Sunday 26 October 2014

A homely way to see the world on the cheap

A new website puts tourists in touch with host families abroad where they can stay at very low cost,
 writes Ian Morris

Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30

With homestay.com you can cherry pick the city or cities you want to visit.
With homestay.com you can cherry pick the city or cities you want to visit.

Holiday season is once again in full swing with people casting off the shackles of their daily lives as they go in search of a refreshing break. I've been seeing people in the streets, post-holiday, sporting the distinctively Irish lobster red tan.

But many of us, however, are still in the planning stages of the all-important once a year summer escape.

So how does one plan a holiday? Well, if you're pro-active and enjoy all the organisation; you can decide on a location, search for cheap flights, hotel, etc… all of which can get pretty expensive if you're not careful.

For years the travel agent became the tourist's best friend with affordable pre-planned holidays. This is great for some but not for others. Many travellers today prefer the idea of immersing themselves in the culture of the places they visit as opposed to being made feel as though they are at home.

I went on one of those package sun holidays a few years ago and ended up at a hotel that was populated exclusively by Irish tourists and had a prominent Irish-style bar. I had a good time playing water-polo but I felt I'd missed out on really experiencing another culture.

This is why inter-railing has become so popular in the last two decades. People fell in love with the idea of cramming as many different places and experiences as possible into one holiday. Sightseeing and bicycling in Paris one day, museums and a tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District the next, then on to Berlin for some Bavarian beers and Bratwurst. Of course, the amount of research and expense involved can be somewhat draining.

The website homestay.com, founded by Irish entrepreneurs Tom Kennedy and Debbie Flynn, has taken the next logical step in bringing tourists closer to foreign cultures and international experiences while also keeping costs down.

What Homestay offers its customers is an alternative method of accommodation whereby you stay in a host household at your chosen destination. Via their website, you search for the city you want to visit, the dates you'll be there and how many are travelling in your group.

The site uses this information to give you a list of ads from suitable hosts, which includes photos of their homes, themselves, their hobbies and even reviews from previous guests. For example, if I wanted to travel to … let's say Venice, on September 10 for two nights with my girlfriend, we could stay with Maria and Claudio for €64 per night. They like cooking, photography, theatre and travel and are more than happy to help tourists find their feet upon arrival.

Elsewhere, in Mexico City, we could stay at Jose Raul's home with his family who are all adults working at one of Mexico's biggest universities. For us to stay with Jose, for two nights, would only cost €28 for both of us.

With homestay.com, you can cherry-pick the city or cities you want to visit in conjunction with the sort of people you would be comfortable staying with at highly affordable rates. Homestay.com is a fantastic tool for people who have a spare room at home and could do with some extra cash.

Becoming a host on homestay.com is free. Many of the ads I came across on the website were offering rooms for ridiculously low prices. This is because tourists are not the only ones benefiting socially from homestay.com

Many hosts aren't in it for the money but are only too happy to meet foreign travellers and to learn about their culture.

Whether you want to stay in Tunisia for a week or travel across Europe to multiple cities, you can find some hosts that seem like your kind of people and when you get there, you can let them point you towards the roads less travelled; because they know where they are.

Sunday Independent

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