A homestay is exactly what it says: you stay in someone's home.

Many of us travel for the experience of meeting people - people who actually live in and love the places we want to get to know.

What better way to do this than to share a local family's life for a few days, weeks or even months?


Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #19


The Inns and Outs of Homestays

Staying in a hotel or hostel can be impersonal. Of course there's always Couchsurfing, but that's a bit different - a bunch of like-minded people who network and stay with one another for free.

Homestays are paid accommodation, and the money goes to the family. It's a great way to support the local economy, and to meet local people wherever you travel. Local people often know the best local deals, so they can help you and give you advice. And in countries where accommodation is prohibitively expensive, a homestay is an excellent alternative that costs less than commercial premises.

So how do you find the best homestay?

1. Plan well ahead of time
Homestays are often available for more than a night or two - in fact, they can be for several months in the case of students studying abroad. So don't wait until the last minute if you want to find the best of the bunch.

2. Research your destination
Since a homestay is a type of cultural exchange, find out as much as you can about your destination and its customs before you go. Research the country, its culture, its habits, its food... And don't forget to brush up on your own back yard because chances are your hosts will want to know about your country too. So make sure you have a few photos along - or at least a postcard of your hometown.

3. What kind of homestay will you have?
Will it be a 'real' homestay, with family life and loud, boisterous relatives? Or will you be left on your own, much like staying in a hotel or hostel? Make sure this is made clear or you may be disappointed. In longer-term homestays, students may be expected to pitch in with a few chores - so make sure you check first.

4. Contact the Tourist Office
In many countries the Tourist Office has local homestay listings. This is often the case in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states. I've found homestays this way in the Baltic States and the results were great! My hostesses (most were older single, divorced or widowed women) were delighted with the extra money and I got to live at home, Soviet-style, in appartment blocks or rural farms. Talk about culture shock.

5. Use an agency
This is probably the fastest and easiest way to find a homestay. Plenty of homestay agencies on the web offer anything from a few nights to months in someone's home - great for students, but good for travelers too. As a solo woman, sharing a home with someone is a wonderful and quite safe way to travel. Beware, though - there are plenty of Internet scams waiting to take your money. And always, always make sure you are staying with a woman or a family, not a man or group of men (unless that's what you're looking for!)

6. Questions to ask
Before you sign on the dotted line, here are some questions you need to ask...

  • Will the family be in the home at the same time? After all, this is the experience you're paying for.
  • Will there be Internet access? Television?
  • Are you expected to eat your meals with the family? If so does that cost extra?
  • How many people will be sharing the homestay? In other words, how many people will you have to fight for the bathroom each morning...
  • How close is the homestay to public transportation? You don't want to walk two hours to get to the nearest bus stop.
  • If you're booking through an agency, is there a booking fee? If so, how much is it? What is the refund policy?
  • What is the minimum/maximum stay?
  • Are there any reviews or testimonials you can check before booking?
  • If you're using an agency, has the host family been screened?

7. Organize your own homestay Not all homestays are that organized, and you may want to delve into local culture and go off the grid altogether. I've shown up at a village in rural Africa, asked to see the headman, and been 'assigned' a space in a hut with a family. Or take a friend of mine in Panama - she's hoping to bring Westerners to a small village to live off the land with indigenous people. You can't get much more local than that!

If the idea of homestays appeals to you, here are a few web-based resources to start you off:
Homestay Web
Homestay Booking for short (less than a week) or long stays
Homestay Finder mostly for long-term stays
Worldwide Homestays - a bit harder to use because you need to contact them to get listings

There are plenty of additional sites dealing with individual countries or regions - finding them by searching for homestay + name of country or region should yield plenty of great information!


What's New This Month on Women on the Road, the Website

Top 10 Travel Destinations
We all have our favorite special places - these are my top 10, although it would have been easier to pick 100.

Ski Resort Jobs
For women looking for winter work right up on the slopes (if this type of job is for you, now is NOT too early to start looking for one).

Travel Guidebooks for Women
A new section that reviews travel guidebooks written by or specifically for women travelers.

Climate Change Travel
This kind of travel is on the rise as some destinations - the Alps, coastal areas, forests - become increasingly endangered.

Celebrating Your Birthday on the Road
Just because you're on a long trip doesn't mean your birthday should be any less special!

Star Gazing Tourism
For something really different why not visit places known for their dark skies and brilliant constellations?


Travel News From Across the Web

8 Great Funny Travel Stories

10 Key Destinations for the Historical Time Traveler

The World's 15 Most Bike-Friendly Cities

6 Tips for Introverted Travelers

6 Unique Religions Virtually Unknown to the West

6 Reasons to Go by Bike

16 Tips for Yoga Travel Bliss

20 Basic, Fun and Sexy Resources for Beginning Meditators

For art lovers...

Web Gallery of Art

And music lovers...

Fond Memories of Grunge

Ireland Can Do Music, Sun and Surfboards Too

...and food lovers

Eats in Tel Aviv

Spiciest Foods

Where to Eat the World's Healthiest Foods

Best Cities to Drink Coffee

What to Do in Singapore? Eat!

3 Recipes for an Authentic Italian Meal

Destination Travel

5 Reasons to Go to Angola in 2009 (and Beyond)

Meet an Expert: Havana

California Off the Beaten Path

5 Things You Don't Know About Melbourne

10 Customs to Know Before You Visit Korea

Buenos Aires: Southern Hemisphere Style

24 Hours in Tallinn, Estonia


Cause of the Month: Free Aung San Suu Kyi

Unless you've been on the road in the remotest rural area, you've heard about the arrest and trial of Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong San Soo Chee), Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate.

She is being tried by Burma's military junta for allegedly violating the terms of her house arrest. In early May, an American intruder, John Yettaw, swam across a lake to her house in the capital Yangon and stayed overnight. Also on trial, he told the court that God had warned him that Aung San Suu Kyi was going to be assassinated - and he came to warn her.

There has been an international outcry at her arrest, including from UN Secretary-Geneval Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and many others. The Burmese government, however, has argued that the trial is an internal issue, not a human rights issue. It is widely believed that she was arrested to prevent her from taking part in elections next year.

If convicted, Aung San Suu Kyi could be sentenced to up to five years in jail. She has already spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest despite winning past elections. While under house arrest, her British husband became ill with cancer. Despite a petition to see his wife one last time - he hadn't seen her for four years - he died without ever seeing her again.

As of this writing, she's still in prison.

For more information on Aung San Suu Kyi or to get involved, visit The Burma Campaign UK or Free Burma's Political Prisoners Now


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Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS?

Making sense of 'new travel' - ethical travel, sustainable travel, slow travel, rural tourism, geotourism, heritage tourism, fair trade tourism...

And...

Women on the Road's new - and FREE - travel writing course, exclusively for my readers! Check next month's newsletter for your free subscription.


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Happy travels! Leyla