I’ve stayed in a lot of accommodations with varying degrees of awesome (and not-so-awesome) over the last few years of travel. There was a thatched tree house in Thailand; a room overlooking the burning ghats in Varanasi, India; a deluxe villa in the Maldives; a beachfront bungalow in Vietnam, a sleek, mod apartment in Buenos Aires, and even a campervan in New Zealand.
I’ve acclimated to all manner of circumstances. And yet despite experience, here I found myself in Brazil, still slightly terrified of … the homestay.
For those unfamiliar with homestays, the premise is simple; someone rents out a room in their house, typically with a private bathroom, and you live as, essentially, a houseguest. Breakfast is also typically provided by the host and the guest usually has the run of common areas like the kitchen and living room.
These circumstances tend to be cheaper than hotels or apartments, and many travelers find them attractive.
I’d never had the need or desire to book a homestay. I’m adverse to hosteling — even while studying abroad in college, I was the kid scrounging up money with my friends and splitting hotel rooms.
What can I say? I like my privacy. And so the thought of living in someone else’s home — while they were THERE — was kind of rotten.
Yet, for the past few weeks, Ayaz and I stayed in homestays in Paraty and Olinda, Brazil. The situations were born out of necessity; no affordable long-term sublets or hotel rooms were available.
Much to my delight, I love love loved my homestays. I was surprised to discover that it became a comfort to have people to chat with and company to keep after months on the road as just a duo.
In both circumstances our hosts were older, single women hoping to earn extra money by renting out a spare bedroom. Both homes were really beautiful and though the aesthetics were different, chock full of interesting art and stories.
Our host(ess)s in each case were interesting, well-traveled and kind. I felt utterly welcomed and as a bonus, got to eat pretty fantastic breakfasts daily that I could roll out of bed and enjoy.
How to find a homestay
As with most of our short-term sublets, we used Airbnb.com to find our homestays, though there are websites that specialize solely in homestay accommodations, such as Homestay.com.
When choosing a homestay, keep a few things in mind:
- Choose one that has multiple good reviews.
- Read the reviews carefully to determine whether you might run into any catches (like a small bed or slow wifi).
- Check reviews to see if any mention your host’s demeanor — multiple reviews saying your host was kind or helpful can indicate a good experience waiting to be had.
- Make sure your homestay includes breakfast. If it doesn’t, make sure you can use the kitchen freely in the morning.
- Take note of the responsiveness of the host to your emails/queries. Someone who is eagerly and quickly replying to your queries will likely be on top of his or her duties as host as well.
- Double check that all amenities you’re expecting (A/C, wifi, private bathroom, etc.) are included in your price.
- Find out if linens or towels will get changed at all during your stay.
The downsides of a homestay
- The obvious downside is a lack of privacy. Our hosts made sure to give us our space, but it can still be awkward to be sprawled on someone’s couch when they arrive home.
- While some hosts are well-versed in the art of hospitality (taking out your trash, changing your sheets and towels during an extended stay), others do not include those services. Be prepared to do without them unless it’s been otherwise confirmed.
- Even though we had free run of our homestays, we wound up spending most of our time there in our room. This in part was because our rooms were air conditioned and it made working more pleasant, but also because it could feel awkward (and perhaps it was self-imposed) to be in someone else’s space.
The upshot of a homestay?
- You’ve got built-in company. It can be unexpectedly nice to have a kind soul around.
- Breakfast! I kid you not, the homestay breakfast (which was healthy and ample) has completely shifted my perspective on eating breakfast. It was so civilized to not guzzle back some cereal and sit and enjoy toast with jam, tea, fruit, yogurt and granola.
- Having access to a local. Living with a local is an enormous bonus: you have someone to offer you directions, restaurant recommendations and insider tips to your destination.