By: Staff Writer, 3 Jul, 2018
Last year, I was in Kerala with some of my closest friends. We spent a part of our week-long trip in the seaside town of Mararikulam, about an hour’s drive from Kochi. We were staying in a homely heritage property, our days were made up of swims in the river nearby with breaks for fluffy appams and fish curries, and naps on the porch. We cycled on the beach, spotted dolphins in the distance and got drenched in the rain. It was the sort of holiday that sticks with you, setting the bar for future trips with friends.
Whether it’s a wildlife vacation or a culture-filled trip, good accommodation can make a good trip great. And my definition of ‘good accommodation’ matches what homestays offer. While planning holidays for myself, I’m partial to homestays and family-run guesthouses because they are often easier to budget for (especially when you don’t want to shell out a lot), and have a personal touch that is hard to come by at upscale hotels.
I’m fairly certain that my memories of Mararikulam would be different if we’d opted for one of the many beach resorts. Sure, I didn’t have fancy amenities in the bathroom or the plushest mattress in the world, but I also wouldn’t have been able to get a taste of what it’s like to actually live in Marari. We made friends with our owner, snacked on pazhampori (Kerala-style banana fritters) at tea-time, and relaxed like we were at home (but with way better views).
Homestays are also more flexible – hosts and owners are great resources for recommendations, easy on requests, and generally, very friendly. On a recent trip to Spiti, my guide recommended tingmo, a Tibetan steamed bread. When I asked the owner of my homestay where I could find some, he quickly offered to make it for dinner. On another trip to Himachal, my host shared the tobacco he’d grown with me. I vividly remember smoking the strong stuff while listening to his stories of life in the mountains.
This isn’t just me, though – the trend to choose local while travelling has been growing over the last decade. Often, it’s a responsible way to engage with the community and a way for them to benefit from tourism. It’s a shift that’s also affected the way we travel – now, more than ever, the experience matters. It’s not just about ticking a destination off your bucket list. Travellers are ditching the cookie-cutter hotel life for local favourites and more in-depth experiences. Case in point: Airbnb’s recent inclusion of experiences led by locals that let you go truffle-hunting in Florence or on a typography walk around a neighbourhood in New Delhi.
This trend towards staying local means that there is a lot of variety to choose from. It could be a basic homestay to crash at for the night in a transit town or a B&B for a romantic weekend getaway. And it isn’t all about sacrifices – there are plenty of boutique properties that bridge the creature comforts of five-star hotels with the personality of a homestay. A little research can go a long way. Find your sweet spot. Home is, after all, where the heart is.