My very first trip abroad was to Japan in 2003 with my year 9 language class; a high school cultural exchange which saw two chaperone teachers try and guide 20 teenage girls through Japan. Kudos to those teachers!
While the highlight for many of us was our visit to Tokyo Disneyland, it was our homestay experience which ignited a spark which would later evolve into a burning passion for travel. Each of us were individually paired with a high school student from Japan, and sent to live with them in their family home for a number of days. And while I don’t remember their names, my time with this Japanese family truly changed the way I viewed the world.
I was intrigued and amazed at this completely different family, in this completely new country nothing like that of my own. They spoke a different language, they dressed differently, they ate differently (I had to request a fork from my host mother after repeatedly failing at chopsticks!) and they had different customs. But the one thing which really struck home was that despite all of these differences, we were still the same.
Despite the language barrier my host sister and I liked the same musicians, watched the same teenage girl movies and had the same plush toys; and the family’s hospitality was amazing. Ever since all I have wanted to do is travel the world and experience how other people live – it fascinates me!
So when I learnt this experience was available for not only high school students, but travelers of all ages; the experience of traveling to far off lands and living with locals in their family homes; I couldn’t wait to learn more. I requested an interview with Claire Sweeney of Homestay.com to figure out exactly how travelers of any age could organize a homestay for themselves.
What do you love the most about travelling?
The magic happens in travel when you experience something that’s unique and authentic. When I travel I like to veer away from the usual tourist trail and find something unique to my experience that I’ll carry in my memories for a long time.
What is your favourite form of accommodation abroad?
I’m a pretty easy-going traveller having spent many years travelling to various parts of the world, sleeping anywhere from busy hostels to beach huts, tents, hammocks and sofas to name but a few.
As someone who loves meeting people and sharing new experiences, homestay accommodation is really exciting to me. Homestays have long been popular among student travellers but relatively unknown among the mainstream travel community, so for many people the idea of sharing someone’s home when they travel is an unfamiliar concept. But the benefits of a homestay are endless.
Not only do you get to hang out with the local people and experience their culture first-hand, it’s also great value for money and more private than a dorm room.
What is a home stay?
In a homestay you rent a room in a local person’s home and are ‘hosted’ by them during your stay. By staying in a homestay you not only get to visit the destination, you get to really live it too.
You see how the locals live their lives – something that is almost impossible to do when staying in other types of accommodation.
Which kinds of travellers generally participate in home stays?
All types of travellers book homestay accommodation, from people on holiday to those attending an event, relocating or travelling for business.
Traditionally, homestays have been hugely popular among student and intern travellers who spend a few weeks or months in another country as part of their study. It’s a great opportunity to learn a language as you spend time every day speaking with a local.
It’s also a popular choice among solo travellers who like the idea of spending some time with people on their travels, sharing a meal and chatting about their trip.
How does staying with a local in their home add to a travel experience?
The key ingredient of a homestay is the social and cultural exchange that happens between guest and host. Our hosts offer a relaxed home environment and a genuine taste of local life in their area through their hospitality. As well as this, they offer their local knowledge and helpful advice about where to go, what to see and how to get there.
Staying in a homestay, not only do you get to meet the local people but you get to live with them too! So it’s an opportunity to really immerse yourself in the local culture and language.
In a homestay, you’ll meet interesting people, share stories and experiences and get to know the destination from a very unique and authentic perspective. Your host can also share with you their insider tips about a location and point you away from the usual tourist trail. A light breakfast is included in the price in all our homestays.
Tell us a little bit about Homestay.com; What is it/how does it work?
Homestay.com is an online booking platform for homestay accommodation. On Homestay.com, hosts create a profile with details about their home and themselves.
Guests search for a destination, browse a list of homestays and choose the one that best suits their needs. They then contact the host via a private message system to find out if they are available on specific dates. The host will reply to the guest and let them know if they are available to accept their booking.
We encourage our hosts to share their interests in their profile so that guests can not only find a home that appeals but also a host they’d like to meet.
We receive regular feedback from hosts and guests who say their homestay experience far exceeded their expectations. For many people, it’s a new and different experience and they are surprised by how quickly and easily they bond with their host or guest. We’ve heard from lots of people who say they’ve made a new friend for life.
In our customer feedback, 85% of guests and 83% of hosts rate their homestay experience as very good or excellent. Addtionally, 95% of our guests said that they would book a homestay experience on Homestay.com again.
Who are the hosts?
Each homestay has a host living in the home during the stay – this is what makes a homestay so unique. Homestays are not empty apartments or hotel rooms, they’re real homes with real local people who offer accommodation to guests.
