For my travel through Southeast Asia, one of the main points was to document the sulfur miners at the Mount Ijen in Indonesia. Since I wanted to be as close as possible to the mountain, I decided not to book a hotel in the next city, but to live in a homestay that is a lot closer to my destination. Now I want to give answers to the question “What is a homestay”, but also describe the benefits of living with a local family.
Before this trip, I could have never imagined living for six weeks with a local family. I was afraid that the difference in culture, the language barrier and the less comfort would stress me out a lot and have a negative impact. In the end, it was a great experience to get to know the local culture a lot better and I couldn’t imagine a better way to live there for the six weeks.
Description of a Homestay
A homestay is an accommodation where You stay with a local family and live with them. In general, it means that You have Your own room and depending on the family or Your preferences You are becoming an additional family member, but can also be more private or on Your own. Since most of the hosting families are very welcoming, the service is beyond anything You can get in a hotel.
As the name already describes, You are living with a family in their home. The host becomes more than a simple provider of the room and from my experience, they are more than interested in helping and assisting You during Your stay.
You are able to live the typical lifestyle and aren’t separated in a hotel, where You are living like a tourist. Especially when traveling abroad, far away from home and explore a foreign culture, the homestay is a very special place to get accustomed to the different traditions and to experience unique stories.
Benefits of Living in a Homestay
Living in a hotel might be nice and comfortable. You can have the same luxury as You can have at home when You are able to pay for it. But spending time in a homestay has a lot of different advantages and benefits that You might not have thought of before.
I was very afraid of living in the jungle for such a long time because I wasn’t sure how different the living conditions would be. Of course, the general living standard is a bit lower, compared to my western lifestyle.
When it rained the power would cut out occasionally, there was no warm water and also no air conditioner. Leaving the village was very difficult since the only road leading up to the village was in a very bad condition and at night it was near impossible for me to go around.
Nonetheless, there are a lot of benefits of living in a homestay.
Spending a night in a homestay is more affordable than a hotel. In general, the cost of a homestay is lower than the price for a night in a hotel. Not only is the price lower, the service is also better. The host families are very ambitious to assist You when You have questions and try to help You out whenever they can. Often times, they also provide breakfast and sometimes also other meals if You like to have some. So a homestay is definitely a very affordable option to live for a longer period of time at a different place.
The homestay is great for meeting new people and making friends right away. Without a lot of effort, You are introduced to a group of people, that You are going to spend a lot of time with. If You are traveling solo, it can get a bit lonely at times, but at a homestay, You have usually some people to talk to. The local family is also open to introduce You to their friends and You will have no problem to be accepted in the local community.
I was interested in the local culture and living with a family is probably the easiest way to experience their lifestyle. After I arrived, I already was introduced to another family who invited me to eat dinner with them and although the language barrier didn’t allow for much talking, it was great to meet them and share dinner with them. During my stay, I really felt like I was part of the local community, something that wouldn’t be possible if I stayed at a hotel and in some touristic area.
If You are looking for trips and things You can do during Your travel, a homestay is always a great opportunity to receive some tips and information that You wouldn’t get anywhere else. In contrast to tourism offices and businesses the hosts are not interested in getting the most profit out of You, but genuinely are interested to help You. That way, You can visit places, that no other tourist would ever go to.
Living in the Indonesian Jungle
I was talking a lot about the things that I was able to experience there, but what was it really like to live in a homestay in a small village? Most of You are probably afraid that they would get bored. In the end, there is only so much You can do in the village, especially when it is dark already, the rain is pouring down and the power failed.
But not a single day I felt that it was boring there, there is always an adventure lying in front of You and it is up to You to go out and soak up the great stories. Often times, You not even have to do something for it, the opportunities will be presented in front of You.
Some of the following stories I have already described more in-depth, but I still want to give a general overview of what I was able to do with the help of the homestay’s family.
The Indonesian Wedding
After arriving and spending my first night at the homestay, the evening should hold a special surprise for me. The cousin of my homestay’s family was marrying which includes a big event where half of the village was invited to. Since I had my camera with me, I was able to photograph the whole wedding ceremony and was part of this traditional celebration.
You can read the full article about the Indonesian wedding and the Photo Essay.
Maintaining a Road
Did I already mention that the roads where terrible? Riding a scooter on these heavily damaged roads was very difficult and demonstrated a great risk for the pupils, that would use the road to commute to school. Since the government made some promises but wasn’t able to honor them, the village had to take the matter into their own hands. Which means that they had to maintain and reconstruct the road themselves. With very basic tools, the whole village gathered to work together on the road and fix it.
It is only a matter of time until the rain will damage the road again, but for the time-being, the road is in a better condition and it is much better to leave and enter the village. Every Sunday, the community gathers for some work that has to be done, if it is not the road construction it can also be to clean the litter or construct a building.
It may sound brutal, but in the end, the cricket fights were more a betting game, than really about the fighting. I haven’t really understood how the winner is determined, but somehow everyone had a lot of fun watching the crickets and was very cheerful. It was also good opportunity to meet people from the neighboring village since they were invited to bring their crickets as well.
The most surprising activity though was their passion for volleyball. I played volleyball all through my high school years but hadn’t really much time to play as of lately. Although I thought I was a little rusty, it was still a lot of fun to join them in their game and they were very ambitious because they had an upcoming tourney where they finally wanted to beat the other villages.
It was a very bizarre moment, traveling the whole world, only to do the same exact thing I was doing at home.
The Sulfur Miners
Photographing at the Mount Ijen was my main goal of the trip and with the help of my homestay’s family, I was able to learn to drive a scooter and go to the mountain myself. They also helped me out in finding a good guide who was able to lead me to the miners. With their assistance, I was able to photograph in the middle of the action and get really close to the miners, which wasn’t always easy and somewhat risky for my health, but I think the pictures are worth it and it was an unbelievable experience.
Where to find a Homestay
The homestay I found was more of an accident as I wasn’t specifically searching for a homestay. In fact, I was quite afraid to book a homestay and would have preferred a normal apartment at first, but the opportunity arose and I was curious how the stay would turn out.
I found my homestay on AirBnB and although there isn’t an own category for homestays, they are usually named as such in the title or also often found under the “private room” section. The great thing about Airbnb is, that You can set different filters and can have a look at other ratings. If You are unsure about the choice of the homestay, going for a “Superhost” and someone who can speak English well, will improve Your chances that You will have a good experience.
Much like Airbnb, Booking.com allows You to filter offers for “Private rooms” as well and it is a very broad platform. You have to research Yourself if the private rooms are really homestays or just single rooms in a hotel or resort.
Then there is also a platform made specifically for homestays. Their database isn’t as complete as Airbnb’s or Booking.com’s but here You can be sure to visit actual families that are eager to welcome You at their home.
I hope this article helps You to understand what a homestay really is and why it can be a great choice if You are searching for adventure and exploration, rather than a most comfortable home. With a homestay, You get to experience the local culture and lifestyle, much closer than anywhere else.