Time to read : Approx. 4 minutes
We’re just back from a short stay in Glasgow over the Easter bank holiday weekend and we’ve been staying in another family's comfortable 3 storey town house for FREE. We’ve never met or even spoken to the people we exchanged with but both parties put trust into the other that their on-line profile and email communication was honest.
Fortunately this time, as with all the other exchanges we’ve done over the past 4 years, they were not sophisticated criminals out to steal our identity (As I imagined on our very first swap !) nor did they leave our place in a messy heap. This was arranged through a home exchange website and it is a fast growing way of enjoying vacations at a fraction of the usual cost. It is hard to pin down exact statistics of this market but to give you some idea one of the biggest online services has over 100 000 worldwide homes to choose from on its site !
COST SAVING is not the only benefit though. We try and pick people who have similar interests to us so that we then have access to each others sports kit - bikes, canoes, racquets, ping pong table, maps, etc. Having the use of a fully functional kitchen makes cooking and eating easy peasy, especially compared to some of the kitchenettes in hotel apartments. If you have children then entertaining them is going to be a whole lot easier with access to somebody else’s intriguing toys.
You can choose to be more of a “local”. Instead of staying in touristy areas you can be immersed in the culture of the place, giving you a true flavour of what the region holds. You may also get to know neighbours, family or friends of your exchangers, which can be a real added bonus.
There are a diverse range of people who offer up their home for an adventure of this type – from city centre studio flat owners to 6 bedroom, hot tubbed, rural mansion dwellers and everything in between !
So trusting is this community that non-simultaneous visits are often agreed. Our very first exchangers were from New Zealand and due to a change in our plans we were not able to go to their beautiful property. They still came to ours. When we were letting these guys into our home we actually wanted to stay around and get to know them better ! They were undertaking a fascinating global project on “happiness” (See www.choicethefilm.com/ ) and were ultra inspiring characters. We now have a few days accommodation in the “bank” for when we are in NZ !
There is no time limit on how long an exchange should be. It’s up to you and the other party. Ever since having children I had always wanted them to experience “real life” in another country for a few months or longer, not just a holiday. Having previously spent a lot of time in Australia myself I knew they would enjoy the outdoor, relaxed lifestyle that many lead there. On a limited budget we chose to go out of season and home exchange (Supplemented with a bit of camping). After receiving a lot of polite apologies “Sorry not at this time” to our requests we managed to secure a month in Adelaide. A single mum wanted to tour Britain with her daughter and use Inverness as her base ! She didn’t mind the distances ! That’s the great thing about home exchanging - you never know what offer is going to turn up. We spent a night with the exchanger before we departed on our trip and discussed all the workings of the house over dinner and a bottle of wine. This gave us a deep sense of confidence in leaving our home to a stranger for this extended period. This exchange turned out to be amazing on so many levels and shaped our view of the real value in being part of the home exchange community.
Often when discussing this topic with folk they are excited by the idea but also scared. Allot of these fears can be easily overcome by good communication. Use facetime or skype to do a tour of the home and get a feel of the type of person you will be swapping with before you agree to an exchange. Ask questions if you’re unsure. Get to know them a little. You will quickly get a feel of whether it could work or not.
Some of the more practical concerns people have :-
· How do I find someone to swap with ?
There are numerous on-line exchange sites all with slightly different slants. Have a look around a few and see which one appeals. You usually pay an annual fee to join and this enables you to connect with others but you can look at properties on offer for free initially. Make your home as appealing as possible with plenty of good photos and detailed info on what’s available.
· What do I do to prepare for their arrival ?
Yes, you do need to tidy up. It doesn’t need to be perfect though, as exchangers understand this is a home not a hotel. Make some space in a wardrobe and free up a drawer for use. Clean sheets and towels are a must. It is really handy if you put together a mini “House and local area manual”, along with some tourist info for the region. If you have any seriously precious bits and pieces it might be an idea to pop those away somewhere safe. On the whole, there is now very little we put away when "swapees" are coming.
· What if they wreck our home ?
Swappers tend to be people like you and so are unlikely to have wild parties and be more busy taking in the local sights. And remember you’re in their home, they will want you to mutually respect their place. Yes, you may have a few accidental breakages just as you might when living in your own house. It’s also a good idea to advise your insurers that you are swapping.
* Can things go wrong ?
As with anything in life there is a potential for misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations. We have had only 1 less than great experience. We had been seeking a very specific city location and were not having much luck in establishing a link with anyone. In the end we accepted an offer from someone to stay in their place whilst they were there. Both parties being in the house at the same time with different agendas proved a little tricky and we both probably felt like we couldn’t really relax. So, we’ve learnt from that and moved on.
To conclude, Yes it does involve a bit of a leap of faith to do a home exchange but the potential rewards are HUGE. At times, it can even feel like you’ve swapped lives not just homes. Our next one is sorted and we’re off to the Swiss Alps to a gorgeous renovated chalet overlooking the mountains.
“What are you waiting for?”
If you have any queries or want to share your experiences of home exchanging then do get in touch.
If you’re short on time I offer a holiday/ home exchange research, planning and reserving service that could be really handy for you. To find out more see www.the25thhouruk.com