Striking a Balance

3 Reasons you should try a homestay next time you travel
by Anna Flam -- November 4th, 2013

Andaman Discoveries, the community-based ecotourism facilitator, where I conducted my summer research connects tourists with homestay accommodation. Andaman Discoveries got their start when local communities asked for help getting started with tourism after the environmental, emotional, and economic havoc wreaked by the 2004 tsunami. Most communities are providing exclusively homestay accommodation. People are often intimidated by staying in another person’s home, however, here are a few of the best reasons to try out a homestay on your next trip.

1. Poverty reduction

Too often tourists stay in international hotel chains. Multinational hotel chains usually keep a huge portion of tourism income out of local economies.

One of my homestay hosts in Mongolia.

One of my homestay hosts in Mongolia.

Even when staying in a smaller locally owned resort, income is usually concentrated among the already wealthy. Tourism can exacerbate existing class divisions; the rich get richer, and the poor get scraps.

Homestays have much lower start-up costs than hotels and guesthouses. Homestay hosts purchase most the food for your meals from local providers, thereby increasing the impact of every dollar you spend.  More people benefit from your tourism dollars.

Befriending a water buffalo.

Befriending a water buffalo at a Burmese homestay.

2. Really Experience Local Culture and Life

Thailand is one of many countries where tourism has diluted and obscured so much of what makes a place unique. Visiting Pattaya, Phuket, or Samui gives a skewed impression of Thai culture and people. A few days away from more popular tourist haunts can drastically change a person’s impression of a country. Homestays might, also be your only accommodation option in more remote areas.

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Sitting around a traditional Thai meal on the floor is very different from a restaurant experience, but at least equally delicious.

 

3. Fantastic Travel Stories

Possibly my craziest travel experience came from my first homestay — and there is a lot of competition for that title. While I was volunteering at Hostai National Park in Mongolia one of the coordinators suggested a weekend homestay to see how nomads really live. One family in the area habitually took volunteers for homestays, and had made a few modifications to their homestead to make westerners more comfortable. However, they were unavailable that weekend. Luckily a park employee’s parents happened to be in the area. So off we went in the SUV with some bottled water.

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Local kids expertly milking the goats.

Inexpertly catching a goat for milking.

Foreigners inexpertly catching a goat for milking.

One memorable part of the stay was the complete lack of toilets, and the flat — for miles in all directions — terrain. Waiting for dark was the only modest toilet tactic. One of my companions was slightly lactose intolerant, though, and the Mongolian diet is almost entirely dairy and mutton — most Mongolians think chicken counts as vegetarian. We had to get past shyness quickly. We also herded the goats and sheep, milked the cows, and collected dung for the fire (there aren’t trees on the steppe).

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Milking my first cow. The milk went directly into my milk tea and dinner that night.

 

Homestays will usually involve rougher living than you will get in a hotel, but squat toilets (or none) are all part of the experience, and in my opinion contribute to the fun.

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