23 Sep 2008
The stay experience forms a crucial part of what you take with you from your holiday. And if you really want to experience the place for what it is and not from the clinical confines of a hotel room, experience it with the locals. Stay with them.
In India too, the trend of staying in homestays is catching on and a growing number of city dwellers, both young and old, are opting to stay at homestays over hotels to get the “real” experience of the destination.
Due to a lack of any standards and a comprehensive information infrastructure, it’s not only very difficult to find the right place suited to your needs, you also don’t know what you’re in for till you land-up at the homestay. Add to that the fact that you’re going to be staying at someone’s place and no-one’s told you what to do and what not to do.
A good starting point would be to internalize that you’re not staying at a hotel but at someone’s house and as is the case with most households, including your own I assume, there are certain etiquettes that must be followed.
So here are some ‘homestay etiquette’ tips, to make your stay pleasant and memorable:
Hospitality: Most homestay owners are not professionals trained in the hospitality industry.
As guests, respect their warm welcome in the way they do it even if you are unaccustomed to it.
Homestays can be an enriching experience. Being an extension of someone’s house, often homestay owners dine with their guests, accompany you for treks and show you a facet of their culture up close and personal.
However you need not feel compelled to spend your entire holiday with the family. Feel free to explore the destination on your own. Of course tips from them will only come handy.
Facilities, Restrictions and Any Special Instructions: A homestay is in many ways like a regular household - there are some do's and don'ts that hosts expect their guests to follow. The best to find out about rules and facilities available is in advance. There are websites where such information is given. If the expectation is built correctly, there is no confusion and you can have a good time by knowing what to expect.
Timings: If you're stepping out and are going to be returning late, inform your hosts. Also ask them if there is a curfew time.
Food: Almost all homestays serve home-cooked food. Seeing guests from other parts of the country, or from abroad, the hosts may serve 'continental' breakfast to meet the taste of their guests. But it’s best to request them for local cuisine. There isn't a better way of knowing the food of the land. And you can rest assured that it’s fresh, clean and hygienic. What they eat is what they serve.
Photos: Please ask before clicking any photos. Though most people do not have any issue with you clicking snaps, it’s polite to ask since you're staying at their home.
Footwear and Laundry: Do ask the hosts if they are okay with you wearing your shoes inside the house/ bedroom, just as you would when you visit a friend. Some homestay owners have a laundry service, other don’t. Do not assume that it’s done in all places. When in doubt, ask, politely.
Tips: Always ask your hosts if they are okay with you tipping any domestic help that was made available to you.
Voicing your Grievance: While a homestay can be a wonderful experience, in case you wish to bring something to the notice of the hosts, something that you're not happy with, don’t hold back.
But do so as though you were telling someone you know rather than instructing hotel staff. Often it could be an oversight. Most homestay owners will try and act upon it immediately.
Do not haggle about Prices: Remember, you're not staying in a hotel. One of the most awkward situations that arise is when guests start haggling about the payment while checking out. Please do not do that. It just makes everyone feel awkward, especially after you've shared a few laughs and maybe a couple of meals together. Stick with what was agreed and pay it with a smile.
Often people tell me they feel awkward about making a payment to the hosts after spending a couple of days at their home. So a good way to work around this is going through a travel accommodation network - they interface with the homestay on payments, at no added cost to you, so you can focus on the holiday and avoid any awkward situation.
For a richer experience, ask them about things like where you can shop, hidden places off the tourist map. They usually know best and will often lead you to hidden gems!
So the next time you’re planning your holiday, explore the option of staying at a homestay.
It’ll be worth it!