5 Places Locals Want to Keep a Secret: Women-Recommended Homestays

Last updated on March 1st, 2021

Entrance to the SWEETS hotel Theophile de Brockbrug near Vondelpark / Photo by: Amanda Burgess

JourneyWomen readers share homestays that help you live like a local

By Amanda Burgess, Editor, JourneyWoman

For those who relish immersion into local life while travelling, homestays, housesits, home swaps, B&Bs and boutique hotels are popular choices over large hotel chains. 

We know that women travellers are seeking the unique; in fact, our most recent pulse survey showed that 65% of women will stay in a small boutique hotel, while 37% will use a homestay. 

These reader-recommended stays take you to different corners of the globe, including Hawaii, Morocco, Canada, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Amsterdam. We’ve also evaluated them using our JourneyWomam Safe Travel Criteria including appeal, reputation, cleanliness, communications, safety, comfort and cost.

(Disclaimer: This section does contain affiliate links, so if you decide to stay at one of these properties, we’d love you to click on the link and book it through our website so that we earn a small commission from Airbnb to help keep the site running. Every little bit helps!  Thank you!) 

1. Maile Treehouse – Volcano Village, Hawaii

4 guests · 1 bedroom · 1 bed · 1 bath
Book on Airbnb

Rented By: Helen D., who lives in Steveston, British Columbia, Canada
Her Selection Criteria: “I look for quiet, cleanliness, and convenience. If it’s a unique accommodation, all the better,” she says. “We never stay in tourist areas, and always look for local neighbourhoods where we can get a feel for the people and culture.”

Her Story:
Ten years ago, Helen D. was looking for a homestay to rent in Hawaii to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband. She wanted something quiet, comfortable and close to unique experiences – lava flow viewing, open-door helicopter ride, Hilo Market.

She found everything she was looking for and more in Maile Treehouse, located in the heart of a small village near Hawaii’s Volcano National Park. “As the description says, this place is absolutely magical! Truly like living in a treehouse. It’s private, quiet and luxurious – so wonderful that we headed back in 2014 for another week!” says Helen.

Touches that pushed the treehouse into dream accommodation territory were the sunken tub, a TV hidden behind a curtain that swivels between living room and bedroom, delicious Kona coffee and every necessity a traveller might seek for downtime – books, games, a great selection of music.

“The kitchen was really well equipped, including a French press, espresso machine and drip coffee maker. For our anniversary, we had a local chef come and make us dinner, after enjoying amazing Lomi Lomi massages from a local masseuse,” she says. “We would head out early every morning and then return mid-afternoon, pour a drink and play cribbage on the lanai, listening to local bird song and looking out at ferns that grew two-stories high. If COVID restrictions weren’t hanging over us, we’d be heading back for our 35th anniversary this year!”

Her Score on JW Criteria:

2. ‘Atlantic” 200-year-old Townhouse – Essaouira, Morocco

8 guests · 4 bedrooms · 5 beds · 4.5 baths
Book on Airbnb

Rented By: Hope P., who lives in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada
Her Selection Criteria: “My husband Charlie is really amazing at smelling out details from rental photos that give him tells as to whether or not a place is a fit for us. Light is one of them – is it a bright airy space? Is there a coziness factor because of the well-curated furnishings and art?” she says. “Cool art usually reflects a cool space. Charlie can tell by a chair if it’s going to be a good place. It’s kind of nuts. He reads the reviews, and it’s all about location, location, location.”

Her Story:
Hope P. has travelled around the world a few times. She loves to travel because it gifts her with an ability to drop into places and cultures and be exposed to different rhythms, people and ways of life.

“When I go to new places, I like to drop into the regular sort of rhythm of that place. I like to be of that place. I like to eat where locals eat. I like to sleep in a place which right in the hubbub of it all and is a local sort of home as opposed to hotels,” says Hope. A few years ago, she spent a year travelling around the world with her husband and two young children Sophia and Alfie with only the first destination – Japan – planned, saving room for exploration and to revisit a couple of places that felt like second homes. For Charlie, who was a point man in Marrakesh for Butterfield and Robinson in his 20s, that place was Morocco.

They’d both visited several times, but not with their children. They wound their way through the country, landing in coastal town Essaouira.

