Best free apps for traveling 2019

Are you dreaming about your next holiday? Or maybe you’ve already booked it? Going on an exotic trip around the world? Whatever you are going to do, it’s always handy to download the right apps on your mobile or tablet, so you’re well prepared on the go. Here are ten handy free apps for traveling.

Rome2rio: best free travel app for itineraries

This is seriously one of the most amazing free app for traveling. Download Rome2rio for finding transport links, even in the most remote places. Type in where you are and where you are going and you get a list of options for bus, train, flight and self-driving.

best travel apps 2019

Prey: free app to track your devices when stolen

With Prey you can secure your smartphone, tablet or laptop. This allows you to track multiple devices if they are stolen or lost. GPS and camera images can be used to restore a lost device. You can even erase your devices remotely.

Google Drive: back up your holiday photos

Speaking of data security, make sure you back up your files. No more excuses that you have lost all your photos. One of the most essential free apps for traveling. Make sure you set up your phone to sync with Apple iCloud or with Google Drive (or with a competitive service such as Dropbox or Microsoft Onedrive). You get 15 GB for free with Google Drive.



Google Translate: your pocket translator

This translation app has been my go-to app since moving to Spain. Perfect for helping you out in a foreign language when words fail. You can not only translate text by entering it manually, the app can also translate a conversation or display a translated text from a text in an image. Google recently switched to translations based on machine learning, making the results much better, especially for difficult translations like Japanese to English. Do not forget to download the dictionaries for languages ​​that you need during your trip, for offline use!

best free apps for traveling 2019

XE Currency: handy free app for traveling

The best way to avoid paying too much abroad (or just making expensive mistakes) is to always have the latest exchange rates at hand. XE Currency works without connecting to the internet to work.

Hostelworld: find the best budget hostels

Hostelworld is the largest hostel booking site, so if you are a budget traveler, chances are you will use this app a lot. One of the must have free apps for traveling if you are backpacking around the world or looking for a cheap place for the night.

Duolingo: learn a foreign language while traveling

What is a better time to learn a language than when you are completely submerged in that language during a trip? Duolingo is one of the travel apps that makes language learning fun by adding game-like scores and progression systems. It is free and it is excellent for learning the basics.

best free apps for traveling 2019

Anti Mosquito: handy free app for traveling

Nobody likes mosquitoes, right? They can make your life miserable at home and on holiday and some of the more exotic ones are also quite dangerous (think malaria and dengue fever). With Anti Mosquito you supposedly chase away mosquitoes by transmitting sound frequencies of 19 kHz and higher. Whether it works perfectly? I can’t tell yet, I’ll get back to you on that! In any case, it is one of the more unusual apps for traveling to try out. I do recommend you keep using your usual sprays too though!

Split Bill: no more arguments over money

Anyone who has ever traveled with a group of friends knows that splitting the bill can cause a bit of a headache. Fiddling with notes and coins and quibbles between the one who only had soft drinks and the one who ordered six gin and tonics. To avoid that in the future, the Split Bill app is a great free app for traveling. Discussions, paying too much or too little: it’s all a thing of the past. Everyone happy!

MAPS.me: best free travel app for offline maps

MAPS.me is another one of those great free apps for traveling. This mobile app allows you to download map data for a country or region, so you can also use it if you do not have 4G or Wi-Fi.


Vintage furniture in a new built home: house tour

I decided to do a little house tour today, of our rental home in Spain. It is usually a mess, as anyone with young children knows it is an eternal war zone living with too many toys – and very small boys. I took these photos recently so we could advertise our house on a holiday home exchange website. (Whether you sell your home or otherwise promote your house, tidying up for the photos is a must!). Here is our eclectic mix of vintage furniture in a new home.

Boho decor in new house

It is in some ways funny to see our vintage furniture in a new home, as supposed to our old 1930s granite house in Scotland where we were before. Still, it was surprising how it somehow looks as if it belongs here. The white new built box we live in now provides a nice blank canvas to show off our vintage furniture and artworks.

The design of our rental house is almost modernist in a way, open plan, with a mezzanine opening to the next floor. Large windows. We love the style of architecture, although with two noisy boys you can imagine sound travels easily in such an open space! It is also quite a cold house in winter, with any heat going straight upstairs. Nevertheless, it is a great, spaceous home for us to live in right now.

vintage furniture in new homeboho decor in new house

Midcentury sideboard in a new built home

We added a few pieces of furniture we didn’t have before, including the white lights above the dining table. We also added a vintage painted sideboard to our interior, which we bought from Back to Life Furniture in Aberdeenshire, just before we left last year. As we had a giant artic truck coming to move us to Spain, we decided to make use of it! I love the way Lynsey painted the drawers and outside of the midcentury piece white and adding with subtle stripes to the doors, changing the look completely.

Vibrant paintings in a Spanish home

We also brought quite a few large paintings and framed prints to Spain. The vibrant painting of the jazz band above the sideboard I always loved, but it never looked quite at home in Scotland. Just a bit flamboyant. It is by a South American painter called Yvonne Mora and it looks so much more at home in Spain! I am so glad we kept it. It means even more to me now I have found a new Spanish band in Valencia and continue to sing (in English though, my Spanish is not up to singing standard yet!).

The large green artwork behind the dining table is a 1966 original print by the late Aberdeen artist Pauline Jacobsen. I once bought it at auction for just £25… I instantly loved the midcentury feel of it and I am so glad we now own it. It is one of two…I wonder where its twin is…? Does anyone know?

No hallway? What about the shoes!

As with many Spanish houses, there is no vestibule or hallway. You open the front door and you’re straight in! This means tidying up is pretty vital in the entry area, with jackets, shoes, cycling helmets and school bags. I bought a coat stand and recently decided to move one of my vintage chests of drawers downstairs as well, to help keep most of the stray stuff out of sight. I think the vintage furniture in our new home goes quite well. The painting above it? Another wonderful Scottish artwork (by Ian W. