Home Away From Home

We’ve all stayed in hotels and hostels while travelling, more so the latter for those which would consider themselves budget-conscious backpackers. It’s a custom we’ve become so used to we could do it with our eyes closed: find a property online, check the price, make the booking and turn up at reception for the due date to check-in to the room. However, for some this lacks the cultural immersion that would come from a more unique experience, say, when staying with locals. Hotel chains and backpackers’ hostels may guarantee a comfortable bed and hot running water, yet they can often appear sterile and monotonous, masking the true identity of the place you are visiting.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a definitive list of the top six online resources for travelling and staying with locals, be it Southeast Asia or southeast Siberia. Not only do the resources provide alternatives that are more economical than traditional means of lodging, they offer travellers the opportunity to discover a region through the eyes of a local resident, rather than simply sharing a room with fellow backpackers – or worse – sitting in a hotel room by yourself. The list features websites ranging from Airbnb, to free accommodation centred around the idea of sleeping on someone’s couch, taking into account a wide range of different factors to assess each one. The pros and cons are laid out in an easy-to-read set of bullet points at the end of each review, so you can quickly scan over them to get a sense of what to expect.

An important, yet simple, feature that was considered when reviewing each platform was its functionality and user interface. This is often an overlooked and underrated aspect when evaluating online platforms, however it is usually the determining factor of whether users continue to stay on the site or not. A website that has irritating pop-up adverts, slow loading pages and a difficult sign-up process will usually rank far below those that offer a clean, minimalist aesthetic and simple registration form. Coachsurfing, for example, only requires users to enter their Facebook details to come a member, while their website is easy to navigate. BeWelcome, on the other hand, although a good platform overall, does not boast the modern aesthetic of its contemporaries, instead presenting an outdated website, causing it to be ranked lower on the list.

This leads onto one of the next most significant characteristics that was taken into account when assessing the websites: search filters. These are options that can be selected in order to narrow down results to make finding your ideal accommodation or tour as quick as possible. There is little point in scrolling through offers to stay with families located in the middle of the Spanish countryside if what you’re really looking for is a shared apartment in the centre of Madrid. With a good selection of search filters, you can apply the options most suited to your preferences to quickly located the exact type of accommodation you are after. On sites such as Airbnb, options include property type, number of rooms, price range and various amenities, while others also include the possibility to sort by a range of different choices in ascending order if, for example, you want to view the cheapest or nearest to the city centre first. Hence, the quality and selection of filters were assessed in creating the list.

When it comes to finding somewhere to stay, few features are more important than the verified user reviews. While these are also important for things like restaurants, tours and activities, having them for accommodation, particularly in which you will be staying in the house of a stranger, is a necessity. These can help you to decide on a place by reading the comments left by previous guests, and there is usually a star rating to go alongside it to give a quick sense of what their experience was like overall. Another reason user reviews are important to consider are because they present an unbiased perspective, undistorted by a vested interest in making profit or benefiting the host in any form. Many owners can often deceive people into choosing a particular place based on professional photography and a well-written description, however a few negative reviews from verified users will quickly shatter the illusion and present other people with a more accurate depiction of what the place is truly like. When staying with locals, there is not usually a wide range of information available like there is for established hotels and hostels, therefore the presence of plenty of user reviews is an essential feature to have.

Although perhaps not as crucial as reviews, yet still a significant feature, was whether companies offered a blog on their website. Articles contained on the blogs range from inspirational destinations for travel, to stories of past experiences from fellow travellers, and provide a useful resource for gaining tips, advice and general information on a variety of travel-related topics. BeWelcome, for example, offers a blog featuring over a thousand pages of posts, with content including how to spend 24 hours in Berlin and where to eat in La Paz. If unsure of exactly where to go or what to do once you have arrived in a destination, these blog entries can be a fantastic resource, much like an informal guidebook, that can be accessed completely free of charge before, during and after your trip. Homestay, meanwhile, offers an ‘Inspire Me’ section on its website where users can explore a range of accommodation depending on various categories, such as cooking, languages or yoga. This means that not only do you get to stay with locals, you also get the chance to experience an activity whilst you are there. This is great for people with more flexibility, who don’t know exactly where they want to go, but would like to get involved in a particular interest.

Finally, we looked at local events and meetups also offered by the various platforms. Staying with a host family can be great, however if there is a considerable age gap, differing interests, a language barrier or simply because you want some time away, then being able to access a list of events and meetups in the area be a great addition to your trip. These can range from a drink down the local bar to walking tours to organised hikes to whole day boat trips. Couchsurfing, Staywithlocals and Staydu all offer similar services, in which you can connect with locals or fellow travellers to partake in fun activities, events, tours and nights out, making your trip as immersive and all encompassing as possible. People can organise their own events and ‘experiences’ or simply join in with one going on nearby if just stopping by for a day or two. There is nothing worse than sitting in your bedroom with nothing to do when travelling, therefore these can be a fantastic resource for helping you get up and go out, even if the city you are staying in appears strange and unfamiliar.

All in all, our list of resources to travel and stay with locals is a great resource for really making the most of your trip away. By taking into account a number of different factors mentioned above, we’ve been able to narrow down the list into six of the very best, offering unique accommodation, fun events and once in a lifetime experiences that give you the very best chance of spending your time with local people and immersing yourself in the country’s culture. If you fancy a change from the typical hostel experience, then this list will provide you with all you need to make a unique stay, to wherever you are travelling. Each one is vetted and extensively reviewed to provide six genuine and trustworthy websites to help plan your travels.

1. Airbnb Private
Giant number of Private Places for rent
5. Love Home Swap
Comprehensive review system for vetting
6. couchsurfing
The Best Site To Get Local Travel Experience
7. withlocals
Connecting travelers with locals
10. TrustedHousesitters
Thousands of pet-owners with care-orientated sitters
11. Trustroots
Trustroots Tribes allow members to quickly find people with similar interests
12. Holiday House Deals
If you’re going on a vacation and want to stay in the best places, this is a great platform to use.
13. MovingWorlds
It connects travelers to start-ups, nonprofits, and other social impact organisations that provide a free place to stay in exchange for definable skills
14. insurefor.com
Protections for travelers with pre-existing conditions
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