Vishal and Priya have a simple goal written on the wall of their bedroom- 35 by 35.
College sweethearts, young parents and marketing professionals, Vishal and Priya have been travelling partners long before they became life partners. They’ve been going on at least two trips every year for the last seven years and don’t intend to stop anytime soon. Because of the extensive travel, they seem to have a trick up their sleeve for everything - from the right time to book flight tickets to how to pack a duffel bag. But what stands out among everything else is their passion for being travellers and not tourists and one way in which they achieve this is through staying in homestays. That, and it also generates huge savings as they are generally cheaper compared to the hotels.
While homestays have been around forever and are now easy to book through apps like Airbnb, Expedia, booking.com etc. there is still a lot of apprehension among Indian travellers about using them. Read on to know more about Priya and Vishal’s experiences with homestays and some of the tips they use to ensure safety and peace of mind.
What is a homestay?
Homestay is a private residence where accommodation is offered to guests on payments. This accommodation can be provided in multiple ways. You can have a “Shared Space”, where you share someone’s home and live in a common part of the home, “Private Room”, where you share the home with the host but have a room to yourself and therefore a degree of privacy, and “Entire Home” – where you have an entire home to yourself.
Booking a homestay
1. For location and local experience - Airbnb properties aren’t restricted only to the business or tourist districts. They can be anywhere in the city, even in the residential neighbourhoods. This gives people like Vishal and Priya a chance to explore a new place through a local’s eyes. It also gets them to explore a lot more than just the tourist spots.
2. For space - This is especially true for places like Europe, where space is a rare and precious commodity and therefore room sizes are far smaller than you’d expect. Homestays can give you a much bigger space at hopefully a lesser price tag.
3. For amenities - While you won’t get free breakfast, most homestays come with free wi-fi. Also, most homestays will have kitchen supplies which you can use to cook your own food. It’s a godsend when you are travelling with a small kid as Priya and Vishal do. Some homestays will also give you local maps and useful items like umbrellas or swimming gear to make your stay more enjoyable.
Their favourite homestay
When asked this question, Vishal and Priya both slip into deep meditation and talk about multiple wonderful places they’ve stayed at. However, after some prodding, it seems like we end up with a tie between a beautiful beach-side bungalow in Galle, Sri Lanka that they shared with their extended family for a week and an off-grid unique Airbnb in Hawaii where they stayed in somewhat of a container atop a solidified lava flow.
Best way to book a homestay
There are multiple online platforms that help you book homestays – Airbnb being the largest. Vishal and Priya share some master tips for minimizing homestay horrors and maximising their chances of finding a rare gem.
Tip 1 - If it’s your first time on Airbnb, Priya strongly suggests clicking on “Entire Place.” This means you’ll have the entire home to yourself and you won’t be sharing it with anyone- host or other guests.
Tip 2 - The other great feature that Vishal swears by is “Superhost”. This ensures that you only see places from experienced hosts who have a lot of good reviews. This would minimise your chance of going wrong with your booking.
Tip 3 - Carefully look at the price. Airbnb only mentions the base fare upfront. The cleaning fees, taxes and others get added at the time of checkout. In addition to this one should closely read the description to be aware in case the host charges any local taxes separately.
Tip 4 - Spend time looking at the photos. Vishal says that this is the best way to judge a place after first-hand guest reviews. Photos will tell you everything you need to know about a place. For example, once they chose not to stay in an otherwise wonderful place because there were a lot of eye level decoration pieces in the house that made it non-child friendly.
Tip 5 - Focus on the last six months’ reviews. Most of them will mention the problems the guests faced while living at the house. See if any of those are deal breakers for you. Also, a lot of times guests don’t directly write bad things about a host or the place, so, learn to read between the lines. Similarly, read the house rules carefully and see if anything is non-negotiable for you.
Tip 6 - In case you can figure out the homestay’s location, you can check it out on the google street view or through satellite view on google maps. This will give you an idea of the neighbourhood and the locality.
Tip 7 - Check out other platforms for the same property before you book. Sometimes you might find the same listing on booking.com or homestay.com for a better rate.
Red flags you should look out for
The legal status of Airbnbs is ambiguous in a lot of cities. Make sure you research the city before you book the place. Also, in case the host asks you to lie to the neighbours or tell them that you are family friends, do not book the place. Vishal and Priya once had a bad experience where their booking was cancelled a week before their trip due to a similar case.
All in all, homestays have helped Priya and Vishal come closer to their goal of 35 by 35. In case you are still wondering what it is, it’s 35 countries by the time they turn 35. And what is their current score, you ask? Well, we weren’t rude enough to ask their age, but we do know they’ve covered 32 countries.
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