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The Benefits of a Homestay while Traveling
The following is a guest post from Street & Documentary Photographer, Sebastian Jacobitz, who blogs at Streetbounty.
There are many different accommodation options during your travels. From classic hotels to modern alternatives like Couchsurfing or Airbnb. While hotels try to offer some sort of quality standard, they are also often the most expensive choice.
To save some money and gather great experiences, I decided to live with a local family for five weeks in the Indonesian jungle. Choosing a “homestay” was the best decision I made for that trip and the memories will forever be with me.
I know that it might also sound a little bit scary because homestays and living with a local family usually means that they won’t have the high western comfort standard, but the adventure more than makes up for it and therefore I recommend you try a homestay yourself.
Let’s be honest. Money is always a tough issue when traveling, especially when you want to spend a few weeks at a destination. Even in low-cost economies like Southeast Asia, hotels can be either expensive, easily costing more than $30 a day, or if you try to cheap out, they will lack cleanliness.
Homestays usually provide the best quality for relatively cheap. You pay but there are other benefits. Instead of paying an anonymous international business, you support a local family that can put the money to good use without any middleman.
For my homestay in a village in Indonesia, I paid around $10 a day and while this isn’t much money for me, it helps the local family tremendously and also supports the village as a whole.
Experiencing the Culture
When I am traveling, I don’t want to stay secluded from locals but experience the local culture and the different lifestyles. As a typical tourist, there is often a distance to that culture because you can’t speak the language and it will be difficult to gain access to the “true” local experience apart from touristic offers.
During my stay, only on the second day, my homestay host invited me to the wedding of his cousin. A traditional wedding that is a dying tradition in the cities of East-Java and is a huge event to the small village. An experience that I would have never had if I stayed in a hotel.
Then there are also other activities like local sports events or communal services. All in all, you become a part of the village and there is no way you can ever come this close to experiencing the local culture than by staying with a local family.
The family I stayed with was already in the tourism business which means that they had the best connections to tour guides and knew everything about their area.
Unfortunately, there are still a few rip-offs in the tourism business that either sell tours for a way too expensive or don’t even provide the promised tour.
With a local family, it is different, especially when you are staying for a longer time. The hospitality in Asia was great and people try their hardest to make you feel at home and have a great time. Living in a homestay means that the family is more focused on your well-being instead of seeing you just as a business opportunity.
For example, the tour to see the “Blue Fire” at Mount Ijen to photograph during the night, can be completely organized by the family and without a huge company in the background, and the cost of such tour is lower than if you would book through a travel agency.
The cuisine is always an important factor for me to discover the culture of a country. Of course, a hotel can offer a variety of food, but to me, it feels more like a restaurant and often lacks the local authenticity.
Living with a local family also means that you will enjoy the same breakfast and food as they do. If you have any choices they will also try to please your suggestions, but honestly, I was 100% satisfied with the local food. The meals are prepared fresh with local vegetables, meat, and spices, it couldn’t get any better than this.
Especially when you live in a small village, the food will be from local sources and better than anything that you can find on a hotel buffet.
I don’t want to conceal the obvious downsides of a homestay.
The living standards may not be the highest and are in accordance with local lifestyle and economy. For example, in the Indonesian Jungle, I had no warm water, no WiFi (but mobile speed was ok) and the power would occasionally cut out when the rain was too heavy. The roads weren’t in the best conditions and it took some time to reach the next grocery store.
These are things that I could live with during the 5 weeks.
The room was very clean, the hospitality was great, and the memories are well worth the trade-off for some luxury.
If given the choice, I wouldn’t want to choose a hotel when given the opportunity to live with a local family in such an extraordinary place. Homestays may not be that popular but should be taken into consideration for your trip.
About the Author
Sebastian Jacobitz is a Street & Documentary Photographer from Berlin. Currently, he is on a three-month trip through Southeast Asia with the main focus being Indonesia around the area of Mount Ijen. During that time he lived with a local family and documented the sulfur miners at the Ijen. In Berlin, he is part of the Street Photography collective Berlin1020 and also shares his experiences on his Street Photography Blog: Streetbounty