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What is a Homestay?

A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky

People who travel to other countries may not want to spend their time with a tour guide provided by the tourist authority, and they may not want to stay in a chain hotel. In some countries, this desire to experience the "real" culture can be accomplished through a homestay. A homestay means that the traveler lives with a family for at least part of his or her trip. This enables a traveler to experience life as it is lived day to day in the host country. A homestay can often be arranged through a travel agent, or through Web sites that specialize in matching families and travelers.

A traveler looking for a homestay should first apprise the travel agent of his or her personal preferences. Is he a smoker, for instance? Is he vegetarian? An observant Jew? Allergic to animals or certain foods? Traits such as these should be taken into consideration when matching a host family and a guest. The traveler should also remember that he is visiting the country to absorb some of its culture, and so should expect to try new things in his hosts' home.

Man with a backpack
Man with a backpack

A homestay can be a great experience if the traveler follows a few simple guidelines. First, he needs to acquaint himself with the customs of the country he is visiting. Most host families will be tolerant of some faux pas, but the traveler should make sure he is aware of basic courtesy, such as removing one's shoes before entering a home in Japan. Politeness in every country is a key to making the stay a happy one.

Second, a traveler should never arrive at a homestay without some gift for the hosts. A bottle of wine or a gift of chocolates is welcome, as are mementos from the visitor's country, such as postcards, or pens and mugs with his state's or company's name on them, for instance.

Third, a traveler should remember that this is a home, not a hotel. Room service is not provided. He should make his own bed each morning, offer to help with the dishes or the laundry, and so on. Depending on the country, the hosts may refuse to allow him to help, but they will appreciate the offer. Insofar as possible, a traveler should also participate in the family activities. Insofar as possible, he should never be a hindrance to the hosts' usual routine.

Students often have the opportunity to participate in a homestay as part of an academic program, and these are usually memorable. A homestay opens a window into another culture as few other experiences can. It is a win-win situation in which everyone learns something new.

Discussion Comments


I believe the homestay idea is great. The guest learns first hand about local practices, makes friends, may develop a business idea, can end up getting a local spouse for cultural integration, etc.


@irontoenail - Often homestays are included in exchange programs, whether they are for students or for some other reason (like people teaching overseas, or volunteering, or something like that) because they are the cheapest option and they give the person a chance to really experience life as an average person in the area.

There are also programs where people go and volunteer on local farms to help out and they get given food and board in return.

Honestly, if you can manage to get into a program like this, it is much cheaper and more fun than staying in a hotel. The only drawback is that you don't have any guarantees that your family is going to be nice. The more strenuously the company vets the people it uses, the more expensive it is going to be.

Some places are trying to change that by allowing travelers to leave reviews about their homestay hosts, but of course that has drawbacks as well.


@KoiwiGal - I don't know of many homestay accommodation programs for non-students, but there are other options for people who just want to stay at local homes. There are plenty of websites where you can offer your own spare bed for local travelers and find others who are offering the same. Since it is only for a couple of nights it doesn't really matter if you end up with someone annoying. Homestays usually seem to include meals and things though and I don't think you'd be expected to do that.


I've mostly heard of this being done as part of a student exchange, rather than something that the average person might do as a traveler. I mean, I wouldn't want a random traveler to be staying in my home if it were me. They can be very rude and entitled if you don't get lucky with the right person.

Students, on the other hand, can become part of the homestay family and they are often very sweet and intelligent, because it takes a lot of guts and good study habits to get into an exchange program.

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