If you want to really experience the world as a traveler, you have to make the effort to meet each country’s culture, find out more about its citizens’ everyday life and learn about their aspirations. You know, there’s more to taking your standard #followmeto snaps and other instagrammable moments when traveling. I wouldn’t imagine any better way to do it than staying in homestay guest houses and using public transport and independent drivers along the way.

Having just returned from a backpacking trip through Sri Lanka, I felt the need to tell people more about the places I stayed in and what made them so special. You see, I stayed in local guest houses all the way, and if you ever make your way to the “Tear of India” yourself, I urge you to do the same! Let me tell you why…

There is no better way to immerse yourself in Sri Lanka's culture and get to know its locals, than staying in a local homestay guest house. Here is why!

Meeting the people of Sri Lanka

When you stay at a homestay guest house, you will naturally have various encounters with the owners and the staff (if they have any).  This means that you’ll sit down for a chat, find out more about their story, how they started and how they ended up hosting you. If you are lucky, you might learn about their dreams and their plans for the future.

It doesn’t require much effort; just listening is enough. Finding out how each culture is inspired, and what it aspires to, is the biggest gift of traveling. During your stay, you won’t feel rushed to go out. Staying in for a chat is a part of your experience.

Unfortunately, it makes checking out so difficult, but at the same time it leaves you so satisfied.

There is no better way to immerse yourself in Sri Lanka's culture and get to know its locals, than staying in a local homestay guest house. Here is why!

Getting the real deal – the best food in Sri Lanka

Have you really experienced what Sri Lankan food is all about if you haven’t tried a local curry or Rotis made in a guest house or at least a non-touristy restaurant? The bonus of eating at a local homestay (rather than a local restaurant) is that your host will be more considerate when cooking for foreigners (especially when it comes to spicy food) while at the same time still keeping it authentic.

Our host at Hotel Tobiko in Trincomalee prepared the best take-away Rotis we had in the whole trip. They kept us going on our way to Habarana!

Supporting the locals of Sri Lanka

Whenever you travel in developing countries, you know you are bringing some much sought-after cash to the country. Naturally, if you stay at a guesthouse you are giving that money directly to the family and not to some foreign-owned hotel chain.

Wait until you get told that “when you are happy, we are happy as you pay for our living” or “we just started and getting positive feedback shows that it was the right decision to make”.

Value for money?

If you’re used to South East Asian budget standards, where you can get a 3-star hotel with a swimming pool and rich breakfast for $10 a night, then Sri Lanka will need some adjustment from your side. Accommodation in Sri Lanka is often lower quality and most of the time higher in price than your standard backpacking destination in Asia. But bear with them while they gain experience with every traveler they host.

For a good and clean guesthouse including breakfast, in a good location and with A/C and hot water you are looking at around $25 dollars per night. However, prices vary depending on the area. It might not be as cheap as the likes of Thailand, but you get the real deal!

Here are some of my favorite homestays:

Grand Kalundawa Water Front in Dambulla

Mount Blue View Inn in Ella

Redhill Kandy in Kandy

Hotel Tobiko in Trincomalee

Remember, some of your hosts will have basically transformed their houses into homestay guest houses once they saw potential in the area. If you’re lucky, your hosts will have some pretty epic views!

There is no better way to immerse yourself in Sri Lanka's culture and get to know its locals, than staying in a local homestay guest house. Here is why!

Morning view from our balcony at Redhill Kandy

Getting around in Sri Lanka

Local transport really affects your overall experience of Sri Lanka. The trains are very good, but the routes and departure times are limited. If you are organized enough they work just perfectly though. You travel just like a local and get to experience the most scenic routes in the world – do not miss the route from Kandy to Ella through tea plantations, jungles and water falls.

When public transport was inconvenient or unavailable, we hired drivers. However, I would really not recommend hiring a driver for the whole duration of your trip. You miss out on using public transport, meeting new people every day and also you miss a part of the adventure – especially in such a tourist-friendly country. In addition, it’s way too expensive!

All of the drivers we met were lovely, and again, we got the chance to learn their story, we chatted about what they think of their country and politics. We were even lucky enough to meet one of our driver’s family and have lunch with them unexpectedly. That was, truly, one of the highlights of our trip!

Next time you find yourself traveling, go a bit more local and a bit less touristy. Staying at local homestays, guesthouses and chasing local modes of transportation really made our trip to Sri Lanka. I promise that for you, it will also change everything!

Have you ever stayed at a homestay?

This is a guest post by Chara Anaxagora.

Chara was born in Cyprus and flew away to Britain at the age of 18. During her first backpacking trip, she realized what the craze was about and promised herself she’d never give it up. She likes taking millions of photographs and enthusiastically giving too much information to everyone about her travels. Chara shares her thoughts with the rest of the world on her Instagram @c.anaxagora.