I’m thrilled to say that we’ve recently signed on to become Homestay ambassadors. What does this mean? Well, we’re going to be using the Homestay service in various destinations around the world, and then sharing our stories, adventures, and thoughts with you guys.
In case you’re not familiar with Homestay, here’s a quick brief.
Homestay is a service that lets you find places to stay in countries all around the world. I know what you’re thinking - they’re not the only service out there to do this.
The way Homestay stands out in, an admittedly fairly crowded marketplace, is by really focusing on the hosted experience. The idea is that you’re going to be living in someone’s house or apartment, and they’re going to look after you, provide you tips and advice on what to see and do, and give you all the local insights that can turn a trip from the ordinary into something really special. Oh, and breakfast is always included.
Since we find that one of the best things about travel is meeting the locals, partnering up with Homestay to explore what they’ve got on offer seemed like a no-brainer.
I actually first used Homestay a few years ago during a trip in Ecuador, and loved that experience. Back then, having only just launched, Homestay were only live in a handful of countries and had a fairly limited choice. Since then, they’ve expanded to over 150 countries, and have thousands of properties to choose from.
With so many options to choose from, picking our first destination might seem like a bit of a challenge. But of course it wasn’t. Given the option to spend a week anywhere in the world, naturally we chose Paris in the run up to Christmas – a favourite city for both of us, and somewhere we really wanted to experience together.
You can obviously read the description yourself, but in summary, this place looked fantastic. Centrally located, with plenty of space, a delicious sounding breakfast and a friendly sounding host, we signed up for a week’s stay.
From the beginning, everything was well planned. Communication with Elisabeth was easy and prompt via e-mail, and we were given full instructions for finding the place and getting into the property using the door code. Elisabeth was actually away the day we arrived, but was returning the following day. In her absence, we were to be looked after by her housekeeper, Joy, a Taiwanese lady who lives in the property full time and helps out.
The property was very easy to find, very close to the Folieres Bergere, and a five minute walk from two metro stations, which was how we got here from Paris CDG airport. Despite being on the 5th floor, it had a lift – a welcome luxury in Paris and gratefully received by us given our luggage!
On arrival we were welcomed by the lovely Joy, who showed us to our room at the top of the stairs and let us know that Elisabeth would be back the next day. We were also introduced to the two gorgeous cats who live on the property. Jess is a huge cat lover, so having cats to make friends with was a bonus!
We were welcome to use all the facilities, including the kitchen and gorgeous open plan lounge. As it was, we were fairly tired from our travels, and ended up getting an early night.
The next day we had a fine breakfast with coffee (the house has a coffee maker for guest use at any time, which produced excellent freshly ground coffee). Breakfast options included freshly baked croissants from the bakery down the road, yoghurt, fruit, juice and wonderful fresh French bread, with butter and jam.
We also met Elisabeth, owner of the house, who was fascinating to talk to. A French native, she’d travelled extensively, and had spent a good chunk of her life living in Taiwan, hence being able to speak excellent Mandarin (as well as English and French of course!). Self employed since 18, she’s done all sorts of things, including owning and running two hotels in Paris. So customer service was not something new to her!
In terms of the property we were in, Elisabeth had owned this one since 2000, originally as a family home, and has done extensive renovation in order to make it as lovely as it is today. When her children grew up, she opened it up to travellers from all around the world.
It was obvious from our time there that Elisabeth loves to receive guests, who come from all over the world. Speaking fluent Mandarin, she does get a good many from China, Singapore and Taiwan, and while we were there there was a family from Malaysia as well as a couple from Singapore also staying.
It’s worth bringing up at this point that different homestays have different styles, and some will be accommodating more than one set of guests at a time. If you prefer a more personalised experience, then you might want to pick a homestay which only offers one room rather than multiple rooms.
If you’re interested in meeting people from all over the world as well as your host, then a homestay like the one we shared with Elisabeth could be perfect for you. Just bear in mind that of course, more people will be moving around the property at a time, and whilst in this case it never felt crowded, you might find that someone is in the loo ahead of you (in this case we didn’t have an ensuite), or folks catching an early flight might disturb you when leaving. Elisabeth also welcomes families with children, and of course sometimes they can make a bit of noise.
For us, none of these things were an issue – I just wanted to bring it up here to make it clear that this is a different experience from booking a hotel, or a whole apartment to yourself. A Homestay is a hosted experience, and you’re going to be sharing a property with someone. Of course, that experience isn’t going to be for everyone – we all travel differently – but personally, I love interacting with locals, and being able to feel at home in a foreign city is a real treat.
Overall, we had an excellent Homestay experience in Paris with Elisabeth. We spent a great deal of time exploring one of our favourite cities, taking in the sights, drinking tea, Christmas shopping, and searching for sunsets. Having a warm and friendly place to return to after each day’s exploration was lovely, and we’re happy to recommend the Homestay experience to anyone looking for a more local experience!