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homestay guy on bedSo you’re off to see the world, starting with Europe. Want to save some cash, score a cheap room and get to know the locals, all at the same time? Homestays might be the perfect answer, writes Maggie Camens in a recent article.

But before you drop your duffle and crash in somebody’s spare room, bear in mind that most homestay sites rank guests (meaning you), so if you don’t have a successful visit, your personal ratings may plummet and you’ll never find a bed again.

To ensure all your homestays are mutually agreeable and everyone walks away happy, check out the following tips:

1. Vet homestay websites carefully

Not all homestay sites are the same, so look for ones that are a good match for your travel style. CouchSurfing.org caters primarily to younger travelers, offering a free couch in almost city in the world. For payment, interesting conversation is usually all that’s wanted from the hosts. HomeAway.com and vrbo.com offer home rentals to travelers who prefer the comfort of home without the owners hanging around. These are great for romantic weekends (more affordable luxury than a hotel) or families with children (space to spread out, plus a kitchen). HomeStayBooking.com offers a hybrid of these two experiences: you stay with a family but pay an upfront daily or weekly fee for the use of a bedroom.

2. Be upfront about your schedule and any special needs

If you have any issues your hosts should know about (such as a severe peanut allergy), make them aware before you arrive so they can accommodate your needs. If you’re traveling with a new girlfriend you met in England, make sure you change your reservation from one to two guests ahead of time. And most importantly, if you want to party all night and roll into your homestay at four in the morning, make sure your hosts are cool with that. The more details you provide beforehand, the smoother your experience will be, for you and your hosts.

3. Protect yourself

As stated earlier, many homestay sites have a rating system for hosts as well as guests. Never stay anywhere that doesn’t have a positive rating. Make sure to safeguard your valuables while in your host’s home, plus it’s a good idea to keep a copy of your passport and credit cards in case they’re lost or stolen. Also, you may want to take advantage of identity theft protection services such as Lifelock.com.

4. Be polite

You may be on vacation but remember, yours host are not, and you’re staying in their private home, not a hotel. If they are having an intense conversation in the kitchen, do not barge in. Similarly, if they are taking a shower or using the bathroom, wait in your room rather than hovering at the door. Plus, you’ll always score points if you offer to help with dinner, clear your dishes from the table, and be first in line for cleanup detail.

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