THE MORE packaged travel becomes, the harder it is to meet the local people. Europeans seem to delight in building self-contained complexes where everything is familiar and nothing is left to chance. But if you prefer the idea of meeting local people, help is available.

The Experiment in International Living was established in the US in 1932, and came to Britain in the Fifties. It has developed into an international hosting system which arranges home-stays in 35 countries. 'You're treated like a long-lost cousin,' says Chris Harris, EIL's programmes officer; 'You just muck in and do what the family does.'

Home-stays can be from one to four weeks, and the administration fee varies from one country to another. A week with a family in India costs pounds 141, a fortnight in Mexico is pounds 216, and three weeks in Japan (the most expensive destination) costs pounds 376. Host families may get a small allowance towards the extra cost of food, but never make a profit. 'People do it just for the joy of sharing their home and showing off their country,' says Ms Harris.

Another possibility is to use an existing twinning relationship involving your home town. Sometimes you can make links with people in surprisingly exotic places; Oxford, for example, is twinned with Leon, the glorious former capital of Nicaragua, while Watford is improbably paired with the elegant Russian city of Novgorod.

Experiment in International Living, 'Otesaga', West Malvern Road, Malvern, Worcestershire (0684 562577).