The first time I visited Jakarta, Indonesiagroggy and disoriented after a 15-hour train ride and feeling vulnerable on my ownI was relieved I had prearranged a visit with Margaretha. As my host, she welcomed me into her home and shared her values, viewpoints, and culture with me.
We shopped for spices at the markets, cooked gado-gado (noodles with peanut sauce) in her kitchen, spent time with three generations of relatives, and talked about everything from Javan dance rituals to womens rights in America. We also explored areas of Jakarta not mentioned in guidebooks, places I never would have discovered on my own.
By the time I left Margarethas home, three days later, I understood more about Indonesian culture than I had learned during two months of travel in the country. And Id made a friend for life.
As you plan your next travel adventure whether its to study, live, work, or travelconsider joining a hospitality club. As a member, you can stay with local families or individuals and swap ideas, build new friendships, and gain insight into each others worlds.
In at least 130 countries worldwide local hosts are waiting with open doors to take you into their homes. Some hospitality groups are geared specifically to single travelers or women travelers, while others target senior adventurers or travel groups.
When you join a hospitality club, you typically receive a list of hosts in the country youre visiting, with information on each persons backgroundaddress, job, family, interests, hobbies, and languages spokenas well as a notation on how many people he or she can host and for how long. Stays can range from two nights to a month or more, depending on the arrangements youve made with your host and how well you hit it off.
During an 18-month, around-the-world journey, I spent anywhere from two days to two weeks with different host families including a sheep rancher in New Zealand, students in Indonesia, a doctor in Malaysia, a retired teacher in Thailand, and a social worker in India.
You can organize your stay before you leave home or while youre traveling. Since my plans changed almost daily during my trip, I arranged visits en route through letters, email, or phone calls. Organizing a stay can be the entire focus of your trip, or it can be one aspect of your trip.
You pay an annual fee to join a hospitality club and occasionally hosts expect you to chip in for food, but you never pay for a place to sleep (which can range from a luxurious bed to a spot on a floor). These organizations, however, are not free-accommodation clubs; many have a strict screening process to ensure that youre truly interested in cultural exchange and not in a cheap crash pad.
For your benefit, hosts are also screened before theyre allowed to join, to ensure that they can facilitate hospitality stays.
After all, if your aimsand those of your hostare noble, the exchange may be one of the most profound and rewarding travel experiences youll have, and the friendships you make may last a lifetime.