Staying in a hotel is so passe. Pricey hotel stays are a thing of the past among budget travelers, who are increasingly turning to homestay options when exploring a new city. According to Forbes magazine, the number of nights booked through Airbnb, a popular homestay site, grew 1,400 percent from 2009, through 2011. Whether you’re looking to couchsurf and get to know a local or to take advantage of someone’s furnished apartment through Airbnb, having a successful homestay experience is determined by your own preparation and attitude.

1. Do Thorough Research

All of the major home stay websites — Airbnb, Couchsurfing, Homeaway — recognize one primary weakness in their model: travelers need to trust home stay providers, and vice versa. To combat this inherent uneasiness about staying in someone else’s home, the sites offer extensive reviews and other information to aid your choice. Whenever possible, choose a host who has been validated as offering services in the past. Also carefully peruse reviews to see feedback from other homestayers. Was the place clean? Do the pictures accurately reflect the condition of the home? What was the personality of the host? Were there any challenges or bad experiences? Use the reviews to gauge your own interest in a particular homestay property.

No matter how carefully you plan, it’s important to protect yourself first. Consider an identity protection service to prevent credit card fraud or other issues. For example, at Lifelock, identity theft insurance provides reimbursement for travel expenses and document replacement fees.

2. Bring a Thoughtful Gift

If you’re staying with a host in his or her home, as in Couchsurfing, it’s thoughtful to bring a small gift as a thank you. In general, Couchsurfing hosts choose to let others stay in their homes out of kindness and a desire to meet new, interesting people. However, bringing a small welcome gift is a nice gesture. Think of something that represents your hometown or personality. For example, a Texan traveling to San Francisco could bring a jar of his favorite barbecue rub, while a Kentuckian might grab sample-sized bottles of her favorite bourbons. Food gifts and small novelty items are smart options. Remember to choose something small and lightweight that travels well to prevent any luggage mishaps.

3. Be Open to New Personalities and Experiences

When you’re staying in someone else’s home, having a “go with the flow” attitude is a must. Unlike in a hotel, where you can have minimal contact with front desk staff and retreat to the solitude of your room, some level of socializing may be expected (especially in a Couchsurfing experience). Remember that your host’s political views, personality and personal style may differ wildly from yours. Even so, adapting to new personalities and experiences is one of the most fun things about homestays, according to many travelers.

Perhaps you’re an introvert couchsurfing in Munich with an outgoing German man who insists on bringing you to his favorite biergartens. Instead of bowing out, take this as an opportunity to learn more about German culture and swap stories with some new friends. Staying flexible and looking past differences in politics or personal opinions will ensure that you have a fun homestay experience.

4. Return the Favor

Among homestay veterans, building a community of open-minded individuals willing to rent out their homes to strangers is an important value. Opening your own home to guests is a great way to ensure that you have successful homestay experiences in the future. You’ll learn what characteristics make great guests while building your own network of new friends from around the country and the world.

Author Bio: Maggie writes full-time for an online travel magazine and relies on her personal blog for sharing her journeys big and small.