We’ve all heard the stories about people who quit their jobs to live on a boat in Brazil or a treehouse in Thailand. But what if you’re not interested in the extremes? What if you want to experience life as a local
but still have access to home comforts, good food and well…a comfortable bed? Enter: Homestays
with host families.
Choosing your first Workaway is unquestionably exciting, especially when you have 170 countries and 50,000 projects to choose from! However, your first Workaway will always be one of the most important. It could make or break your trip. Choose well and you’ll never want to return home again (like this Workawayer who chose Sweden as his first Workaway
and stayed for FOUR YEARS!) Choose wrong and you’ll be back at your desk before your boss has even opened your resignation letter.
So why choose a homestay for your first Workaway? As someone who did exactly that, I’ll explain…
It's the Perfect Stepping Stone
As someone who was ready to quit their corporate role in London, I knew choosing a Workaway sailing the world or living in a yurt in the rainforest would be a major shock to the system. I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to test the waters and ease myself in gently to life on the road.
That’s why I chose a homestay in Switzerland. It was a short flight so if I needed to return home it was affordable and easy. The family all spoke English so I could communicate comfortably. The climate, wildlife and culture also weren’t too dramatically different but still exciting enough that I’d experience somewhere new.
A homestay is ideal as a first Workaway as it builds your confidence and allows you time to adapt from your old life of familiarity to your new life of adventure. From this initial homestay I then felt brave enough to head further afield and push myself out of my comfort zone even further.
A Home Away from Home
It’s okay to admit we all crave home comforts sometimes. Whether it’s WiFi, hot showers or a private room, sometimes these are essential to our happiness. However home comforts mean different things to different people, which is one of the many blessings of Workaway.
You have the freedom to choose a home setup that’s very similar to your own or entirely different. For example, you can embrace an authentic farm stay in Catalonia
, or live in a yurt in Mongolia
. Whether you’ve dreamed of going off grid
, hopping onboard with a family at sea
or escaping to the city, a homestay with Workaway can be as adventurous or as familiar as you want.
This makes it perfect for first timers as you can find somewhere that feels like home to you, regardless of what that may be.
It’s only natural to experience culture shock when you leave home for the first time. Whether it's disorientation, confusion, anxiety, or discomfort, it’s very normal when encountering a new and different culture. But that’s where a homestay can help.
It offers a gradual transition into the local way of life. You can learn at your own pace and adapt to the new environment while feeling supported and safe. You have a family by your side to ask questions, to show you the highlights and hidden gems and most importantly, share what their culture is truly about.
Meet like-minded people
Some would say home is not a place, but a feeling. That’s why I love travel and homestays so much. You can be in a completely different country, sitting at a dinner table where no one speaks the same language but still feel at home. This is because you’ve found your people.
Our Workawayer Chloe
, puts it perfectly describing her first Workaway experience with a family in Italy, “I’ve chosen to stay in someone’s home for my first position, as the biggest difference between normal travel and exchange is having a family. I’ve come to realise that even a hostel or camper can feel like home after a couple days, but as someone deeply rooted in family, the addition of that aspect while away from my true home has been amazing. We’ve developed a routine in just a few short weeks but talk to each other as if we’ve known each other for years.”
Food Glorious Food
Nothing beats homemade food. Fact. While streetfood, markets and restaurants are part of the fun when travelling, the costs of dining out soon add up. At times they also cater to tourists too much with menus often adapting to include fries, avocado toast or pizza in order to please the crowds.
A homestay is one of the best ways to try different diets and dishes from around the world. For example, on one of my homestays the host family were vegan, while another followed a keto diet. Both were completely new to me and probably something I’d never be exposed to if not living with a family.
Choosing a homestay is ideal for those travelling on a budget
as you can experience authentic food made by the experts - locals! It also means that dietary restrictions don’t need to hold you back.
With a homestay, you can let your host know if you have allergies or special requirements. Again, this can help build confidence when navigating a new country or culture.
