In the hectic world we live in today, it is sadly far too easy to book high cost, low quality accommodation on holiday, due to the lack of other suitable options. No doubt you have had countless disappointing experiences: being cramped into an overpriced hotel room like sardines or visiting a place in a superficial tourist way, unable to experience it fully.
What many do not know is that a great option exists to solve these common issues: home exchange. Unlike ‘Airbnb’ where people offer up their sofa or spare rooms to strangers, it involves swapping your entire home. Even cars, bicycles, pet care and housekeepers are traded to cut costs further. Some people even offer holiday homes, leisure club passes and babysitters!
Home exchange is not only a cost effective alternative but allows you to experience a place in a truly unique way. By living like a local, you can totally immerse yourself into the culture and experience a completely new way of life. The experience goes beyond simply avoiding the popular tourist areas. It enables you to meet exciting like-minded people, broadening your global awareness.
However, sceptics may argue, ‘I’m not letting a complete stranger stay in my home…what if they destroy it? What if they crash my car?’
Trust is the key to any exchange. If you are staying in a stranger’s home, you must do your utmost to respect it. Similarly, they will treat yours in the same manner. Ironically, many initial sceptics become hooked on the concept when, after returning from their first trip, they realise that not only is their house still standing but that it is in an
even more immaculate state than it was left in. Not to mention all the money saved!
Despite this, your first exchange can be daunting. Many recommend getting to know your swappers better via email or Facetime beforehand to boost your confidence. Likewise, if you are anxious, it is sensible to start small by planning a weekend swap close to home. A common question many ask is ‘who would want to stay in my home?’
Although it is important to look for a fair swap, (a person living in an eight-bedroom mansion might not want to stay in a one-bedroom flat), other factors such as location come into play. For instance, a one-bedroom flat may be more appealing if it is in Central London; many people are eager to experience something totally different. Arranging a swap is easy and many home exchange sites offer free trials for around 14 days where you can explore what is on offer.
The beauty of home exchange was that we gained a true insight into how people live in the area, rather than simply grazing the surface
Then, if you want to join, a nominal fee of about £100 per year is required. Many justify this subscription as being roughly equivalent to the cost of a one night stay in a hotel. Online, you post photos and descriptions of your home, location and yourselves. You are then able to sift through the offers and contact potential exchangers – which can be extremely exciting. Although the communication and arrangements can be time consuming at first, once you have done one home exchange, the next is a piece of cake and the rewards far outweigh the demands!
One of the largest home swapping sites on the web is ‘HomeExchange.com’, which claims to have arranged over 1 million exchanges in 150+ countries since it started in 1992. The feedback testifies the amazing, unique experiences of a home swap. One home exchanger online comments, “what started out as a financial agreement has become so much more; we have met some wonderful people and have experienced their world!”
The real beauty of it is the enrichment of the whole experience. It is truly a holiday that allows you to ‘emigrate’ to another country. Having personal experience exchanging in Holland, California, Vancouver and Massachusetts; I can verify that each trip really was incredible and even more enjoyable than the last.
I remember staying in a fantastic ranch style house in Sacramento in 2010, complete with a cinema room, gym, private pool and an enormous garden.
The beauty of home exchange was that we gained a true insight into how people live in the area, rather than simply grazing the surface. I have great memories of going to friends’ barbecues, going to the local organic farms, and cycling down the street with our ‘new’ American friends. Locals, who we are still in touch with, also kindly recommended a huge list of things for us to do (which tourists usually miss).
Overall, I would highly recommend this experience for any keen travellers as it will truly give you a holiday like no other.