how to look for host families abroad

How I managed to do a homestay with local families abroad for free

Reader Mail: Hello Trisha! Your blog is a wealth of information. Thank you so much! I am looking to stay with local families abroad and was wondering how did you do it? How did you find your host family?

This post was originally published on April 2, 2017, and was edited/modified to fit the current travel situation.

Did you know that staying with local families in the course of my traveling here in South America helped me become fluent in Spanish for less than a year, taught me how to cook local food and made me come to a conclusion that the only way to know how other people eat, cook and sleep is to live with them?

I know it’s a bit weird to live with someone you don’t know and you’ve asked me a bunch of times how can I be comfortable with this lifestyle but let me tell you that my best experiences are from staying with local families.

There are a lot of websites that offer local family stays but it comes with a fee. To tell you honestly, I don’t believe in paying for the experience. I believe this should come naturally. I firmly believe a local family should not have a program on how to show their culture though I do not judge the people I met on the road who signed up for this program.

How to find host families abroad

Why should you stay with local host families?

A tangible experience. You can never say you’ve been to a country if you don’t know how they eat, sleep cook and live. You can never say “I’ve been to Brasil” just because you visited the famous landmarks of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. You will learn how to speak another language fluently, how they serve food in a different way and how they live their life on a daily basis. You will understand the meaning of “we are all different culturally but we are all the same.” And that is just amazing.

My best advice when looking for a host family abroad: write with honesty. Tell them what you are expecting from this experience and what you can contribute in exchange. You can tell them you can share your culture by cooking food from your country or teaching them a bit of your language. Tell them about your family and if you have the chance, introduce them via Skype – and it doesn’t matter if they don’t speak English. If there’s one important thing I learned from staying with local families is that love is the language of the world. They will give that to you unconditionally.

Up until today, I am in contact with my host families and they are quite updated about everything I am doing (and about to do). They’re like my real family now and one of them is even listed as an emergency contact just in case something happens to me while traveling Latin America!

How to find host families abroad

#1: Couchsurfing

I got tired of volunteering when I was traveling in Brasil and that’s where I started craving for a family stay, again. So, I looked for a host in CouchSurfing Uruguay. More often than not, CS hosts (who regularly receive surfers) live alone. I checked the profiles of the Uruguayan hosts to see who is receiving surfers at the moment.

To every person I wrote, I clearly stated that I am looking for a host living with their families. I received a bunch of replies that didn’t quite understand what I was looking for. Luckily, one cool dude told me he lives with his family. In his message, he also stated the house setting, how many siblings he has, and what his parents do for a living. “I am coming,” I replied.

host families abroad

My host family in Uruguay introduced me to their extended families!

I lived with an Uruguayan family for a month doing the same things they do every day, taking them to school, walking the dogs, drinking tea while chatting in parks with the whole clan, and many more.

Couchsurfing has weekly meet-ups in every city in the world and this was one of the best ways I made friends! When I was living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I went to the meet-ups every week and this is where I also got a chance to meet my host family in Brazil!

How to find host families abroad

#2: Sign up for Meet Up

I often use Tinder or Bumble but I received messages from girls who read this blog – they find these dating apps creepy, especially if your intention is not to date. 4 years ago, I found out about MeetUp, a platform where you can see current events happening in the city you are in. Couchsurfing has a similar feature but what’s good about Meet Up is that there are many active members! During the glory days of Couchsurfing, everyone was posting actively but these days, only a few people participate.

host families abroad

Super random: I stayed with these Colombian girls in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were studying there but I also stayed in their home in Colombia.

What’s good about MeetUp is that you can filter the groups based on interest. When I first used this platform, I did not expect to make long-lasting friendships. I helped a woman with a Spanish to English translation for her website. She said she couldn’t afford to pay for my services so she offered for me to stay in her home for free for 2 months. She was a single mother living with her son so she had space in her home. This was really one of the best experiences because the barter was fair and none of us had to pay for anything!

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How to find host families abroad

#3: Explore house-sitting gigs

I did a lot of house-sitting in South America which enabled me to save over $4,000 USD on accommodations for one year of travel. House-sitting works like this: people who are going on vacation usually look for someone who will take care of the pets they will leave behind. You will stay in their house by yourself for free. All you have to do is to feed their pets and clean after you! Most of the house sits I did in the past were in super huge homes with pools. Since I love pets (I travel with dogs!), I was able to get a gig easily. Please note that homeowners will interview you and there’s lots of competition! My tip is to put pictures on your profile with your pets – it’s always a winner!

host families abroad

After my 3.5 year South America backpacking, I tried doing local family stays in my own country!

I use Trusted House Sitters when finding gigs. If you have a reference on your profile, it’s way easier for you to get a house-sitting gig. Some did not even interview me anymore! I house-sat in Brazil for 3 weeks and when the family came back, they invited me to extend my stay with them in exchange for teaching their daughter English. It’s so funny and amazing how you start with the intention of just house-sitting but if they like you, they will definitely invite you to stay for free!

How to find host families abroad

#4: Do a work exchange

I also did volunteer travel for a while – I am sure that with this post, you are understanding how I tenaciously planned my trip to get free accommodations. I was really a broke backpacker but I did not let that hinder me from traveling. I made sure I always had a home for free and it was pretty easy! Volunteering opened a lot of doors for me. I am still in awe thinking how many long-term friends I met along the road!

host families abroad

I met these guys while volunteering in a hostel in Taiwan. We are still in touch up until today!

Worldpackers is my go-to website when it comes to volunteering. 2 weeks is the minimum stay when volunteering but if the host likes you, then you can stay longer! I once volunteered in Argentina where I taught 2 kids to speak English in preparation for their Disney trip. In the beginning, it was a paid job (the parents paid me and I stayed in an apartment nearby). But as time went by and I became close to their mother, she invited me to live with them in exchange for teaching her children English. She was also a single mother and I was always attracting these kinds of women! I was raised in a single mother household so I can imagine that people see that energy in me.