Just as each homestay experience is unique, so too are our hosts. They come from all walks of life, all ages, geographies, demographics and interests. Anyone around the world can sign up as a host on Homestay.com, they just need to have a spare room in their house and be living in the home during the guest’s stay, making it a truly authentic and unique travel experience.
On Homestay.com you can find a host family that suits your idea of the perfect host, whether it’s a young couple in a modern apartment, empty-nesters with grown-up children or a professional with a busy career. Our host families come from all walks of life.
What kind of homes are on offer to travellers?
All kinds! For instance you can stay in London with your host, Janey, in her Victorian terraced apartment set in the green village of Wimbledon with designer shops and some of London’s best restaurants.
You’ll sleep in a pretty double room opening onto a private wildlife garden just 20 minutes to central London.
You can stay in the Margaret River region of Western Australia with your host Dawn in a modern home with a beautiful pool to enjoy and the beach at Geographe Bay a two minute walk away through native bush.
Stay in a farm cottage in the wilderness in southern Portugal where your host Pedro and his neighbours bake bread once a week in the old kitchen oven.
Stay in a large Victorian villa on the banks of the River Teith in Scotland with your host, Carole. The house has a beautiful and very colourful garden which borders the riverside and adjacent fields. There are various places around the garden to sit out and enjoy the views and hear the river passing by the gardens.
Stay in Kandy in a traditional Walauwa (manor), dating from nearly two centuries ago, in the central hills of Sri Lanka, with your hosts Bhatiya and Suzanne. The manor is surrounded by lush green shrub jungle in a rural village.
What are your most popular destinations?
We currently have hosts in more than 3000 destinations across 95 countries and we’re adding new hosts every day.
So far we have seen a concentration of bookings into locations where we have most hosts, but every time we add a new location we see demand for that location.
The destinations proving popular so far include major cities like Dublin, London, Toronto and Sydney as well other more off-the-beaten-track places like Lethbridge in Canada, which is popular with students from abroad, and Havana in Cuba.
What are your most interesting destinations?
In Jordan, you can book a homestay in a tiny Bedouin village called Little Petra in a private ‘majlis’, a spacious guest room with a private bathroom, shower and both Turkish and European toilets. The homestay is a ten minute drive to the famous site of Petra. The host, Nawwaf, provides a typical homemade breakfast of fresh bread, hummus, salad, jam, eggs, tea or coffee.
In Vietnam, we have a fantastic homestay in Hai Phong, which is located in beautiful countryside about a two hour drive from Hanoi. The host describes her family as a typical Vietnamese family:
“My father has an iron shop next to my house, my mother is a gentle and a hard working farmer.”
The homestay is near the local market, rice fields, a river and lakes. Guests can not only watch local daily life but also have the opportunity to join in if they so wish.
How does this differ from a concept like couch surfing?
Travellers who choose to couch surf can stay in someone’s house – presumably on a couch – for free. Hosts on Homestay.com charge a fee to rent a spare room in their house and to host you during your stay.
While the extra money certainly comes in handy for our hosts, they have other motivations for being a host too which includes meeting new people, sharing new experiences, learning about other cultures and languages and bringing the world to their home when they can’t get away themselves.
How do you ensure safety and security for both guests and hosts? Are members verified?
The safety of our hosts and guests is a priority for us. That’s why all homestays on Homestay.com are either approved by a Local Partner or have had their profiles reviewed by Homestay.com before they can accept bookings. We validate all hosts’ email addresses, phone numbers and photos and will soon integrate a trusted third-party verification solution in the platform.
All our hosts are encouraged to provide two forms of ID documentation (these are not displayed on the site).
Our hosts’ public profile on the website shows only their first name and does not give the specific location of their home. It shows only the general area in which their home is located. Guests will only receive their host’s full name, address and contact details after they’ve made a confirmed booking and have paid their 15% online non-refundable booking deposit.
All bookings made on Homestay.com are on a request basis – meaning the guest sends the host a message before they book to enquire about availability for specific dates. We encourage both our hosts and guests to send several messages to each other to get to know each other and make sure they feel comfortable with the arrangement. This opening up of communication between host and guest add a layer of assurance for both to the whole process.
How do people get involved?!
For anyone looking to book a homestay, they simply enter their destination in the search tool, browse a list of homestays, choose the homestay(s) they like and send a message to the host requesting availability for specific dates via our private message system (you can send messages to as many hosts as you wish). Once the host replies to confirm they are available, the guest can then complete their booking online paying a 15% deposit to secure the booking.
Anyone interested in becoming a host, who has a spare room to rent, can create a listing on Homestay.com by simply uploading their profile details and photos.
For more information on Homestays click through to the annual homestay index.