Staying on a working farm or in the home of a local family can offer an intimate glimpse of what life is truly like in another country. It can also be an inexpensive (or even free) way to travel. But homestays and farmstays aren't for everyone -- so it's important to know what to expect before you show up at a stranger's front door. Read on for tips, Web resources and more information to help you plan your own homestay or farmstay.
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What's a Homestay?
A typical homestay involves living with a local family (often for a nominal nightly or weekly fee) and experiencing its customs, cuisine and way of life first-hand. Homestays are most common among young people studying or working abroad, but they're open to any type of traveler.
Homestays vary widely -- in some cases you'll be very involved in the life of your host family, sharing meals and attending family events, while in other cases you may simply get your own room and be left to come and go as you please. When planning your homestay, find out how much (or how little) interaction you'll have with your host family ahead of time to make sure you know what to expect.
Discuss Homestays and Farmstays
What's a Farmstay?
Also known as agritourism or agriturismo, farmstays can encompass a range of accommodations from rural bed and breakfasts to working ranches and cattle farms. Some farmstays are quite luxurious, with spacious rooms and homemade breakfasts each morning; in this sort of accommodation, your closest contact with the farm itself may be a leisurely stroll across a rolling pasture. Other farmstays offer more hands-on activities, which could include learning about the workings of a vineyard or even pitching in to help with milking cows and feeding livestock.
Farmstays are most popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
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If you're looking to interact with locals in the country you're visiting, a homestay or farmstay offers an unbeatable opportunity for cross-cultural exchange. While living with a family for a few nights or a few weeks, you can practice a new language, learn to cook traditional dishes, get the inside scoop on local politics or see a neighborhood through the eyes of someone who lives there.
Many people who have done homestays also discover that by the time they leave, they feel less like a guest and more like a member of the family. Don't be surprised if you find yourself keeping in touch with your hosts long after you head back home.
For travelers on a budget, homestays and farmstays can be a real bargain over hotels and other types of accommodation, particularly for long-term travel. Many hosts choose to have guests in their home not only to supplement their income but also because they simply enjoy meeting travelers from around the world; profit is often not their primary motive (and some hosts make no profit at all). Also, at a homestay or farmstay there's no built-in cost for extras such as swimming pools, gyms, business centers and other common hotel amenities. Many homestays cost as little as $10 to $15 a night per person -- and if you join a homestay membership club or hospitality exchange, you could even stay for free.
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Homestays and farmstays aren't right for everyone. If you appreciate the privacy, personal space and anonymity of a hotel, you may feel claustrophobic in a small home where you have to share a bathroom with five or six other people.
When you choose a homestay, you are choosing to be a guest in someone's home and to abide by a set of house rules that may not match your own. That might mean limiting your showers to less than 10 minutes, helping with cleaning or cooking, sharing the television or computer, or keeping quiet after certain hours. Be prepared for less personal space and less freedom than you're used to at home.
Also, keep in mind that many homestays may be subject to length-of-stay restrictions; for example, International Homestay Agency has a two-week minimum for all homestays.
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Finally, be aware that living in close quarters with others may occasionally lead to personality conflicts, particularly during longer stays. Discovering that you don't get along with one of your hosts when you still have a two-month homestay ahead of you can be a traveler's worst nightmare. Many homestay agencies will help you change accommodations in the case of a major mismatch -- but ask ahead of time to be sure.