If you sign up through Worldpackers, you can use the link above to automatically get a 10% discount on your membership.

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How to find host families abroad

#5: Facebook Groups

I am amazed how much joining Facebook groups has helped a lot in this journey. Today, I am a member of over a hundred FB groups and it’s my main vehicle for any questions I may have while traveling South America. I found my host family in Argentina by posting in the Argentina Backpackers group in a span of minutes. I taught a whole family English while staying with them. I had my own room, they fed me well and I stayed with them for one and a half months.

host families abroad

Asian host families are always the most welcoming!

You don’t need to find a specific Facebook group for host families abroad. Any group in the city that you’re in will definitely work. When I was in Cambodia, I posted in a group that I am a journalist looking to write about local family culture in Cambodia. After a few minutes, I received 10 messages inviting me to stay with them! But of course, Asian countries are more open to receiving visitors so that was really easy for me.

How to find host families abroad

#6: Friends of friends

I have a bunch of friends in Brasil who I met while CouchSurfing. I asked one of my friends if she knows someone who can accept me as a guest for a couple of weeks and luckily, she did. I stayed with her aunt who lives alone on a big cow farm, a bit South of Brasil where I helped in feeding/milking the cows and every farming task you can think of. I also had my own room with a state-of-the-art bathroom. Additionally, the aunt didn’t speak English so I had to battle my way to learn Portuguese – and I did.

host families abroad

When you make world citizenship your mission, you will come across extraordinary allies.

I’ve stayed with all their families throughout my travels in Brazil because they just kept passing me around: “Oh, stay with my aunt in Curitiba!” “Trisha, I have a friend that lives in Rio and she will like you!” This one family has helped me traveled all throughout Brazil without paying for accommodations. This was really one of the most in-depth cultural exchanges I did and it was not even intentional!

Ready to book your trip?

Most readers of this blog can easily plan their trips on their own and if it’s too stressful for you (especially because of COVID), you can always call or e-mail me – I do a lot of customized trip planning that guarantees your most authentic trip experience. Below are the main things I use (and trust) when booking all my trips.

  • Vrbo: In 2021, I am officially supporting VRBO instead of Airbnb. VRBO has a “Book with Confidence Guarantee Program” that is very beneficial especially at this time when our travel plans are always changing.
  • Hostelworld: I backpacked a lot for most of my formative years and always used Hostelworld. This is best for people who travel solo and want to meet friends on their trips!
  • Agoda: This platform has lots of deals and no other booking platform shows the best accommodation discounts!
  • Booking.com: Since I am always traveling indefinitely, I do not always have fixed travel dates. I use Booking because they don’t need a credit card to secure your accommodation. Most of it is on a ‘pay at the property’ set up so you don’t need to pay for a cancellation fee in case your travel plans change.
  • Kiwi.com: You can find the cheapest flights here with the best airlines. What Kiwi does is analyze your route and give you the best prices for your itinerary. Try it and see the difference with other flight booking platforms!
  • E-dreams: I use this platform when booking flights to and from Europe. All the flights here are guaranteed cheap. I once booked a Mexico-Madrid flight for only $300 USD!
  • Get Your Guide: I must admit – sometimes, I am super lazy to do things on my own so I always book the tours here! They are really cheap compared to other tour booking platforms and most of the tours here are not super guided. They give you a lot of free time!
  • TripAdvisor: I book tours here whenever I want to see real-time reviews. The reviews here are from real people so you can always compare their experiences! Tours are super cheap, too!
  • Travelwifi: take the internet with you! As a digital nomad, this is very important to me. If you decide to rent a portable wifi device, use my code PSIMONMYWAY to get a 10% discount.
  • Transferwise: As a digital nomad, handling money in different currencies have always been hard for me. Read my experience with Transferwise here – the best bank for long-term travelers!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • Given
    July 4, 2016

    Im a 40 year single mom of two boys im looking for a caring married couple that want to be foster parents for my 21 year old child , to learn him to walk on the right path . In the location in Namibia where I stay the environment is not good to raise children .

    reply
  • April 22, 2017

    I too agree just visiting landmarks of a country is not enough. Interacting with locals and learning a bit of their culture is very important. The couchsurfing concept looks interesting to me. I am eager to try it out some day.

    reply
  • April 22, 2017

    I’ve never done this myself, as I usually travel with my husband, but I can totally see the huge advantages when it comes to having a true experience of the place you are visiting, and learning about the lives of the people who live there. Amazing!

    reply
  • April 22, 2017

    Facebook and other social media networks have changed the world! It’s great to see so many ways of travelling and finding host families to stay with.

    reply
  • April 22, 2017

    Sounds an interesting idea especially if you are on a budget or travelling alone. Also a good way to really get to know a country and it’s culture.

    reply
  • April 22, 2017

    I have never done couchsurfing. I always go for hostels. But would love to do that when traveling to remote areas.

    reply
  • Megan Jerrard
    April 23, 2017

    Thanks for the tips Trisha! It’s such a great way to immerse yourself in local life – couch surfing is my favorite way for this 🙂

    reply
  • April 26, 2017

    I totally agree with you and yes, it would be weird for me to pay a website for a experience like this one. But do you pay something directly to the families? I think it would be useful for them

    reply
  • stacey veikalas
    April 26, 2017

    I totally agree that getting involved with a local family and learning the language and culture just adds to your experience! Awesome ideas, host families are one of our favorite ways to travel.

    reply

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P.S. I'm On My Way is a blog by Trisha Velarmino. She didn't
quit her job to travel the world. She made a job out of traveling and you can do it, too.