One of my favourite parts of planning a trip is choosing the accommodation. It might only be somewhere to lay your head but in countries with a big culture shock or noisy streets, your room provides you with your own little bubble of privacy and calm and, for me at least, it’s somewhere I can retreat to and relax at the end of a long and tiring day of exploring, so the accommodation is an important part of travel for me.
I don’t tend to go for the usual plush modern hotel that a lot of people look for when going away. Obviously it’s nice to have a bit of luxury sometimes but I prefer to stay in smaller places that have a bit more character and charm; somewhere with a more personal feel. This is why I love homestays; they are a brilliant choice of accommodation and you can find them all over the world now as they’re becoming more and more popular. Staying in someone’s home not only works out cheaper than most hotels and even some hostels, but the best part is that you get the opportunity to learn more about the culture, food and lives of the locals. This is especially so when it comes to places that are very culturally different to my home in the UK.
I first came across the couch surfing type of accommodation in Australia when we were having trouble finding somewhere to stay within our budget around the time of the Grand Prix. We were a bit hesitant at first – staying at a local’s house for completely free seemed a little strange – but it turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. We stayed in locals’ houses in Melbourne and Tasmania and both sets of hosts were ridiculously friendly, making us dinner, taking us to see the sights and telling us all about their lives and cities. Getting to know them was not only a highlight of our trip but it was also a great way to see a local’s view of the city rather than a tourist’s.
The best place we have done homestays was in India, where I had heard from a lot of other people that this was the best type of accommodation to stay in. We did four homestays during our 3 weeks travelling around India and each and every one was fantastic. Not only were they a lot better than most of the other ‘normal’ hotels we stayed in, but some of the best memories from our trip were at these homestays. Plus, the home cooked food in the families’ dining rooms was some of the tastiest we had in the whole of India, so this alone should make you want to stay at one!
In Varanasi, we stayed at Homestay Varanasi where we fell in love with the entire family. Harish told us all about his city and his business, while Ananya, Harish’s daughter, took us around Varanasi and showed us some brilliant places, including markets, temples and workshops, as well as her own favourite spots and the best places to eat. In the 3 days we were there Ananya became a good friend and we felt like we had known her for years. We really didn’t want to leave!
In Jaipur, we stayed at the house of the owner of a tour company we were using, Rajasthan Four Wheel Drive. Speaking to Sonia, the daughter of the house and tour manager, beforehand by email made me feel like I already knew her when we arrived and as we were the only guests there, it was a true homestay experience. We ate breakfast and dinner with the family, chatted with them all, watched Indian TV with them and played with the dog.
In Bikaner, we stayed at Hotel Jaswant Bhawan. While this isn’t an actual homestay, it seemed more like one than a hotel, as it had the feel of being in someone’s home with a more personal touch. It is run by the extremely friendly family who own the property and we were made some amazing food in their dining room, some of the best we had in the whole of India, so we were very upset that we only had the one night here.
In Munnar, we stayed at Rose Gardens, a beautiful homestay in the green mountains and tea plantations of Kerala. We felt like part of the family straight away as the two sons made us feel at home by showing us around their pretty garden, and Alex (a 27 year old adult) was outwitted at climbing trees by an 11 year old! We were made delicious food with ingredients fresh from the garden and even given snacks throughout the day to tide us over till dinner time.
At all of these places not only did we meet some lovely people but we learned so much more about India and the cities we were staying in, than if we had stayed in an impersonal hotel. We were taken to places that we just wouldn’t have found ourselves including viewpoints in Melbourne, cute coffee shops in Tasmania, markets and temples in Varanasi, and wonderful walking routes in Munnar.
Yes, sometimes you just want to get to your hotel, in a nice modern room and be left to your own devices. But if you really want to find out about the country you’re visiting and delve deep into the lives, culture and tradition of the locals, then a homestay is definitely the way to go.
Have you ever stayed in a homestay or would you like to? Where was your favourite?