The plane touches down after a long flight. You stretch your legs, rub your eyes and peak out the window to get a glimpse of the surroundings. Shuffling into the airport you feel like you spent the night in the trunk of a small automobile. It’s a long line through customs, but finally you grab your bag from the belt and head to the curb. Hailing the nearest taxi, you’re off to your home away from home. But where the cabbie takes you depends on where you decided to book your stay.
Students studying overseas have the option of living with a host family or in a student residence. Other travelers can choose to bunk with friends or local Airbnb hosts. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of staying in a hotel, motel or hostel. Your choice depends on what you want from the experience – this guide should help you decide what’s the right fit for you.
If you opt to stay with a local, the taxi takes you to a residential neighborhood. Between apartment buildings, you see corner stores, Internet cafés, laundry mats and newspaper vendors. Except for signs you don’t understand, it doesn’t seem all that unfamiliar. The taxi slows down and comes to a stop. You climb out of the car and double-check the address – sure enough, you’re in the right place. You ring the bell on the front of the building and hope someone nice answers the door. A moment later, there’s your smiling host.
If you’re a student studying abroad, she might be a middle-aged woman wearing a dress, an apron and sandals with her stockings. If you’re a traveler staying with a friend or an Airbnb host, she might be a young freelance photographer with worn jeans, a plaid shirt and oversized eyeglasses.
Staying with a local gives you the opportunity to have a genuine cultural exchange. You see what life is really like in a country different from your own. Sure, it’s a little out of your comfort zone, but that’s what make’s it such an adventure. Plus, you get loads of insider tips that will give you a more authentic stay.
In addition to helping you navigate the town, local hosts can tell you how to beat the tourist traps, where to find the most authentic food and how much to pay for your souvenirs. If you want to practice the local lingo, your hosts will get you talking. You might have to bring a dictionary to every meal, but before you know it, you’ll be able to talk about much more than the weather.
If living in someone else’s home sounds too intimate for your taste, you can choose to stay in a student residence, a hotel, hostel or vacation rental, depending on the purpose of your trip. In this scenario, the taxi driver takes you to a more commercial part of town. You see tall buildings, neon signs and people hurrying on the street. The taxi pulls up to a large building. You walk through glass doors and the noise of the city fades away.
If you’ve booked a hotel, you’re welcomed by a friendly receptionist wearing a smart grey suit and a name tag. If you’ve booked a student residence or hostel, the laid-back receptionist will probably be sporting a graphic print tee, black jeans and leather boots. While checking in to your room, she asks if you have any questions about your stay. As a matter of fact, you do. You need directions to the metro stop and a recommendation for a restaurant nearby. The receptionist pulls out a map and draws the route to both – just a little ways down the street and you’re there.
From here on out, you discover the city on your own. From your central location, there are well beaten tracks to famous landmarks, popular shopping and exciting entertainment. You’ve also got the flexibility to come and go as you please. If you stumble upon a fabulous art opening or score last minute tickets to the local football match, you can jump at the opportunity without anyone wondering where you are.
Home is everywhere
Whether you choose to stay with locals or discover the city on your own, your trip will be packed full of fun times. Bunking with local hosts gives you a taste of your destination’s flare while going it on your own allows for more freedom, flexibility and spontaneity. Luckily, there are options for everyone, so all you have to do is pack up and go.