The concept of what we now call “homestay travel” has been around for a long time. Look back long enough and homestays were the only way you could travel around either locally or globally. Before hotels and Airbnb and Couchsurfing there was the homestay. When a traveler would arrive in a town the people who lived there would open their homes and provide for the traveler in return for some payment or some service. Nowadays, with the ease of travel, access to limitless options for accommodations, it is much more difficult to get that “homestay” experience. It has lost its value.
Here at Travel Life Adventures we are working to revive that spirit, participating in a growing movement around the world to bring back that sense of community in travel. The concept of homestays has changed over time, and is not without its potential negative impacts, but we believe that done right the homestay experience is the best way to travel anywhere in the world for both traveler and local.
Before we outline why we believe homestays are important and how that looks in Nepal specifically, it’s important to address some of the potential pitfalls of this form of travel. Like any industry there is potential for exploitation. If we as travelers do not ensure that local people have control over how these situations look in their community there is the potential for them to be negatively impacted. Things such as compensation, environmental impact, and cultural degradation are possible without local guidance. There is also the potential to unfairly or disproportionately impact the host family by failing to integrate into the local lifestyle. If we as travelers are requiring local people to accommodate too much we run the risk or creating a degrading tourism industry in that place.
Even with these potential negative impacts, the positive outcomes for both traveler and community far outweigh the risks. The biggest way we can reduce the potential for negative impacts is by relying on local leadership to guide the experience. Allowing local people and community members to inform and influence the travel experience the chance for outside exploitation is reduced.
Homestays In Nepal
When we took our first trip to Nepal we got lucky and a friend of ours put us in contact with a local named Karma Sherpa. We really had no idea what we were signing up for other than someone was going to pick us up at the airport. Once we met we set out on a trek to his home village. Fast forward a couple years and Karma is like family and anytime we return to Nepal we stay with him. That experience of spending time with his family, being immersed in Sherpa culture, and learning about life in the mountains changed us and rooted our connection with Nepal and with Karma.
In Nepal more than a lot of other places, the infrastructure for homestay and cultural immersion experiences is pretty well defined. This is both good and bad. With such a robust industry and good portions of the economy flowing through these homestay experiences there is the chance for communities to be exploited for the benefit of tourists without proper controls in place. But this also means that, when done with care and local expertise, that it is relatively easy to have a homestay experience.
For us and for our clients this is the only way to truly connect with a people and place. Here is a few reason’s why I love staying with locals and hope you will try it out to.
- You Adapt Faster
This is especially true if it is your first time to a new country. There is often an adjustment period in a new place, some time it takes to see things from a new point of view. Maybe the food is different; maybe the culture is different, whatever it might be the adjustment can sometimes be jarring. When you stay with local’s you are forced to adapt faster to the way of life than if you were staying on your own. You are not separated from the people and the place like you would be in a hotel or doing your own thing. You immediately are brought into a new place, a new frame of mind. This deepens the experience and leaves you with a more rich and long-lasting impact.
- Deeper Connection With Culture
When you are staying with locals you get a rare insight into the daily life and culture of the place you are visiting. You get access to experiences you would never be able to find or even know exist without this homestay experience. Self-guided travel has its own set of benefits, we have done lots of it, but there is something special about being lead into an intimate relationship with a place and people by those who live it every day. Your knowledge grows, your heart grows, and you walk away with not just photos but with actual new ways to see. This is difficult to find on your own and so homestays can be a catalyst for that.
- Form Life-Long Friendships
Over the years of traveling in this way we have gained not just new friends, but people we consider family. Sharing in that personal experience of this person’s life is like sending the relationship into a time warp and accelerating the growth process tenfold. Location, culture, language, economics fall away and through mutual respect and listening these life-long friendships form. Our experience has shown us that this is true, as does the wide web of friendship that connect us all over the world to people we love.
- Gain New Perspectives
By the very fact we can travel freely we exist and exercise privilege that allows us to do so. We come from a stable (relatively), wealthy, and developed country that affords us the opportunity to go out and explore the world. Many of you come from similar places. We as people often insulate ourselves in bubbles, comfortably separated from all the “bad” stuff in the world. With that we lose our perspective on our own lives and the lives of others. Whether we acknowledge it or not we are connected to each other and impact each other even if we never meet. One of the beautiful things that comes from homestay experiences is an ever deepening perspective on how people live and what that means for our own lives. With that knowledge we can then allow it to inform our choices, our points of view, and hopefully increase our compassion and understanding. When you meet real people the world becomes not an abstract idea, but a place where real people live.
These are just a couple of the benefits we see from homestay travel. It is not a perfect system and we have been witness to and been part of causing damage to local people when it is done wrong. But, in our ever increasing isolation and polarization from one another, the benefits of homestay and culturally immersive travel far outweigh the potential pitfalls. We just have to remember to rely on local leaders to show us the way.
We hope you will consider this form of travel for your next trip. It has changed our life and I know it will change yours too.