Best way to Learn a Language
Starting your Workaway adventure with a homestay is one of the best ways to learn a new language
as it encourages total immersion. From sunrise until sunset you can be conversing with native speakers and learning new vocabulary. More importantly, you will be practising with locals who have the patience and time to help you learn.
With other volunteering experiences this is a little more difficult. In a school
you’ll likely be the one teaching, with animal welfare projects
you’ll struggle to get your furry friends to chat, with environmental projects
you’ll spend your days enjoying the peace of nature and with hostels
you’ll be exposed to a dozen languages a day so mastering one can be tough!
Spending your first Workaway on a homestay will give you the perfect foundation to continue your travels further afield. You’ll master the basics in no time and have more time to practise and make mistakes than any other kind of volunteering experience.
The Ultimate Tour Guide
Unlike tour guides, host families are real people who have zero interest in making a profit out of you or only showing you the popular places. Generally, hosts want to be part of a cultural exchange in order to provide an incredible insight into their country which you won’t find elsewhere.
Locals will share the hidden gems that will give you the most authentic experience – not the route with the most gift shops or restaurants with the most Facebook likes. They know where to hike for insane views, who makes the best cappuccino in town, which campsites are less crowded or what markets are overpriced.
This kind of experience is priceless. It’s also far more intimate. I’ve found with other types of projects for example NGOs, schools or hostels you have several opinions and options, everyone wants to share their favourite places or “must do” attractions. For some, this may get overwhelming and you’ll be tempted to rush through everyone’s recommendations.
With a homestay you have just their guidance and advice. This allows you to get to know a neighbourhood or destination on a much deeper level.
An Experience You'll Never Forget
Overall, living with a local family allows you to immerse yourself in their home, their culture and their country. You'll have the opportunity to learn about traditions, customs, and daily life that you might not experience in other forms of volunteer work.
That homestay may be a tent, a treehouse, campervan or somewhere completely unique
! It could also be a cosy cottage just like your grandma’s house. It’s entirely up to you.
These arrangements, your schedule as well as the skills you offer will all be discussed beforehand, so both parties are on the same page; however, prepare for a cultural exchange that will change the way you travel forever
. You will arrive as a tourist and leave as a member of the family.
How to Make the Most of Your First Homestay Experience
Keep an open mind - The culture, food and language may be entirely different to what you know but embrace it. You will learn far more from your homestay if you say yes as much as you can. While it’s understandable you’ll be nervous, don’t hide in your room or sit scrolling on your phone. Try not to judge or criticise, appreciate the differences.
Communicate - If you find anything uncomfortable or confusing, don't hesitate to voice your concerns. Being honest and open is the best approach, always. It allows both parties to benefit fully from the homestay experience. It also means any misunderstandings can be resolved promptly to avoid wasting time.
- Whether you want their family recipe to try at home, you need help with pronunciations, or you’re curious about the culture - ask! We recommend asking YOURSELF these questions before your first Workaway
, but then making sure to ask your host these questions before you arrive
. Questions are the best way to learn about your homestay and you might never get another opportunity to quiz a local so make the most of it.
Be prepared for culture shock - With some homestays you’ll slot right in as part of the family immediately, with others you can take time to adjust. As mentioned culture shock is common, but it can be prevented with a little research beforehand. Ask your host about their normal food, routines and dress codes. Learn a few basic phrases beforehand and be prepared for it to take a while to adapt to your new surroundings.
A little thank you goes a long way - There are so many ways you can show your appreciation that cost very little but will mean so much to your host. With my Switzerland homestay I baked traditional Scottish shortbread (although very badly!) but they loved the gesture so much. Or with our homestay in Greece we created a poem about our time there. It doesn’t need to be expensive or extravagant, just a little token of thanks for them opening their home to you.
With so many volunteer opportunities on Workaway but so little time, selecting the right path for your first one is vital. It's the foundation upon which your entire journey is built, and the choices you make now can indeed shape your adventure.