Community-Based Tourism: When Locals Open Their Doors to You

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Have you ever taken a trip where you longed to jump the fence of your little tourist corral and sample the free-range flavor of local life? All too often, tourists sit at restaurants with everyone around them speaking English, and gaze wistfully out at exotic passersby going about their daily business. If you’re one of those tourists, you’ve dreamed about how different your vacation would be if you were walking alongside one of these locals in a friendly conversation; how wonderful it would be if only you could go home with them and sit in their kitchen while they prepare their evening meal. Thanks to internet magic, this kind of inter-cultural adventure is now within your reach.

The “Couchsurfing” generation

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Social media exists for more purposes than posting photos and gathering “likes.” Now that people are accustomed to creating profiles and sharing who they are, the opportunities for homestays have blossomed. Community based tourism refers to online networks where travelers and hosts can meet and make plans. People on both sides of this equation post profiles, which may include photos, written information about themselves, and feedback from other hosts and guests whom they have connected with in the past. Communication barriers are lowered because people with a fragile command of a language usually do better reading and writing, so the possible number of people you can meet is greatly expanded by online hospitality networks.

How community-based tourism works

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Once you know when and where you want to travel, you log into a site like Couchsurfing or Airbnb and browse through hosts and lodgings in that area. These sites off plenty of search filters, so you can seek out hosts of specific ages and genders, or lodgings of a particular type. Airbnb includes a safe method of prepayment for lodgings, and it includes options for renting an entire apartment or home. Couchsurfing and Be Welcome specifically exclude the exchange of money, and exist solely for the purpose of friendship and cultural exchange. HomeLink matches people who would like to swap homes with each other, so that they each are simultaneously guest and host.

More than a bargain

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This type of travel can obviously offer terrific financial savings, but someone who chooses community-based tourism only for the purpose of saving money is probably not going to enjoy the experience. What couchsurfing hosts are hoping for, in exchange for their hospitality, is good company and interesting cultural sharing. In general, you should not accept a free invitation to stay at someone’s home if you have so many existing plans and commitments that you expect to only be at the lodgings long enough to sleep. Instead, couchsurfing works best if you coordinate schedules with your host so that you can treat him or her to a meal out, or perhaps you can introduce a new kind of card game to the family, or even cook a special food from your own region.

Whether you’re swapping homes, renting a whole private apartment, or couchsurfing in someone’s spare bedroom, community-based tourism provides a gateway out of the standard tourist circuit. A bit of friendliness and extra planning is all that’s needed to make your next trip be truly one-of-a-kind.