we use regularly.
Great reference system
Can add video to profile
More housesits than other sites (but also more competition)
Cannot put weblinks in your profile
Great for Australia & USA/Canada (not so good for Europe)
The dashboard needs modernising but the main website looks good.
Established company that has been running since 2000.
Mind My House
Cheaper to join
No reference system
Allows web-links to videos or your blog.
Another alternative is Nomador. We haven’t used this service yet but we can see it has quite a good selection of housesits in France.
Homestay is a great way to experience any destination. So Take a look at the websites listed in the directory above and start planning your next trip – as well as saving some money!