In long experience travelling all over Asia I’ve found Nepal homestays among the most comfortable, safe and clean anywhere. You have to remember however, a homestay experience is a world apart from staying in a hotel. For some people, it may be out of their comfort zone to hang out in someone else’s home, especially when you might not be able to communicate with them easily. Though this can seem a little intimidating at first, especially if it’s your first time or if you’re a little shy, my advice is to go for it as you will probably find it is the highlight of any trip to Nepal. You might need to ask questions like whether there is a time when you have to be back. Sometimes there is an outside gate that will be locked and it can be difficult to get in. When are meals served? In just the same way as if you were staying with your own family, you need to let your host family know your whereabouts, especially if you plan to be away for a while and it wouldn’t be very polite to skip meals without warning. It is important to remember that staying in a home stay is not a budget alternative to a hotel.
Where can you find homestays in Nepal?
A homestay is a private residence that offers accommodation to paying guests. There are homestays all over Nepal, some running independently, but most running as Community Homestays where families work together to host guests. These homestays particularly help women, and the families not only benefit themselves, but the local community.
Many homestays are in rural areas and as well as enjoying the scenery, there are also activities host families can share with their guests, depending on where the homestay is located. From tea gardens to jungle, hill villages, and farming communities there is a wide range of options. For those who do not want to venture into remote areas, there are homestays in some of the historic towns like Patan, Panauti and Tansen and not far out in the Kathmandu Valley.
Homestays differ to hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb as the host family provides meals, organised activities, and other services. They are considered as much more authentic. They provide a more sustainable tourism choice because the local families and communities retain ownership and control over the property, have a much bigger say in how tourism works in their community, and get to keep most of the profits.
How do homestays in Nepal work?
Homestays work in different ways in different countries. In Nepal though some have been started by families independently, increasingly they are being developed on a community basis. Families work together and share the benefits, also helping their local community.
Some homestays have been helped by NGOs like WWF like Dala Community Homestay in Bardia. Royal Mountain Travel and its partners have helped the development of several community homestays like Baurali Community Homestay by providing support to villagers needing to improve their homes to bring them up to a standard needed to host guests.
Although often host family members start off with limited language skills and limited access to the internet, the involvement of their children and student sons and daughters means that this has not been a barrier to the development of the homestays.
Community Homestay.com has been largely instrumental in supporting many community homestays around the country. They also provide help in marketing and booking. Many of the community homestays are now available for booking via platforms like Booking.com and it is recommended to reserve in advance to avoid disappointment. Usually payment is made in cash at the end of the stay.
Homestays booked through CommunityHomestay.com include programs of activities such as guided treks, visits to places of local interest, cooking classes, cultural performances, and so on. Hosts can help guests organise onward transport to the next destination. During your stay, most families are keen to get to know you, but usually the level of interaction you have with them depends on you.
- Breakfast is included in the nightly rate. Depending on the homestay, lunch and dinner is usually included too, but sometimes you can add these for an extra set fee. You should notify your host what time you plan to arrive and whether you want lunch and dinner at the homestay. Coffee and tea are usually free, while alcoholic drinks and soft drinks cost extra.
- Most homestays provide boiled or filtered water that you can use to refill water bottles. They also provide hot water for coffee and tea.
- Bed linen and bath towels are usually standard in the Community Homestays though not always in more rustic homestays you find in more remote areas. There is no need to bring a sleeping bag however and homestays typically provide soap.
- Beds are usually fitted with mosquito nets in the Terai but it is best to bring your own insect repellent just to be on the safe side.
- Nepal homestays have a no-shoes policy inside the rooms and plastic slippers are usually available for wearing indoors. You should wear these whenever you’re inside the house or bathroom.
What should you bring?
You don’t need much but it is useful to bring the following:
- mosquito repellent
- a reusable water bottle
You might like to bring a small gift for your host. Fruit is always a safe choice. Do not get anything too extravagant as this can cause embarrassment. You might find that bringing photos from the home of friends and family, and anything of interest you think someone who has never been to your country might like to see is a great way to break the ice.
Staying at a Nepal homestay usually involves a lot of down time. Bring a good book, and load up your phone with podcasts before you go.
Bring some night clothes in case you have to go to an outdoor bathroom during the night as it would not be appropriated to go out undressed.
When is the best time of year?
Homestays operate year-round in Nepal and are a useful source of supplementary income for rural families outside the harvest season. Individual homestays may be closed for major holidays such as Dashain and Tihar (October-November) but more likely this is when you will be welcome to join the family celebrating the festival with them. Some homestays may be forced to close in extreme weather, especially those in the Terai during the summer monsoon. Though the summer might not be the best time to visit the Terai, but there are other areas in Nepal that are fine. The Spring and Autumn are generally the preferred times to come to Nepal when it is warm and dry. During the winter it gets cold as soon as the sun goes down, but this is also another good time of year to visit most of the homestays.
Code of conduct
You will get much more out of your stay if you can prepare yourself before you arrive and do some research to lessen the culture shock. Don’t expect your host family to constantly entertain you as often they will be busy with their day to day chores. Keep your mind open to things like squat toilets, bucket showers, and having frogs and lizards accompany you in the bathroom. Rooms at your host’s home may be smaller and less private or luxurious than in your home, but expect this.
The government of Nepal has issued guidelines for guests staying in homestays. The list includes not pressuring the host for food, beverages, and facilities that are not available at homestay, noise, inappropriate behavior (such as sexual activities), respecting local rites and rituals, appropriate dress, respecting privacy, no drugs and respect to the environment.
DRESS: Nepal is a very conservative country, so it is important to dress appropriately. Showing your shoulders and your legs above the knees is not the done thing for males or females so it is best to avoid sleeveless tops and short shorts.
EATING: Most Nepalis eat their food with their hands, but don’t worry if you can’t and your hosts will always be happy to provide you with a spoon and fork. You will be always offered seconds of food and tea, which your hosts will expect you to accept. But don’t feel shy to say ‘no’ when you have had enough. And if you are vegetarian, let your family know. Many Nepalis are vegetarian and this is never considered to be a problem.
TOILET PAPER: Toilet paper is usually provided but water is used by local people. If you use paper, be mindful of throwing it away in a small bag as it will most likely block the toilet and plumbers are hard to find in Nepal!
CONSERVE WATER: As Nepal is a very poor country, try to conserve as much as you can, in particular water which is usually in short supply and sometimes has to be carried from a tap outside somewhere. In most homestays in the countryside there are no hot showers and in these places water needs to be heated in a pan or kettle for a bucket ‘shower.’
BEGGING: Avoid spoiling children with sweets. Not only are dentists in short supply, but it tends to encourage children to beg for sweets and gifts in the expectation that every foreigner who comes by will give them something. It is far better to give the parents things to give their children or teacher pens that they can distribute to students.
MOBILE/INTERNET: Some of the villages are located in the hills and do not always have the best mobile phone and internet signal. Many of the homes won’t have internet.
Staying in a homestay is not only a great way to get a close-up insight into the way of life of people in Nepal, it is a way that you as a guest can help families not only economically but in many other ways. Women in particular as the home maker become more empowered. The money they earn from the homestay is often used to help finance their children’s education and to give the family a better standard of living. In addition, the exchange of ideas with foreign guests helps open the minds of not only the guests but the hosts too.