THE BEST MEMORIES of my recent trip to Ecuador come from the family in Quito that graciously opened their home to me.
After nearly two months of traveling, home-cooked meals and real beds with clean sheets were just what I needed. Plus, my host-family had lived in Quito for decades and were eager to share their city with me.
I had a deeper travel experience from watching how they lived, and I learned a lot about the city that you won’t find in guidebooks.
Staying with a host family can be such a great experience, it’s hard to know how to thank your hosts properly.
When you thank someone for letting you stay with them, make it more than a gesture. Staying in someone’s home while traveling can give you an intimate glimpse into how others live. Let them know how much it meant to you.
1. Earn Your Keep
Doing a few chores around the house or offering to do some of the cooking will always be appreciated.
Play to your strengths. If you’re a bit of a handyman, offer to fix their leaking faucet. If you’re tech-savvy, have a look at their aging computer.
Don’t make it too obvious, or your host will probably feel bad that their guest is doing housework. Be casual about it, don’t let them think of it as payment – and don’t break anything!
2. Quid Pro Quo
Return the favor by inviting your hosts to stay with you the next time they visit your part of the world. Make sure you leave them contact information that will still be good in a few years.
Then, if they do show up on your doorstep, do everything you can to make them feel as welcome as possible. Even if they never do make it to your neck of the woods, they will probably enjoy exchanging an occasional email.
If you enjoy playing the host, and want to make it into a regular thing, visit CouchSurfing. Sign up and start building your own network of international friends.
3. Share Your Memories
Most traveler’s carry a camera. Take a few group pictures with your hosts. When you develop those photos back home, make sure you send a few copies to your host family.
With most of us using digital cameras, the easiest (and cheapest) way to share photos is by e-mailing the files. However, mailing prints will probably be more appreciated.
Either print and mail them yourself, or upload the files to a website that will send the prints. I have used Winkflash, but there are many others.
4. Bring A Gift From Home
Gifts from your own hometown always go over well. Pack some small, nonbreakable gifts before leaving home. Find something that they are not likely to have where they live. On your last day with your host, give them something to remember you by.
Little flag pins or key-chains will work, but the best choice is something more personal. If you have a creative hobby, then give them a sample. Woodworkers, crafters, and other artists have many options.
5. Do Some Research
If you’re going to buy a gift locally, find out what items are considered appropriate in the culture you’re visiting. A certain color of flower may look great to you, but giving it out of the proper cultural context can be an insult to locals.
Some seemingly harmless gift items may be associated with funerals and death. Often guidebooks can give you advice on local taboos. Better yet, ask around the neighborhood market for ideas.
There might be other local customs regarding gifts. Make the effort to know these ahead of time. For example, if you know that in some cultures it’s polite to initially refuse a gift, you won’t be worried when your host turns down your gift the customary number of times.
Research helps here, but don’t worry so much about offending someone that you freeze up and become overly formal. As a foreign guest, you won’t be expected to know every little detail about local etiquette.
6. Treat Your Hosts
Take the family to a movie. Take them to a museum. Ask them which local restaurant is their favorite, and then make reservations.
Even though they may have constant access to the sights in their city, they probably don’t take advantage of them as often as they would like.
Something as simple as going to the bar where your host is a regular gives them a chance to show you off a little to their friends. Remember, you are just as exotic to the local as they are to you.
7. Don’t Overdo It
Expensive gifts and shameless gushing will only make your host uncomfortable. They are not expecting money or jewelry, and will turn them down.
Friendship, interesting conversation and the satisfaction of being a good host are what they really want, so keep smiling and always say thank you!
What are some ideas you’ve used to say thanks? Share in the comments!
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Theodore Scott is an engineer who lives in Boise, Idaho. He recently quit his job to travel around South America with his fiancee. Theodore tried, unsuccessfully, to marry her in every country they visited. His website is at www.theodorescott.com.