Homestays can be as comfortable and cozy as going home or as awkward as visiting the in-laws (see part one of this story). Some are bare bones, others are luxurious. All provide a good chance to establish friendships across the world and to see how the locals truly live.
While homestay hosts are notoriously generous, remember to be on good behavior, ask for permission before wheeling your bike into their living room, and make your bed. Always leave a small token of your appreciation (do you really need another race T-shirt?), and send a thank-you card. Never assume meals and transportation will be provided, although they likely will be.
Who can use homestay?
Single triathletes or pairs can easily homestay, but try not to ask for a group deal. Unfortunately for the dedicated age grouper, most homestay programs cater to the professional.
Ironman Lake Placid runs a typical homestay program: professional athletes are referred to volunteer coordinator Sofie Van Olmen, who then consults her list of families who have volunteered their homes. She puts the two groups in contact and lets them work out the details like transportation themselves.
But other races, like Blackwater Eagleman in Maryland or Bermuda Tri-Gatorade, help out anyone who asks. Organizers of Ironman Florida and the Gulf Coast Triathlon try to accommodate both pros and amateurs.
How do I find out if a race offers a homestay?
Call, fax or e-mail the race director or the volunteer coordinator. If the race doesn't offer one, make your own. Call local triathlon associations in the city, or talk to other triathletes. Chicago's Lara Fermanis found out about the Blackwater homestay when she met a triathlete from Arizona at a race in St. Croix.
Also, try a towns local chamber of commerce. Call friends of friends of friends. One sure way to get a future homestay is to volunteer your own home. Chicago's Mrs. Ts asks local age groupers to host professionals. Your guests will likely reciprocate.
How long does it take to arrange one?
Generally, a few weeks, but one day can be enough.
How long can I stay?
It depends on the generosity of your host and the type of race. Most range between two and four days but it can be longer for Ironman-distance races. The longer the stay, the more considerate the visiting triathlete should be.
How much does it cost?
In theory, homestays are free. Pro Victor Plata said the most he ever paid was the restaurant bill when he took everyone out for dinner. Blackwater asks for a $20 fee to cover administrative costs, but for the most part, the programs are arranged by volunteers.
How much money will I save?
Lots. Hotels in the Lake Placid, N.Y., area range from $85 to $170. Add $45 per day for meals and a week stay at an inexpensive ($85) hotel would run about $910. Thats not counting the rental car and all the unnecessary gear you bought at the expo. In Bermuda, hotels range from $150 to $300 a night, though some guest houses can be found for $100 a day. In Cambridge, hotels run $85 and up and many hotels requested a two- or three-night minimum.
What about overseas races?
Homestay is one of the best ways to do an overseas triathlon. When I raced in the Philippines, I simply e-mailed the race director to tell him I was coming and he arranged for transportation from the airport and to the race, sparing me the horror of driving in Manila. He also found housing for me and put me in touch with other triathletes who were happy to show off their country.