“Sometimes, we had a room for everybody. Other times, we kind of all crammed inside. We would end up spending more if it was a cozy, cool and interesting space in a really great location close to local traffic so we could feel like we were in the right zone,” she says. “This one in Morocco was more expensive and larger than we needed, but the style the curation the location was just so amazing.”

“So basically we go up the stairs and every floor had a different feeling and a different sort of vibe. It was like cozy Little nooks to read in there’s a fireplace Zone. There was a really great functional kitchen clearly a kitchen used by somebody who likes to cook great knives great spices a really good gas stove a long sort of harvest table to entertain people and when I see that I’m like, I just want to be here and cook being close to the market and it with a good place to eat and and prepare food and then above that. Were a bunch of different bedrooms. I think there were five bedrooms and each one had a different style different mood sort of curated by the textiles the color choices. The kids room was super cozy bunk beds. It was just original. It was cozy. It was bright. The only thing that was against it is that we didn’t have enough people to really use it to its full potential. You know what I mean, when you go into a place and you start thinking  “wow, I wish we had a whole other family here to appreciate it with us. “

Her Score on JW Criteria:

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3. Modern Beach Cottage – Seschelt, British Columbia

5 guests · 2 bedrooms · 3 beds · 1 bath
Book on Airbnb

Rented By: Danika C., who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Her Selection Criteria: “One really big bonus of staying in an Airbnb over a hotel is that you can cook your own food,” says Danika. “That’s one of the ways my husband and I like to save money when we travel. We try and eat only two meals a day, so we have a great breakfast at home, just a snack for lunch and then go out and splurge a bit on dinner. Extra points if there’s a hot tub or some kind of water feature – I’m all about the water features.

Her Story:
Danika has taken two round-the-world trips and loves to travel solo because it pushes her out of her comfort zone. “It’s an exercise in self-reliance, solitude, making new friends, and trusting in the universe,” she says. She often gravitates to homestays while she travels as a way to meet locals or have a stay that is unique to the area, such as a Riad in Morocco.

“When I met my husband Myron, we bonded over our love of travel and spent a lot of time pre-COVID planning and taking little adventures to keep us sane between our busy consulting gigs,” she says. “During one of our recent hiking trips, we decided to explore more of Canada and planned a trip to the Sunshine Coast, which is only about a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Vancouver. The purpose of our trip was to get back to nature, turn off for a week an get away from work.”

When you’re pushing yourself – mind, body, spirit – on daily hikes through mountainous terrain, you’re looking for comfort in your accommodations. Danika found it in a beautiful chalet in Seschalt, a town along the Sunshine Coast.

“What really drew me in was the way that it was designed for comfort, the beautiful kitchen, the views of the ocean. The last time I was there, I stayed in a little cabin with no view, so I didn’t get the full experience of being on the bay and enjoying sunsets,” she says. “The washer-dryer was also a must for hiking. When you come home and you’re tired, dirty, smelly, and soaked to the skin, that’s huge. We had some particularly wet hikes because we visited in November.”

The chalet’s biggest wow factors were its huge outdoor firepit, the indoor gas fireplace that ran almost wall to wall in the living room, and the enormous soaking tub that sat opposite a small fireplace in the bathroom.

“Oh god, that soaker tub with the heated floors – absolute bliss after a hike. It was a place that just kept on giving. Everything was well thought out,” says Danika. “I would go back to experience it in the summer. I’d love to see the Skookumchuk Narrows again, especially on really high tide. I’d love to do some more summits, and maybe some hut-to-hut hikes.”

Her Score on JW Criteria:

4. B&B Santa Croce – Florence, Italy

2 guests · 1 bedroom · 2 beds · 1 bath
Book on Airbnb

Rented By: JourneyWoman Advisory Board Member Brenda McCrank, who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Her Selection Criteria: “Cleanliness and privacy (an apartment or room with a fridge), and the ability to grocery shop and cook meals, and the freedom to come and go without curfew are key,” says Brenda. “I like a host that responds quickly, keeps in touch and sends instructions well in advance of arrival (e.g. the day before). If I’m just staying overnight or for a day or two, I’m ok with not having a stove to cook. I read the comments and book with Super Hosts who have dozens of comments that are 98% positive.”

