Home Away From Home: The Beauty of Homestays

“Don’t tell me has educated you are. Tell me how much you have traveled.”

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Why do we cycle? We do it for the peaceful nights at 4,000m surrounded by the stars and the snowy peaks. We do it to explore and discover rather than to simply sit and wonder, and we do it for the lovely people we meet along the way. One of the main reasons Kevin and I chose to travel as we do, and one of the thing that has kept us going through each and every country, is the astounding kindness of strangers and the wonderful homestays we have been lucky enough to partake in. Though it may seem pretty crazy if you haven’t experienced it yourself, total strangers really will invite you into their homes for a cup of tea (or even a night), and despite what the media may constantly tell you, our world is indeed a truly wonderful place.

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Part of the reason people are so willing to reach out to us is because they realize we are vulnerable as we are not in our own city or country, and often, because they are curious as to what two crazy hooligans are doing on some silly looking bikes. We have also stayed with people who have contacted us through the blog, as well as through friends of friends, but one thing stays the same no matter how we arrive, what country we are in, or what type of people we are staying with; homestays are the best way to truly experience a culture and encounter and participate in different ways of life.

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I stopped to buy bananas at the side of the road, and what should have been a five minute stop turned into a two week homestay when one of the curious women took me in. Giggling, she pulled me by the hand and told me we were going to a wedding – which we did (twice!) – and since I had landed myself into a tiny village in the Indian hills which had never seen a westerner before, I was quickly surrounded and adopted by every single person there. I spent two weeks between two houses (all relatives) where I was truly treated like family, learning Hindi from the grandma, playing with the children, and visiting every single house in the area for tea at least twice a day. It was an incredibly experience, and by the time I left (which they wouldn’t let me do!), I felt as if I were leaving my own home. They gave me two Indian suites to take with me which I wore everyday for the rest of my stay in the country.

Adopted By A Village
Living the Indian Life
Superstitions and Other Interesting Things

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After an extremely rough few weeks in India I was so incredibly relieved to have arrived in Nepal, especially once the girl my age I was buying fruit from invited me back to her house. Though it was a bit overwhelming (as it always is) being the center of attention in a very small and curious village, the women were wonderful, and the little twelve year old boy was the best. “We have a small home, but big hearts,” was how he described his family, and though they all slept in one small room and didn’t have much money, they were wealthy in the way that counts. When I left, every villager (or so it seemed), even those I didn’t know, came to see me off as they handed me flowers. It was incredibly touching to say the least.

Far Western Nepal Homestay

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In the 45C unbearable Georgian heat we stopped at a small local store in order to buy some ice cream and cool down. The owner quickly gave us cold drinks and ice, a nice shaded place to cool off, and a hose to wet ourselves with. As we were sitting on the bench many curious villagers came by and handed us fresh tomatoes, figs, and homemade wine, and the only two people who spoke English – two children from Tblisi – invited us to stay with their grandpa as they too were living there for the summer. We spent three days with them, swimming in a nearby lake, learning how to make local bread, cooking fish over an open fire, and having a whole lot of fun in the countryside.

Welcome To Georgia

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One of my first homestays in India happened when I was invited in by three sisters in their thirties who lived with their mom (they all had husbands who worked far away) in a very small remote village over 4,000m in the Himalayas (Spiti valley). They had no running water and no toilet but their house was cozy and wonderful and I enjoyed hanging out with the women as they were so curious and surprised to see me out there alone, and wanted to show me their own culture as much as they wanted to learn about my own. We also made ghee – an Indian homemade butter – which was difficult yet interesting.

The Ladies of Spiti

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After a rough day of harassment and problems in India, we hid behind a huge wall in this field after asking a kind and gentle Sikh farmer if we could sleep on his land. A few hours later we woke up scared to death because huge lights were shinning straight on us from afar. Out in the open with nowhere to hide, Kevin and I silently waited with a machete and pepper spray in hand, unsure who was shinning the lights and why they wouldn’t just leave us alone. An hour or so later the lights disappeared, only to reappear as the men jumped over the fence. As Kevin got out to confront them I peaked through an opening only to find two rather large grandpas in colorful turbans and a younger baffled looking man, all of whom were carrying bars and field tools as weapons. Laughing with relief, the two older men started for call all of their relatives to explain the situation while the younger guy (who thankfully spoke English) explained to us that they had seen an unidentified object in the field, and, assuming it was a car full of drunk Indian men, had called for reinforcements; reinforcements being every Sikh village boy fifteen or older who were gathered behind the fence with an assortment of odd objects for weapons, and a colorful collection of turbans on their heads. Since I already trusted the Sikhs in general having been saved by them before, we quickly accepted once the young guy invited us to his place where we were greeted with tea and food by the women (sister, mother, grandma…) even though it was past 2 a.m. Though this is definitely not how we plan to get homestays in the future, it was an unforgettable experience to say the least.

