Finding Your Perfect Homestay

You’ve heard me rave about how great homestays are before — the chance to meet some real locals and get insider tips, plus a bunch of stories to tell the grandchildren one day. If you’re trying to plan homestay accommodations for a trip, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start looking. Here’s a rundown of some of the larger websites that offer connections to willing homestay hosts in countries all around the world.

My quick disclaimer: I haven’t yet had a chance to use any of these sites and follow through with an actual homestay, so I’m not promising anything, just giving you a good starting point. In the past I’ve booked homestays through specialist travel agencies (for example, the same people who helped me book train tickets for the Trans-Siberian trip) and through word of mouth. But these days the internet is getting better and better at connecting people and a lot of these sites seem to have good potential for setting you up with a great homestay arrangement.

Woman behind door
Welcome Home © DerrickT

Worldwide Homestay

The Worldwide Homestay site looks good and is well-organized, so the first impression is good. They have homestay hosts on their books from over thirty countries. You can click through each country to see how many locations are available — for example, in Australia, they have homestay hosts available in seven different cities; in Italy, it’s 17. Unfortunately they don’t list every place and you may have to contact them directly to check if the place you want to stay is serviced or not.

The nightly rates are different from country to country, and include either breakfast only or variations up to a full meal plan. These rates are good — can you imagine many other places in Japan where you can stay the night for under $30, including breakfast? And of course, this is a night with an authentic Japanese family, which for me is so much more valuable than some Western-style hotel.

This site, of all of them, seems most focused on the market of travelers like me — people who want to stay a night or a few nights with a local family and then move on to a different city. While many sites cater largely for students and longer-term homestays, this one seems to be definitely open for all. All I think it needs is easier access to some real information about hosts — other sites list basic information and photos for anyone to see but on Worldwide Homestay you don’t really get any details until you contact them with a firm request.

Homestay Booking

Homestay Booking is a database-style website aiming to match some 1,500 homestay families (so far) with homestay guests from around the world. It seems to have been primarily set up for students and long-stay guests, but they do have a special “Short Stays” section where you can find homestay hosts who are happy to take guests for a week or less.

When you search for hosts in the areas you want to stay, the site shows some basic information about the homestay, including the size of the room you would be staying in, how many other guests could be there, whether vegetarian meals are available and whether there is a pick-up service. Once you’ve found a homestay that sounds interesting, clicking on it brings up even more detailed information about the hosts, including their hobbies and interests, so it’s a great way to be able to find a homestay host that you’ll have something in common with.

Costs vary again, but there is definitely some good value to be had — for example, a night in London could be as little as €15, and in Barcelona as low as €10. The company behind the website is based in Germany and they seem to cover Europe well, but also offer homestay hosts across the rest of the world, including Australia and South America.

Homestay Finder

The Homestay Finder website is also focused on students — instead of guests, the terminology across the site refers to students who will stay with hosts, and fees are generally referred to in terms of months rather than single nights.

However, the site has lots of detailed information including personal messages from each potential host, and an easy contact form that you can use to ask questions of the host families — so although it takes a while to search through the host details, you can probably find some who will be happy to take guests for a short stay. This site also has detailed information about price averages and the minimum and maximum prices in each city. They organize this by monthly rates but it still gives you a good guide.

Homestay in Mai Chau, Vietnam
Homestay in Mai Chau, Vietnam © Jos Dielis

Homestays in Specific Countries

The other way to find a suitable homestay for your trip is to try Googling “homestay” with the country of choice. My biggest homestay experience has been in Russia — eight great (and varied) homestay experiences there so far — so I had a look at what sites come up these days if you Google “homestay Russia”. I think I’ve mentioned before that the homestay industry seems quite well-developed for travelers and tourists there (rather than just for students). My hosts have always told me that because quite a few Russian men die relatively young, widows are finding offering homestays a good way to make an income and also to have some company.

In any case, there are quite a few sites which act as agents to find you a homestay in Russia; using an agent for Russia, as an example, makes life a lot easier as most travelers need proof of their accommodation before they will be issued with a tourist visa to enter Russia. Homestay.ru is one small site that offers homestay arrangements in St. Petersburg and Moscow with useful information on how long it takes to get to the city center from the apartments. The Host Families Association website is based in St. Petersburg but they offer homestay arrangements across Russia and even in some other ex-USSR nations like Ukraine and Belarus. And the homestay section of the Way to Russia website offers homestays in Moscow, St Petersburg and at Lake Baikal.

Remember that there’s risk involved in all aspects of travel and if you don’t take any risks you’ll end up staying home!

With a bit of surfing around online you can find homestay options for pretty much anywhere in the world. If you’re worried about using a homestay that you know little about other than what you read on the internet, then my advice is to head to a forum like the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and post a question in the relevant section — you’re bound to find someone lurking there who either has experience with that homestay or is a local in the country and can help you decide if it seems suitable.

Just remember that there’s risk involved in all aspects of travel and if you don’t take any risks you’ll end up staying home! On top of that, of all the homestays I’ve done and the stories I’ve heard from other travelers, I’ve never head a big disaster story — I’ve heard much worse from staying in hotels. So happy homestaying!

8 Responses

  1. Steven BREWER

    People might also want to be aware of Pasporta Servo, which publishes an international list of people that offer homestays for free to Esperanto-speakers. You always said you wanted to learn Esperanto someday anyway… :-)

    Reply
  2. Bill Chapman

    I’ve stayed in Toulouse and in a nearby town, and in Trieste thanks to Pasporta Servo. You can’t beat getting to know local people and hear their insights on the country you’re visiting.

    Reply
  3. Amanda Kendle

    @ Marco and Steven, thanks for the suggestions.

    @ Bill, I completely agree! Great to get the local point of view.

    @ James, couchsurfing also has its benefits, but there are lots of reasons I prefer homestay – less of the possible awkwardness of taking advantage of someone’s generosity, and with a homestay you can stay longer because you know you’re not a financial burden, for example. You can often read reviews about homestay hosts, too, and I definitely recommend that where possible. For particular purposes couchsurfing is good too but esp for couples or small groups traveling together I think homestay tends to work better.

    Reply
  4. Oubasslam Rachid

    indeed there’re a lot of websites for hospitality BUT i prefer above all Couchsurfing since i had met via it a lot of good people as i had hosted a lot of people whil i am a member of TFT and other websites quite long time ago but no requests and no meetings besides that they are quite complicated with a lot of hard rules….anyway i hope the founders of the other websites will make it more easier because it’s for the sake of cultures meetings and languages sharing:)
    greetings
    Rachid
    Peace & Hugs

    Reply
  5. waitinginthedark

    That’s really a great post, Amanda. Homestay is a fantastic way to discover a little better a country through the habits and tales of local people. I will certainly take inspiration from your suggestion for my next trip.
    Thanks!
    Simon

    Reply

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