Rental lodging

When a “Homestay” isn’t really a home stay

Homestay hotel in Vietnam

Many travelers like the idea of a “home stay.” And with good reason. Stay with a local, sharing meals, experiencing their life and culture, and maybe even making a new friend. So much more interesting that staying in a hotel.

This starts to sound less fun to some people when you consider that in many countries the standard of living is quite low. And authentically staying with a local means enjoying that same standard of living.

Traveling through Vietnam recently I noticed a lot of options for “home stay” lodging. And lots of travelers talked about having great experiences in these home stays. I started to wonder if these might be similar to hosted home exchanges, except that you pay some money to the host. So I booked a place that advertised itself as a home stay, and got excellent reviews, in northern Vietnam. As with many of these “home stay” places, this was really just a small hotel run by a family. We were definitely not staying in someone’s home. And that probably really helped with the many reviews commenting on the very nice accommodations. I could see the actual home of the folks running the place as it was off the dining area and the door was often open. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the guest lodging.

My vision of a home stay doesn’t involve signs stuck on poles in the middle of town

It was a family business. And they built the guest lodging next to their own home. The young son of one of the owners was often playing among the guests, as was their dog. But to me this does not make for a stay in someone’s home.

I know some “home stay” lodging is more family-focused than others. But usually it’s still someone running a BnB next to their home. The hospitality that small boutique lodging can offer is definitely charming. In Vietnam, rarely are these actually situations where you stay in someone’s spare room and share meals at their dining table. For the most part families have added rooms, or even whole chalets, where they can host guests. The smaller places still offer the same food the family is eating, sometimes even at the same table with the family. Larger places (hosting more than one or two people) run restaurants for their guests, often offering western foods alongside some traditional dishes.

A typical “home stay” in Tam Coc, Vietnam includes a restaurant that is open to the public

I’m not knocking these small lodging and restaurant offerings in Vietnam. It’s a great way for families (who own enough land) to make money off tourists. And this enterprise offers tourists a some good lodging opportunities beyond the rather dodgy hotels found in small towns. In some cases home stays can be quite cozy and interactive with the family. To find these I’d suggest looking for places that can only host a few guests at a time.

Or, for a free home stay, consider hospitality lodging through a home exchange network or other hospitality network.