Guest Post by Shel Horowitz
When I travel, I usually stay in the home of a total stranger-a member of the homestay network I’ve been part of since 1983.
- You get a much stronger sense of a place and its people; you live as they do for a few days, in a real neighborhood
- You get steered away from tourist rip-offs and toward fascinating, offbeat destinations you might have never known about on your own
- You sometimes make new friends
- Sometimes, your host can hook you up with key contacts in your interest areas (we’ve hooked visitors up with mediators, body workers, local historians, art gallery owners-and when we’ve traveled, our hosts have connected us with peace and environmental activists, musicians, and writers
- The world becomes smaller as you immerse yourself in another culture, another way of life
- And of course, you save a BIG pile of money! From $50 or so per night in rural areas on up to several hundred dollars a night in the world’s great cities. If we average just 10 homestay nights a year, and the average cost of a hotel would have been $100, that means we save $1000 per year.
Do I worry about staying with strangers, or having them stay with me? No-someone vetted them.
Our group, Servas , was set up to promote peace and intercultural understanding, and offers homestays in at least 128 countries. We’ve met locals, shared meals and companionship; sometimes, we’ve maintained contact for years.
We’ve done homestays in/near Paris, Seville, Prague, London, Copenhagen, Pisa, Athens, Toulon (France), Zurich, Cinque Terra (Italy) several places in Mexico, Israel, and Wales-and throughout the U.S. and Canada.
With Servas, you can travel, host, or both. We’ve chosen both, and our lives have been much enriched by occasional visitors from around the world. Typically, stays are two or three nights long; no money changes hands. (We usually bring a small gift-bread, wine, fruit, or a book we’ve written-but it’s not obligatory.) Other homestay groups might work a bit differently: some offer longer stays, some charge a small fee per night.
Hosts usually spend time with you during and after dinner, and perhaps at breakfast. At other times, you’re on your own.
Eight favorite Servas travel memories:
- Going to a school talent show-in Welsh-with our hosts who lived in a 400-year-old stone house in the wilds of Snowdonia, Wales.
- Being pleasantly surrounded by a dozen very tame horses near Boulder, Colorado, and watching my children ride-bareback.
- Watching Rob Reiner’s “The Robber Bride” dubbed in Spanish with hosts in Seville, Spain-and not realizing until halfway through that it was a comedy.
- A long and passionate discussion of Middle East politics with Palestinian hosts in an Arab village in Israel.
- Getting a bouzouki and piano concert from our host family’s two teenage sons in Athens.
- Touring a private collection of thousands of exquisite Native American and Asian art pieces-the owners are working on setting up a museum for it-with hosts in Colorado (friends of the collectors).
- Eating authentic homemade couscous in the apartment of a Moroccan graduate student, our host in Paris.
- Staying in mansions, private guest houses, a working farm, a college dormitory, a converted churchŠ
In short, the people we meet, the adventures they give us, and the sights they tell us to see or avoid give us a far richer travel experience than we’d otherwise have.
Shel Horowitz’s seven books include The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant’s Pocketbook (having fun cheaply) and Apex Award winner Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First (business success through ethics and sustainable practices). He owns Frugal Fun and spearheads the international Business Ethics Pledge campaign.