"Ooh, I stayed at this awesome homestay in this small-forgotten village of Uttarakhand"
"Really! I also want to stay in a homestay. Hotels are so done."
Phew! The number of times I have heard this conversation in the recent past surprises me. In every small village of a beautiful hill-station, there will be a grand, archaic structure promising you the best holiday of your life. And perhaps, it will be the best holiday of your life. But is there really a difference between hotels and homestays? Well, unfortunately or not, it totally depends on how you like to travel.
No, nobody will wait on you
From the moment you enter a hotel to the moment you leave - there will be a sincere member of the hospitality staff who will do ANYTHING to make you notice him (yes, this does include unnecessary advice, suggestions of random sightseeing spots and a promise to get you the best taxi rates). In contrast, homestays welcome you with a lot of warmth but if you'd like hot tea served to your room and someone waiting on you at all times...err...perhaps not. This certainly says nothing about the 'service' at the homestay but it does definitely say something about the kind of traveller you are (which, by the way, is perfectly fine).
This is not to say that one should stay in a homestay where even your basic requirements are completely missing. Finding the perfect balance is important and the most difficult. You may find umpteen homestays that promise an out-of-the-world experience amidst nature but if there is no running water, no food and no bedding; it's alright if you want to run away.
Depending on the place you have decided to visit, browse through various options, speak to the homestay hosts before you travel, be prepared and carry everything you ABSOLUTELY NEED.
Also, anyone who tells you that homestays are just like hotels - don't believe them. There are homestays, there are hotels and then there are expensive hotels that pretend to be homestays. So do you research well and then make an informed decision, especially if you are travelling to a very quiet town and most of your time is going to be spent in the hotel.
Oh, no salt in your food?
Really? You want to experience nature in all its glory, are looking for some peace and quiet and what do you create a hue and cry about? Less salt in your food and limited food options? Please think about it, is this what a quiet holiday is all about? A simpler way to deal with this is to simply request the hosts for whatever it is that you need BUT please do not give a list of demands - there's only so much a homestay can do.
Hotels have their bad days as well and we do create a hue and cry. Guess what, hotels take back the dish and offer you another one. However, there is a wide difference between the number of staff at a hotel and the number of people working at a homestay. If you don't wish to spoil your evening cribbing about food, the lack of comfort (read: everything you NEED is available), no TV and the myriad other things - book a hotel. NOW.
If you have decided to stay at a homestay, I suggest give it a few days. Look for everything that works for you once you reach instead of finding faults with everything from the colour of the washroom to the chip in the wall - it's alright! As long as the homestay is not falling apart, you are safe (if you are trekking and are in a homestay that is in fact falling apart, it'll be better to stick around).
There are faults everywhere, we are more than aware of that. Wouldn't it be smarter, wiser and oh so much quieter if we see the bright side of things and enjoy the peaceful, hassle free stay at the homestay.
Another thing that stands out when you stay at a homestay is the number of people you meet. Travelling from far and wide, some of these travellers, their stories and their love for travel will show you another world together. This is my favourite bit about staying at a homestay. The candid conversations, the desire to learn about each other's cultures makes for a memorable vacation. The knowledge that you gain from a fellow traveller, no guide book in the world can offer you.
Travel the way you want
Hotel or homestay - when and if you are faced with this question; for the sake of travelling, for your sake, think and think some more. The only way to enjoy a vacation is if you travel precisely the way you want. For most of us vacations are a break from the chaos that rules our life, it's also the desire to see another place, eat awesome food and shop yourself silly. So whatever it is that you are travelling for, be smart. Don't go for a hotel when you are looking for a quiet, unusual experience. Similarly don't go for a homestay if you love the feel of hotel beds, the comfort of an efficient hotel staff and are particular about the kind of food you eat.
Thankfully there are no right or wrong kind of travellers! There are just travellers who are looking for different things and that is absolutely okay. We are being told what to do almost every minute of our professional lives - take a break and holiday the way you want to.