For some people, the very idea of inviting complete strangers to stay in their home invokes absolute horror, but for the house swap community it’s a low-cost ticket to travelling the world.
Home exchange is basically like online dating – for houses. You upload your profile to your choice of home exchange websites, and promote its best features. Input basic information such as how many bedrooms and bathrooms and the better websites will allow you to indicate deal breakers such as; children/no children; pool/no pool; internet/no internet and so on.
And in just the same way as you might meet your perfect match through a dating site, there will be a perfect house swap for you. We’ve been surprised and delighted with each of our house swap destinations – all of which have been a mystery to us beforehand. One of the most exciting benefits has been to visit locations we’ve never heard of, and would never have considered for a more traditional vacation.
Can Anyone House Swap?
We’re often asked if you need a fancy mansion in an exotic location to enjoy the benefits of home exchange. We can tell you from experience that you sure don’t! We’re an average family, with an average house, in an average location -certainly not renowned as a tourist haven.
There really is something for everyone out there. From studio flats which double up as holiday lets, through to whole holiday resorts! There’s countryside farmhouses and downtown apartments, beach front shacks and suburban semis. Sure, you’re unlikely to secure a swap with a grand chateau if all you have to offer is a two up two down in a new town.
Swappers do it for different reasons, too. Some swappers will be looking to take their family for a two week vacation to a new country, and hoping to save on accommodation costs. Some will be travelling the world and looking to join up accommodation dots. Others will be returning ‘home’ to visit family after an emigration. There’s as many reasons as there are people …
What if Something Goes Wrong?
Nothing has gone wrong with any of our house swaps so far. I think the closest was when Doris (our GPS) took us to the correct address in the wrong town. For a brief moment, my stomach dropped to the floor as I considered we’d been sent to a false location. But, of course, it was a simple misunderstanding and resolved in less than an hour.
Many house swap membership sites offer some form of insurance which you can use to protect yourself from any mishaps that may occur.
Top Tips to Getting Started
1. Investigate a range of house swap sites and choose a few (possibly as much as 5) to register with. Some sites have more traction in specific countries. We’re currently members of the following sites;
2. Prepare some photographs of your home’s interior for uploading to your profile, but don’t forget to include some of the outside space, the area you live in and some must-see visitor attractions. Some sites only allow a limited amount of photos, so choose those that let your swapper see your living space – photos of individual furniture and wall decorations are not so helpful. Including a photo of you and your family/fellow travellers will personalise your profile and add more credibility.
3. You should also think of yourself as a mini tourist board, describing local areas of interest and must visit attractions in your profile, if there’s space. The aim is to make your house sound attractive enough to appeal to a diverse range of visitors from your preferred destination.
4. Include some personal information about yourself and your fellow travellers . For a lot of house swappers, it’s important to make a personal connection with the people you’ll be swapping with. After all, sharing your most intimate space with strangers is not something you’d wish to do with people whose fundamental personalities and beliefs you find uncomfortable. Link to your blog, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr profiles – or whatever you have - make it easy on yourself.
5. Investigate property profiles in your preferred destination and approach every property owner that meets your requirements. If you don’t speak the first language of the property owner, use a programme like Google Translate to prepare your introductory request in their first language in addition to your own.
6. Respond promptly and politely to all incoming requests, even if you wish to decline the offer. Occasionally we have found ourselves following up an enquiry that we initially turned down.
7. Once you’ve agreed a swap with a contact, re-confirm dates and arrangements for handing over keys and try and stay in touch as often as is reasonable.
8. Make use of any contracts/insurance facilities provided on the swap website. These can make your life easier, and offer as much or as little reassurance/protection as you need.
9. Prepare a House Swap Manual for your guests. Include basic contact information for Emergency Services and other useful contacts like doctor, dentist, pharmacy and such. Remember other useful instructions such as rules for refuse disposal, acceptable phone usage, fuse box and stop cock locations.
10. Your manual should include Things to Do, including where to eat. Don’t forget to include information on activities and locations not published in the tourist guides – sometimes a secret beach or little known pub could be the making of a holiday for your swap guests.
11. We often prepare a gift for our guests, and have been delighted recipients of the same at the other end. Put together a small welcome gift, perhaps with some local produce and you’ll kick-start their adventure on a genuinely positive note. We try and leave out the haggis what with it being date sensitive and all
12. Most house swappers expect to benefit from their exchange partners’ store cupboards to some extent, but don’t take it for granted. We’ve been offered full use of drinks cabinets and freezers in some locations, and found there’s no toilet roll in others. Each will be different, but if you’ve a definite no-share policy or otherwise, then make it clear in your Exchange Manual.
What Happens Next?
13. Enjoy, enjoy and enjoy. Engage with your surroundings and the people in them. Inject yourself (and your cash) into the local economy, safe in the knowledge that you’re not lining the pockets of any faceless corporation. Take care of your surroundings – this is (usually) someone’s precious home.
14. For certain, you should leave their house in the same state you find it. For us, this has always meant leaving it clean and tidy. When we haven’t had time to wash and dry bed linen or towels, then we’ve made sure the beds are stripped, at least, and the dirty laundry beside the machine.
15. Once you’ve completed your swap, don’t forget to ask your exchange partner for a recommendation/testimonial for your profile, if your membership site has such a facility. Providing comfort from past swappers for future swappers can only increase your rating score! I usually write our recommendations first, then send a polite request with a link and suggestion that they do the same.
And if you like, do keep in touch. We’ve made some life long friendships through house swapping – and we’re looking to making some more.
House swapping is a wonderful way to travel the world, and you can make it as big a journey as you like. Flexible family travel – without costing the Earth.
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