Traveling the world is exciting and fun, but it can be daunting. Experiencing a new place with no frame of reference can lead to hours spent wandering aimlessly, or visiting the same tourist trap with all the other out-of-towners. You can always ask for advice on social media, but true travel gurus know: The best way to experience a place is to visit it with a local.
Homestay is a website and network that allows travelers to book rooms staying with locals all over the world. Travelers get a roof over their head, an affordable place to stay, and an immediate local contact who can give the guidance needed to truly experience a new place.
And for people looking to bring in a little extra money, Homestay allows you to rent out a spare bed to interesting travelers from around the world — without the impersonal feel of other room-booking websites.
In this article, we’ll break down Homestay, and show you how to book with the service. We’ll also give you a brief guide to hosting with Homestay, and finally we’ll look at the differences between Homestay and Airbnb.
What Is Homestay?
Homestay.com is a website that connects travelers and hosts. The website is extremely popular with international students, who have used the site not only to find a place while traveling, but also to connect with a Homestay host family.
These Homestay families give travelers their own room and can help them experience a new culture, learn a new language, and feel connected to a family many miles from home.
The site was founded in 2013 by Tom Kennedy and Debbie Flynn, who had both worked in the travel industry and had seen the wonders of “homestays,” which before had been informal arrangements often organized by international schools or networks of families.
They wanted to take that homestay experience out into the wider world, and let anyone experience the joys of getting to know a new culture with the help of a local host.
Speaking of: Homestay hosts aren’t just hosts. They become a part of the hosting network, a community of people who are all committed to the Homestay program, hosting and enriching the lives of people who stay with them. Homestay stays are typically much longer than other room-booking sites: Homestay says its average stay length is 12 days.
Cultural Exchange With Homestay Network
A big appeal for many Homestay guests is learning about a new culture. Students from around the world have flocked to popular destinations in the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Spain, Australia, and Brazil to see the sights and become immersed in the culture.
Many are students looking to travel abroad. These Homestay students get multiple benefits of staying with a family as opposed to booking in a private apartment or booking a hotel. They get:
- The chance to work on a new language with understanding hosts
- The security of knowing hosts are there to keep an eye on them
- To fight off loneliness with a built-in network of people to interact with
- To stay in a more affordable place
- An insider’s guide to a new city or country
The benefits for young travelers are clear. But really anyone who wants an affordable, immersive place to stay can look at Homestay.
How to Book With Homestay
On the homepage, on the right hand side, you’ll see a place to enter your travel dates, your party size, and the city you’ll be traveling to.
On the next page you’ll get your housing options.
On each search result, you’ll note that not only will the listing have a photo of the property, but also a photo of the local host who you would be staying with. This is important and not something you see as prominently listed on other sites. Homestay knows that you are not only choosing an apartment or house to stay in, you’re choosing a family to stay with.
Also note that there are stars on every listing. If you click on that star, that will add the property to a reminder list for you to follow up with. This allows you to quickly scan through a bunch of results, and compile a list of places you want to review.
Once you click on a listing, you’ll see the idea of “person AND place” reinforced. Descriptions are not only included about the property but included of the host family as well. They let you know what they’re interested in, what they like doing, their typical interaction level with guests, and more.
You can see those descriptions on the right:
Once you’ve found a place you want to stay, click on “Check Availability” and, if they have more than one room available, they will let you know which rooms are available the nights you want to stay. You select the room in the house you want, and let them know the number of people you’ll be traveling with. It looks like this:
At the bottom, you’ll see that it has your total price to stay at the apartment for that period of time. If you like what you see, click on “Contact Host” and they will get to review your request. If it works for them, you’ll be booked!
Hosting With Homestay
To host with Homestay, you just need to head to homestay.com/host and create a profile.
You will be able to evaluate the guest before accepting booking, and you can advertise your room specifically to vacationers, students, interns, or traveling professionals. All guests who stay with Homestay must be at least 18 years old.
Guests are allowed to book by the night, week, or month. As a host, you will be able to set limits on your stays, both minimum and maximum stays. And you control and set your own prices, and can change up pricing based on time of year, how many guests stay in a room, and more.
Homestay vs. Airbnb
When comparing Homestay and Airbnb, there are a few key technical differences and then a few, larger philosophical differences.
The biggest technical difference between Homestay and Airbnb is that Homestay has owners get payment directly from the people staying with them, while Airbnb processes all payment through their site. This has pluses and minuses for owners and renters.
For owners, they negotiate directly with the guest, and know that they’ll be paid immediately upon exit. With Airbnb, they hold onto the money until the trip is completed, and then process the payment. If there’s a dispute about something, Airbnb can hold onto the funds until it is resolved.
Another plus is that this allows Homestay owners and renters to be more flexible with their arrangements. If a guest wants to stay an extra day or two, or asks the owner to help with laundry and they’ll reimburse them, this makes the process easier to change up on the fly.
The downside is that dealing with payment directly can be awkward, and there’s the fear that a guest might run out, or a host may charge more than the agreement. Homestay has customer support to deal with these situations, but it’s still a concern.
The bigger philosophical difference is about the experience itself. Airbnb is much more akin to a hotel stay — renters want a clean place, and independence. Even if renting a private room, the interaction between a guest and host is often just handing off a key.
Homestay is much more like having a guest in your home. You interact, and often share meals. Guests tend to stay for much longer. It’s much more about immersion, as opposed to just finding a place to stay.
Experience Local Culture With Homestay
For guests looking to go abroad, inhabit a new culture, and perhaps practice new language skills, Homestay is an excellent way to travel in a truly immersive way.
If you’ve got a spare room and want to help interesting people from around the world experience American culture (or the culture of wherever you live), you can also bring in additional money by becoming a Homestay host.
Either way, Homestay provides a richer, deeper way to travel, by connecting curious people with local guides who can truly show them how to experience a new place.