One of the great advantages of budget travel is that by using local transportation and staying with families who rent rooms, you are in an ideal situation to learn about local lifestyle and culture firsthand.
While staying in a bed and breakfast in Inverness, Scotland, I learned that the homeowner was a social worker who drove around the countryside to check on local senior citizens. That day, his route was to take him by Loch Ness, where I was heading, so he asked if I wanted to go along. It was a wonderful experience. At each country cottage I spent a few minutes chatting with the residents while he checked to see if they had enough food and fuel. If their supplies were low he would slip in some bundles from his car and discreetly remedy the situation.
Years later I found myself stranded in southern Portugal late at night because of a transportation strike. A railroad employee introduced me to a family that would be able to rent me a room. As soon as I stepped into it I realized that a family member had given up his or her room for me. The next day I was introduced to their next-door neighbor, an English teacher. She insisted that I visit her for lunch and spent hours introducing me to Portuguese history as if it were neighborhood gossip.
Accommodations in private houses usually are less than $40. You can find out about families with rooms to rent through local tourist information offices. It's wise to use this route for your own safety, because they should be checked out and registered with the local tourist board. If someone approaches you and says he has a room in his home to rent, ask to see documentation from the local board.
When people go out of their way to make a visit or a stay in a home a special experience for you, make a point to drop them a card from farther along on your trip to thank them again. It will rebound on the travelers who follow you.
Before you leave home, and during your travels, take all the addresses you can of foreign contacts offered by friends and family. Even if they don't invite you to stay, you may have the opportunity to spend an evening in their home.
In Japan, it's possible to arrange home visits through agencies in 18 cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobi and Kyoto. Visitors are given the opportunity to spend an evening (after dinner) in a Japanese home. There is no charge, but taking a small gift, such as candy, is appropriate. Arrangements are made through the local tourist offices. If you want to participate you should give them at least a day's notice.
Programs such as "Meet an Israeli" operate in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Eilat, Tiberias and Netanya. The local tourist information offices arrange visits with families willing to welcome tourists into their homes, but they need at least 72 hours notice to make the arrangements.
Ask at tourist information offices if there are programs available in the country you are visiting.
A word of warning: Although one of the pleasures of foreign travel is making foreign friends, do be cautious about those who seek you out. They may have a different motive.
Sometimes travelers are befriended, then money is demanded from them for "guiding" services. Or, travelers are invited to homes because they are actually attached to shops, and they are pressured to buy. On rare occasions travelers have met someone who pressures them to have the food or drink they are offering, and drugs and robs them this way.