Photo by: Terje Rakke/Nordic life – Visitnorway.com
One of the most rewarding things about travel is meeting the locals and experiencing their daily lives. The best way to do that is to opt for accommodation options that take you away from the normal creature comforts of a hotel; stay with a local family in a traditional dwelling. While these options aren’t as widely advertised, some grassroots travel operators do provide direct connections (and funding) to these unique homestays.
Sami lavvu tents
For a unique outdoor experience, you can stay in a traditional Sami lavvu (herdsmen’s tent) amidst the pristine forest. In winter, you can increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights in the wilderness, sleeping in warm sleeping bags made of reindeer hide (no electricity). A husky sledding excursion adds to this classic Sami experience.
Cappadocia cave rooms
Famous for its troglodyte dwellings carved out of the rock and cities dug out into the underground, Cappadocia is a unique cultural heritage. Some of these dug-out abodes have become unique accommodation options, ranging from family-run homestays to 5-star hotels. Rooms feature hand-hewn walls and classic Turkish furnishings.
Bo Kaap neighbourhoods
Travelling to Africa need not mean staying at safari camps. In South Africa, there are opportunities to stay in neighbourhoods like colourful Bo Kaap, where visitors can get an authentic view of contemporary South African life. Homestays empower the locals, generating employment and income for this predominantly Muslim community.
Mud hut tribes
Rajasthan may be bustling with tourists, but there are opportunities for homestays with local families in their traditional mud huts in the middle of the Thar Desert. Accessible only by a 45-minute camel ride, the village has no electricity or running water, but you do get all meals provided, plus an incredible piece of real estate with no neighbours for miles.
Nomadic ger camps
Staying in a ger with a Mongolian family offers the opportunity to experience a traditional way of life, making it an ideal base to explore the country’s incredible landscape on horseback or hiking expeditions. Guests can also help herd sheep, train eagles or prepare dinner (sometimes accompanied by a traditional performance).
One of the best ways to explore the American wild west is on horseback, spending the night at a family-run dude ranch. Depending on your riding level, riders can choose between working ranches (involving cattle or sheep operations) and dude ranches which focus on outdoor activities.
Japan’s historic gassho-zukuri thatched houses feature classic tatami rooms and provide visitors a rare insight into traditional village life. The UNESCO-listed Shirakawa-go and neighbouring Gokayama are home to these gassho villages, where guests can stay with local families for a max of one night per house.
Travelling to Brazil during the Olympics may pose problems with the shortage of accommodation, however, there are grassroots organisations providing alternatives with family homestays in Rio’s famous favelas. Not only is it cheap, but you’ll also get to know the friendly neighbours and volunteer in one of many NGO projects in the hood.
One of the largest producers of coffee in the world, Colombia has established a network of accommodation at coffee fincas – traditional estates (haciendas), which look out on lush coffee slopes, interspersed with banana trees and guadua forests. Start off with fresh coffee for breakfast, followed by activities like horse-riding and hiking.