As a solo female traveler, I am always wary of home-stays – living at someone’s house without knowing them, just never sounded safe to me. But I did try it out when I was traveling with a group of friends to Kerela, India. We lived with an elderly family in their beautiful ancestral farmhouse. It is called the Aditi home-stay at Wayanad. They had extended their house with some new rooms to accommodate more families and even had a dorm for backpackers. The rooms were great as they ensured privacy and were pretty comfy.
Side note: I CANNOT EVEN BEGIN to tell you how awesome the food was – 100% organic and just the right amount of spices. And the variety – 4 dishes, bread (roti or pronta) and rice. Yum yum yum.
So, yeah everything was good – but in the brief span of 3D/2N, I observed a lot of people around and learnt about things to do/not to do at a home-stay. Would like to share a few things:
- Keep it clean: This is no rocket science: It is not your house, so it doesn’t matter if you are a cleanliness freak or a couch potato. When you are at a homestay, respect your hosts’s space and keep it clean.
- Respect their timings: I get it, you are on a vacation, you want to stay out until 1 am, drinking and sharing crazy stories with your friends, but if your room is inside the hosts house (which in most cases, it will be), make sure you ask them about their sleeping time and make sure you get home before that. Similarly, know about their culture in advance and don’t be afraid to ask questions: some cultures do not appreciate taking shoes inside the house. Ask the hosts if there is a separate pair of slippers for inside. Some cultures (actually just south of India) prefer to eat their food with hands. It was different for us, but we did not mind blending in with our hosts’s culture and doing as they did. After all, that is all travel is about. Nothing worse than complaining about the size of rooms or temperature of the rooms. Read this somewhere and couldn’t agree more: there is a difference between poor hospitality and poor circumstances.
- Be aware of others: If you are not the only guest at the home-stay, be aware of the others and their requirements. For example: loud music is not acceptable, watch your food portions – make sure others have enough to eat, before you take bowl full of serving for yourself, dress conservatively and be polite to everyone.
- Don’t be afraid to tell them about your requirements: Respecting the hosts doesn’t mean you become a pushover – there is a thin line. It is important to tell the hosts about any allergies in advance, for example. Peanuts, lactose, pets are common examples.
- Gifts: This is debatable: because you are already paying the hosts for your stay, it may not be required. But a small gift like a fragrance lamp pot, a scented candle, a photo frame, a useful kitchen accessory like a service spoon holder or just a box of chocolates: doesn’t cost much and is always appreciated.
- Appreciate their hospitality: Homestay hosts work hard to keep their guests happy. They go out of their way to provide you toiletries that you might have missed, creating a comfortable environment and ensuring that you like the food. Yes, you are paying for this experience, but don’t take them for granted. Appreciate what they are doing for you. Take some time out to talk to them about their family and culture, offer to help with a household chore, get a picture with them before you leave, tell them you loved their food and that you will recommend their place to others – return their love with love!
Give an honest feedback: Things may not always be comfortable. If you are not genuinely happy with your hosts, give them some honest feedback before you move out.
Home-stays are a great way to learn about the new place, its culture, language and “things to do”. We sat with our hosts and planned our itinerary – they gave us some great tips about the place around, which was awesome because, no amount of research can match local knowledge. Not just that, we also got organic fruit (that was unique to Kerela – the eggfruit) and vadaga (a local condiment) from our hosts before we left. Bliss!