Live like a local in the English capital for an ‘authentic’ experience of the city
The travellers of the 21st century are a fussy bunch. While hotel chains woo guests with routine deals and discounts, so too is the desire on the part of many visitors for a more 'authentic' experience of their destination. But how do you go about getting an insider perspective on a vast city like London, where anonymity rather than cosiness is the watchword?
For increasing numbers of travellers, homestays are the way to gleaning that all-important personal insight into a location, be it couchsurfing for free or taking over an upscale apartment or house while its owners are away.
With the more luxurious option, your hosts could even create a welcome book of local recommendations – or, if you're really lucky, you might get an iPhone loaded with their picks of eateries and sights in their neighbourhood, such as that offered in London and New York by ‘onefinestay’. Alternatively, you could book an 'orientation chat' with a firm such as the award-winning Context Travel, who will send a local expert to meet you at your London accommodation and spend an hour helping you find your feet in the surrounds. Such services far exceed the knowledge of even the most dedicated hotel concierges or receptionists, who almost never live close to their workplace, and whose suggestions are almost always venues and attractions from guidebooks.
Living like a local in London has become much easier since the royal wedding, the Jubilees, and the run-up to the Olympics, as the city's inhabitants have cottoned onto the fact that their homes can be money-spinners at busy times for the British capital. It's a win-win situation: Londoners top up their income, while tourists get a real home away from home with extra space and self-catering facilities. The visitor also has the chance to immerse himself in daily London life without being just an amused onlooker. In the best cases, choosing a homestay can approximate staying with a good friend in their home city – peeps that know their own area but also the underground, non-touristy parts of the city, such as hidden museums offering after-hours candlelit tours or the best places for cut-price designer fashion.
Another option is to try set up a home-swap with like-minded folk in your destination of choice, via an established firm such as Home Exchange. Such an arrangement gives you access not only to free accommodation suited to your needs but also—ideally—access to your host's social network, enabling you fast-track entry into a community for nothing more than the price of your travel. (www.onefinestay.com/the-unhotel) (www.contexttravel.com/city/london) (www.homeexchange.com)
PICK OF LONDON HOMESTAYS
Jetsetter Homes A by-invitation, members-only travel community offering upmarket rentals of Londoners' homes. (www.jetsetter.co.uk/homes)
Eventful Stays Mid-level offerings tied in with special events, from the Olympics to the London International Wine Fair. (http://eventfulstays.com)
122 Great Titchfield Street A personal welcome in the central London home of an architect couple, self-catering or B&B. (http://coffeeinthesquare.typepad.com)
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