Alice Groser writes about the advantage of living with a host family when travelling
For most people planning extended trips away, one of the most nerve wracking decisions is finding accommodation. If you’re a student, or on a budget, you’re essentially left with a hand drawn representation of hostelworld.com in your notebook, after quickly dismissing apartments or hotels. Don’t get me wrong, the hostel life is a good life, particularly in Latin America. Everyone in your fourteen bed dorm cooks huge pots of pasta together, and later in the evening, a few birras deep, you decide that the following day you’ll all venture into the notoriously sketchy but definitely hip area of your chosen city/try and find the best place in town for deep fried badger.
Lots of poor life decisions are made in hostels, but they’re ridiculously cheap, incomprehensibly well located, and breakfast is practically always included. During the six months I spent in South America I dipped in and out of hostels; however I spent the majority of my time living with three different host families and I am convinced that it was an excellent life choice for the following reasons:
1.If the vibe is right, living with a host family is just dreamy
I lived with three different families and they were all unbelievably welcoming and keen for me to make the most of my time. Living with a family gives you access to parts of the country that you’d never see if you’d been based in a hostel, scrolling endlessly though TripAdvisor.
I was taken all over the place by my host families who were all eager to show off the best bits of their region. This choice was also kind economically, especially for a long period stay. I lived with families for free in exchange for English lessons a couple of times a week, and being able to save on accommodation meant I could treat myself to other experiences and adventures. All that said though, the best thing about living with a family was being able to come home to an actual home every day (rather than getting back late to your hostel to find that you’ve been moved into a new room with that creepy bloke you clocked at breakfast).
2. Cultural immersion all day long
Spending your travels in a hostel can certainly be an eye opening experience, but nothing compares to living with a family if authentic cultural experiences are what you’re after. You get involved with everything, from bizarre concoctions in the kitchen (preserved butternut squash for dessert) to family christenings and ski trips to the family chalet in the Andes. You can soak up the language so much more easily when you’re surrounded by and contributing to the general chitter chatter that comes with family life. My level of Spanish improved dramatically whilst I was away, and I definitely have my families and our hour long discussions about every obscure subject under the sun to thank for that.
Being able to partake in all the various aspects of the day to day occurrences of a completely different culture is a priceless opportunity which can never quite be replaced (unfortunately) by necking fernet con coca at the hostel bar.
3. Life pals
This is without a doubt one of the best things about living with a family. Sharing a home lets you build up a friendship which you can maintain for years to come. Having friends all over the world is one of the biggest benefits of visiting new places, and being able to pop back to visit these friends gives your experience to the country and culture a more lasting and profound impact.
So, yeah, maybe you end up living in the middle of a field, maybe you are the only English guy or gal for miles, maybe your host mum spends hours plotting your engagement to Jorge/Jorgelina in the neighbouring village, and maybe you don’t always understand what’s going on and find yourself agreeing to a tour of Argentina’s oldest wire factory. These things all end up enriching your experience (one way or another) and let you discover gems that Lonely Planet isn’t even on to yet. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a break from the hostel life and give a host family a go – how else are you going to bag a trip to Argentina’s oldest wire factory?
I found my host families through the organization I worked for whilst I was away. They’re called Teach Argentina and set up cultural exchanges between English speakers and Argentinian families and schools: http://www.ecolonias.com/teach-argentina-english.html . Otherwise, you can always browse online sites such as https://www.homestay.com/ or https://www.lingoo.com/en/stay-host-family to find a host family to suit you.