Her Story:
Brenda McC. enjoyed one of her best-ever homestay experiences when she revisited Florence, where she’d attended art school in the early 90s. It was located in the heart of the city, a few blocks from the Uffizi Gallery and a block from her old stomping grounds.

Host Massimo, who studied English in Toronto and now lives in Bangkok, is the main contact for the studio apartment Brenda rented. He responded quickly to all questions via e-mail and messaging and provided instructions and directions. His brother Riccardo lives close to the apartment and their parents run the B&B next door.

“My visit went without a hitch. I kept in touch and was handed the keys as soon as I arrived. Riccardo carried my suitcase up the stairs and into the apartment,” says Brenda. “I was given a quick tour, shown how to use the wifi, air conditioner, washer/dryer, and stove, and given written instructions, books and maps of the area. I was able to ask him questions and was given suggestions for restaurants and told where grocery stores were.”

It was a clean and comfortable pied-à-terre from which to reacquaint herself with the city she’d fallen in love with as a student. She revisited Zecchi’s – the store where all the art students bought their materials.
“They have the most expensive and finest prepared canvas I’ve ever come across. I was so grateful the store was still open and I was able to replenish my canvas and art supplies for yet another decade or two on this visit,” says Brenda.

Massimo’s parents kindly printed out Brenda’s tickets for the Uffizi Gallery, where she was able to revisit her favourite pieces, including Artemisia Gentileschi paintings she’d had the good fortune to see on her first visit. Back then, they were housed in the bowels of the Vasari corridors where only a few privileged were able to view them.

Dreaming of the treasures of Uffizi Gallery? Click here for expert-led virtual seminars on Italy from our partners at Context Travel.

Her Score on JW Criteria:

A cozy airstream with string lights and an outdoor patio table.

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5. SWEETS hotel Theophile de Brockbrug – Amsterdam, Netherlands

1 guests · 1 bedrooms · 1 bed · 1 bath
Book on Airbnb

Rented By: Your Editor, Amanda Burgess
My Selection Criteria: My criteria for rentals differs depending on the purpose of my trip. Sometimes, I’m simply looking for a place to lay my head. Most often, I’m looking to make my accommodation part of the experience, so I go for the unique and talk-worthy. It needs to central, but slightly set back from the hustle and bustle – I need quiet to sleep.

My Story:
In the summer of 2019 took my eldest daughter McKenzie to The Netherlands, which she’d be making her home for a year’s exchange at the University of Maastricht. We started in Amsterdam – where I was able to show her my favourite haunts and reexperience the city through her awestruck eyes – and then journeyed through Rotterdam and Maastrict, where I ensure she was all set up.

At the end of the trip, I headed back to Amsterdam for two days and nights on my own. It was a city I’d visited with my late husband, and I wanted to explore solo as my heart was still grieving. I wanted to stay somewhere near Vondelpark, which he loved, but didn’t need a full apartment. I was looking for the uber-cool and unique. I found both in the one-of-a-kind SWEETS hotel, which has transformed 28 bridge houses on canals across the city into independent hotel suites that accommodate a max of two guests.

Amsterdam’s bridge houses once accommodated the city’s bridge keepers, responsible for opening the bridges to passing water traffic. Built between 1673 and 2009, visiting them in chronological order is a journey through time.

My little bridge house was, coincidentally, built in 1974 – the year I was born. All of the bridge houses’ interiors are inspired by their architectural history. Mine screamed 70s structuralism, brightened with yellow bridge railings and red highlights. The interior was all dark wood, offset by ultra-white bedding and deep red blinds.

Set into a village-like corner of the city, the bridge house is a half-hour walk from the Leidesplein and a stone’s throw from some amazing restaurants and eclectic shops. The building is unlocked using a mobile key app on your smartphone. On my first night, I picked up some dinner, connected to the Bluetooth speaker for some mood music, and watched all the boat traffic passing by until I could no longer keep my eyes open. One of the most interesting stays I’ve ever had!

My Score on JW Criteria:

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Amanda Burgess, a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure, is our Editor at JourneyWoman. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), and a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it.

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