We made our first foray into the world of house swapping this summer. To the raised eyebrows of friends and family everywhere, we let virtual “strangers” live in our home while we lived in theirs, a win-win mutual accommodation solution particularly good for travellers with kids.
Home exchange is a phenomenon that is really starting to take off for those open-minded enough to consider it. It`s certainly not for everybody – having other people inhabit your literal comfort zone is a little off-putting for most – but it certainly worked for us. Here are some of the factors why I`m a home exchange advocate.
Here`s an obvious one. With accommodation costs usually taking a huge chunk out of the family vacation budget, eliminating this pesky expense opens up the purse strings so you can indulge in other pleasures at your destination. We wouldn`t have considered spending the summer in Paris if we had to shell out hundreds of euros a night for a place to stay. Home exchange made this dream a reality.
It`s not just the cost savings that draws people like me to house swapping. Comfort is the main factor. When travelling with children for over a week or two, you need more room than a hotel can give you. Separate bedrooms and living quarters mean everyone can spread out and have space to decompress after a busy day of site seeing. The kids can go to bed when they need to while the grown-ups can stay up, reconnect and plan the next day at their leisure. Having a real home to roost in is so much better than cramming everyone into one room with two queens.
A kitchen is a godsend for preparing the odd snack or meal for a travelling family. We usually had breakfast at home, prepped a picnic a few times a week and made the odd dinner when we weren`t in the mood for restaurant dinner (yes, you can get tired of restaurant fare even in Paris). I certainly didn`t want to spend my Parisian vacation on full-time kitchen duty, but with kids it was nice to have the freedom, flexibility and fridge space to eat in from time to time. This was essential for the budget, waistline and soul.
Any parent can attest to the extraordinary amounts of laundry that are generated by kids, especially kids on holiday who tend to spill and sweat and play a little more intensely than at home. My girls tend to go through at least two outfits a day – can`t seem to down an ice cream without decorating their shirts. Not that laundry was in any way a highlight of the trip, but being able to throw in a load whenever we got down to the dregs was more convenient than trying to locate a laundromat or use the communal hotel facilities. You can pack less knowing you can easily wash at your home-away-from-home.
Speaking of packing less, the beauty of family home exchange is not having to bring a bag full of toys and distractions for your kids. If you can exchange with someone with compatible aged children, you get a house full of toys, crayons, books, DVDs, bicycles and other amenities that make kids feel right at home.
Our particular exchange agreement included the use of each other`s cars (an optional offshoot of house swapping). Our respective insurance companies were given the pertinent details so all liabilities were covered. With kids roughly the same age, we were able to use each other`s booster seats and avoid having to lug those monsters through the airport. Having a vehicle at our disposal changed the nature of our trip for the better. We probably wouldn`t have bothered with the additional expense of renting a car in Paris, but with free wheels at our disposal we chose to make side-trips to Normandy, the Loire Valley, Giverney and more.
Another benefit to this exchange for us was having someone agree to watch over our dog for the summer – a much better and cheaper alternative to putting her in a kennel for two months. Our beloved mutt is extraordinarily good-natured with kids and strangers (not much of a guard dog, I`m afraid) so I was confident that she would be open to strangers coming into her house. Our guests adored the dog and said she was a highlight of the trip for their children!
Aside from these domestic conveniences, what I really love about the concept of home exchange is the chance to live like a local rather than a tourist. I guess it depends on where you go and for how long, but having the chance to stay in a real classic Hausmann apartment in the 8th arrondissement was an essential part of our authentic ooh-la-la Parisian experience. We got to know M. Mohamad at local shop next door, the lady who sold us croissants in the morning, the waiters at the cafes along our street and the kids that played at our local park. It was a residential neighborhood, but still only a short walk away from the Arc de Triumph and the Champs Elysees. It was a perfect launching point from which to explore the city, and a quiet refuge to recharge our batteries after a busy day. I don`t think we would have had the same quality Paris experience if we had stayed in a hotel.
There are plenty of apartments and guest houses to rent around the world that might give you a similar homey experience, but house swapping gives you the chance to make real connections with people from around the world. In the weeks prior to finalizing the details, you really get to know the your fellow exchangers. Bringing someone into your haven – and staying in theirs – is a rather intimate experience that takes a lot of trust, communication and gumption. There`s a lot of back and forth via email and phone to work out the practical logistics of an exchange but you build a friendship in the process, one that possibly endures beyond the scope of your stay. I`m still in regular contact with my new Parisian friends even though our exchange is over. Our hosts were a lifeline to us when we had a medical emergency in Paris (long story for another time) and my ancient high school French was insufficient to discuss anatomical issues – they served as telephone translators at the hospital. I can`t say merci to mon amis enough.
I have a holiday home and so have joined http://www.exchangeholidayhomes.com
There are no complications like first home swaps and it’s free to join as well. I don’t need to find an exchange partner, you can request weeks from all members on the website, it’s simple and it opens up lots of options for me as I don’t have to find someone that wants to go to my holiday home
I have now done 4 exchanges and everyone has been great so far!
Love the article! I am a home swapper myself, and I love the home exchange concept! Recently, I did my home swaps through RoofSwap.com, and met great people to home swap in the future. Continue to spread the home swapping success!