Stay with a host if you're traveling solo

A piece of advice I have for solo travelers is to stay with a local.

The easiest way is to stay at an Airbnb where a host or host family live. The goal is to select people who engage with their guests. Checking reviews and seeing if people mention how hospitable hosts are go a long way towards determining if the host takes a hands-on or hands-off approach.

Once you start your trip and arrive at your accomodation, there’s three types of hosts you’ll encounter.

The first type is a purely hands-off host. They greet you, help make sure you’re set up, and then don’t interact with you. This is the base case. Nothing good or bad about it and you can go along your merry way.

The good hosts will do everything the hands-off host will do but they’ll check in with you from time to time. They’ll ask what you did for the day. Or they’ll see if you slept well in the morning and ask what you’ve planned on the itinerary. These hosts are good because they’re primarily helpful. Leverage these hosts to understand local landmarks or see if you can learn a little more history or culture related to what you’ve seen. Most of the time these hosts are just trying to be friendly so don’t keep them too long.

My favorite hosts take friendliness a step further and engage with guests. They’ll take time when things are winding down to chat. Maybe they’ll ask where you’re from, what you do for work, why you travel, etc. I’ve found hosts are usually curious about the people who choose to stay with them. They’ll want to know what prompted you to visit. And that opens up the chance for you to ask questions too. I usually ask how they enjoy living there, try to get their thoughts on the food scene, what people in the area like to do, etc. If it’s not boring for them, I also try to inquire about their thoughts on the local economy or what they love and don’t-quite-love about their home.

It’s weird to put on paper now because it sounds personal, but some hosts really do want to share with guests these perspectives. It’s like the classic taxi driver case: You get into a taxi and the driver just doesn’t quit blabbing about life with you. Except you’re not in a yellow NYC cab hearing complaints about the taxi medallion market, you’re in a foreign country talking about life in a different culture!

I’ve written about how traveling gives me the opportunity to speak with different kinds of people. There’s no easier way to speak with a local than to get to know your host.

Part of making it all happen is luck. Everyone’s personality is different so you’ll have to select the right host. And part of it is up to you and how great of a communicator you are. It should go without saying that your main job is to listen. When you do, those conversations become less among strangers and more among friends, or at least people who could be friends.

*Obgligatory shoutout to my hosts in Tel Aviv, Jaipur, and Mumbai for belonging in the third category. Dozen of hours of conversation prompted me to share this thought.

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