A Slightly Unconventional Night

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In the freezing pouring rain, a van of three Turks pulled over in the eastern part of the country and offered us a ride. Since they didn’t speak English, we used their smartphone translator to communicate, and after an hour, arrived to their office where we were welcomed by their fellow engineers a few of whom spoke English, one of which invited us back to his parents house for the next few nights. While it was snowing outside we enjoyed learning more about the traditional Turkish way of life as we all ate from the same plates on the floor, and met a few of the dozens of family members who all lived on different levels of the house.

A Turkish Homestay
Eating With A Turkish Family

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Caught in the evening with no flat ground for days, and nowhere to go, I was desperately trying to plan how I was going to sleep in some bushes one night when a beautiful girl approached me and signaled for a ride. I rode her around and quickly realized that she lived in the roadside slum as a stern looking women – her mother – was watching us closely. As I dropped her off at home her mother smiled and invited me into tea, and then, eventually to spend the night. Though it was heartbreaking in some way to see the hardships these people face – drunken men, no toilets, and backbreaking work all day – I was also touched that they were so quick to offer what they had to me. A slum, I realized, is just another word for home.

Another Word For Home

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It’s one thing to see rural villages on National Geographic, but it’s another thing entirely to be living in one. Though it’s sort of a long story about how I got there, I ended up in an extremely remote part of far western Nepal where electricity is still a thing of the future and where children have to walk hours if they are to attend school. The the children ran away from me at first because they were so surprised to see an outsider, I quickly gained their trust and spent the nest few days with them running throughout the fields. I experienced more during my three days living in a one room smoky mud hut with a family than in the rest of my journey combined.

Where Time Stands Still
Life in A Smokey Hut

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A young Turkish cyclist contacted me through facebook after following my blog and invited us to his town, where he promptly brought us to his friend’s apartment where we spent a wonderful few days eating delicious food, visiting ruins, and hanging out with the only two cyclist in the whole region. We really enjoyed our stay since we felt truly at home with like minded people who enjoyed the same sort of lifestyle we do.

It Feels Like Home

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Though these aren’t all of our homestays, hopefully these stories will give you a taste of the hospitality we have experienced and convince you that strangers are pretty cool people too!

For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

14 thoughts on “Home Away From Home: The Beauty of Homestays

  1. Love it, love it, love it. I find the poorest places and people are the ones who can give you so much more. The value is not a bright object is who an experience illuminates your soul. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Impressionnant de constater que fréquemment ce sont les gens les plus démunis qui sont les plus généreux! Sans doute ont-ils compris l’importance de partager et de supporter leurs pairs pour survivre dans des conditions précaires. Doit-on en conclure qu’on a tendance à devenir de moins en moins généreux au fur et à mesure que notre condition sociale s’améliore? Avons-nous peur de perdre nos acquis?
    Ça me rend vraiment heureux de constater l’impact que tes expériences de voyage produisent sur ta personnalité. Tu t’enrichis à chaque jour et tu ne seras jamais plus la fille que tu étais en quittant le foyer familial. Tu es en mesures de tester tes limites et de les surpasser constamment. Tu es courageuse et consciente de la chance que tu as de t’immiscer intimement dans la vie de gens qui te sont totalement étranger et qui t’accueillent sans rien demander en retour. Il n’existe aucune école, aucune institution qui ne puisse t’offrir les connaissances et expériences que tu acquiers depuis ton départ.
    Je t’admire et t’envie. Le contenu de ton blog démontre que tu es une personne exceptionnelle: Ton vécu, la profondeur de tes commentaires, tes qualités d’écoute et d’observation, ton ouverture d’esprit ainsi que ta générosité font de toi une personne qu’on a envie de côtoyer!
    Bravo and never give up!

  3. Pingback: Paying-It-Forward | The Wandering Nomads

  4. Pingback: Trail Angles: The Hosts Who Keep Us Pedaling | The Wandering Nomads

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