LIVE WITH A LOCAL

10 Homestay Experiences

There's no faster way to connect with a new culture than by inviting yourself into someone else's house, whether it's a chic apartment in London's Notting Hill or a thatched-roof hut in southern Belize.

By Alex Robinson, Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010, 4:44 PM

A bedroom in one of Cama e Café's 19th-century homes in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro (Alex Robinson)

INDIA
Mahindra Homestays makes a welcome alternative to India's no-frills backpacker options and five-star luxury hotels. Take your pick among historic palaces in Rajasthan, bungalows along Goa's tropical beaches, and modest homes in the Himalayan town of Manali. Hosts, who might be retirees or young professionals, can arrange activities like horseback riding or yoga.
Planning and pricing Search the online database and pay in advance. Nightly per-person rates range from $22 for a stay with an army officer and his family in Alleppey, Kerala, to $143 for a Portuguese-colonial house in Goa, both with private bathrooms and including breakfast.
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RIO DE JANEIRO
Rio is all about being part of the scene, so there's no better way to get to know and love the city than through a well-connected local. Cama e Café simplifies the process by matching travelers with like-minded hosts. The 23 available homes are scattered throughout the boho neighborhood of Santa Teresa in the hills overlooking Rio.
Planning and pricing Browse online or call to get a personal recommendation. Pay a third up-front and the balance through the company office when you get to Rio. Nightly rates, with breakfast, range from $42 per person in student houses (with shared bathrooms) to $150 per person in more luxurious mansions with private bathrooms and air-conditioning. Only a few hosts speak English.
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PARIS
Some of the 150 families who work with Homestay in Paris have been at it for 20 years. If you have at least two weeks to spare, you can beat France's high hotel prices, get on the inside track with Parisians, and learn a little French along the way.
Planning and pricing Pay the reservation fee of $198 online (for a minimum stay of between 15 and 29 nights, extendable for up to a year) and the balance direct to the family. Prices start from $33 per person per night with breakfast or from $54 per person per night with breakfast and six dinners a week.
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CUZCO, PERU
Centro Tinku Language School combines a homestay in Cuzco—the former Inca capital high in the Peruvian Andes—with an intensive course in your choice of Spanish or Quechua (the language of the native Andean people). Fill any downtime by exploring Inca monuments, Spanish baroque churches, Quechua markets, and bars packed with locals and backpackers. It's a short train ride from here to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.
Planning and pricing Book through U.S.-based Learn 4 Good. Prices start at $310 per person per week for Spanish classes, accommodation, and all meals, with a minimum one-week stay and 20 hours of language instruction per week. Bathrooms are usually shared, and host families speak little English.
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BELARUS
Life still follows rural rhythms in Belarus, where primeval deciduous forests cover about a third of the territory. Green Belarus coordinates farmhouse stays in villages and towns watched over by Renaissance churches and rugged castles. The infrequency of tourists makes for above-and-beyond hospitality and a pioneering travel experience.
Planning and pricing Green Belarus's homestays start at $12 per person per night (or $23 for full board) and can be combined with sightseeing excursions led by English-speaking guides. Payments can be made online or over the phone.
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CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
On the outskirts of Northern Thailand's arts and crafts capital, Chiang Mai, the House of Clay is a teak-wood refuge with a lovingly tended, heliconia-filled tropical garden. The Thai family living here shares their beautiful home with guests, who are easily looped into the daily routine. Mornings bring trips to a produce market and work on the pottery wheel with Mae, mother and locally renowned artist; afternoons are spent visiting temples or attending a Thai cooking class; and dinners are eaten round the table with the family, all of whom speak English well.
Planning and pricing Stays are paid for in advance through Tell Tale Travel as part of a longer Thailand or Southeast Asian trip, which will cost from $180 per person per day for guides, half board, and transfers. International flights are extra.
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LONDON
So many foreigners pass through London that it can be tough to pinpoint the locals. At Home in London has been breaking the ice for nearly 25 years, placing guests with Londoners in apartments and historic town houses citywide. Pick the neighborhood that feels homiest to you: central Covent Garden, posh Belgravia, or hipster Notting Hill, among others.
Planning and pricing Expect to pay $113 per night for two, including breakfast and taxes, or as little as $28 per night for single-occupancy rooms rented for longer than a week in the Hammersmith neighborhood, with a deposit in advance and the balance upon arrival in the family home. Mid-range options ($135 per night for two with breakfast) can feel surprisingly luxurious. Some homes require a minimum two-week stay; most have private bathrooms and Wi-Fi. Browse the full catalog online.
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JAPAN
Homestay in Japan works with some 1,000 hosts, from young Tokyo professionals to traditional rural families. Stays are organized through the philosophy of kikkake (cultural immersion), so be prepared to make the jump across the language barrier. No prior language experience is required, but very few hosts speak English, and you'll be expected to make an effort to fumble through conversations in Japanese over shared meals and outings.
Planning and pricing Homestay in Japan guides guests through the whole process from cultural orientation before arrival to emergency support on-site. Prices start at $45 per person per night (with one or two meals), plus a $170 arrangement and orientation fee. Japanese houses tend to be considerably smaller than American ones and few have private bathrooms.
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BELIZE
When you book through Toucan Trail, you'll be welcomed into a Mayan village as an equal—and expected to pitch in as one, too, whether that means working in the cornfields, washing clothes, or preparing meals of corn-flour tortillas, beans, fish, and meat. The 20 or so host families (across three villages) live in one- or two-room palm-thatched adobe houses with shared outhouses, so there's little privacy.
Planning and pricing Pay a one-off $2 administration fee and a $5 registration fee, plus $6 per person per night and $2.50 per meal upon arrival in Belize. There's local bus service between Punta Gorda and the participating villages of Aguacate, San Jose, and Na Luum Ca.
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MAE HONG SON, THAILAND
Tell Tale Travel can place you with a Lahu family of subsistence farmers for two to 14 days in the rain-forest-shrouded hills of the Mae Hong Son province. Prepare to get a crash course in traditional handicrafts and tilling the soil. It's not all hard work, though—optional guided excursions include forest treks and visits to nearby sacred caves. You'll live as your hosts do, sleeping on mats on bamboo floors, with outhouse bathrooms.
Planning and pricing Prices start at $100 per person per night, including guides, transport to and from the village, all meals, cultural activities, and excursions. Guides speak English, but villagers do not.
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