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Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip

Make the Most of Your Travel By Using Homestays

When I travel (which is as often as possible), I'm likely to stay in the home of a total stranger.

Am I worried? No! Is it a money-saver? You bet! Are there other advantages?

Here are a few: you get a much stronger sense of a place and its people ... you get steered away from tourist rip-offs and toward the interesting and the offbeat ... you sometimes make new friends ... if your host is a good networker, you may be able to get contacts in your interest areas who can provide you with the information you came for. (For instance, when people have stayed with us, we've hooked them up with mediators, body workers, local historians, art gallery owners, and others in our network of acquaintances. If they come looking for something, we try to help them find it.) There are other advantages, but let me stop there.

Why don't I worry about staying with strangers, or having them stay with me? Simple: I'm a member of a homestay organization, and I know that someone has approved the people I'm dealing with.

Besides, my life has been made so much richer from these homestays, both as a traveler and as a host, that I really resent it when I'm forced to stay in a hotel. My family and I have done homestays in Paris, Montreal, Seville (Spain), several places in Mexico and Israel, and all through Wales (U.K.)--as well as dozens of cities and towns here in the U.S. And we've had visitors from Europe, Australia, Israel, Canada, and the U.S. One family, with whom we'd stayed in the rural Snowdonia region of Wales, went way out of their way to look us up when they came to the States, and seeing them again was fabulous.

Typically, in our organization, the stays are two or three nights long. No money changes hands, unless you run up their phone bill or other expenses, in which case you're expected to reimburse the host. We often bring a small present, but many travelers do not. Hosts usually spend time with you during and after dinner, and perhaps at breakfast. At other times, you're on your own. Other homestay groups might work a bit differently: some offer longer stays, some charge a small fee per night.

The appendix to The Penny-Pinching Hedonist includes a list of more than 20 homestay and home exchange organizations. Find one that fits your style, and go for it!

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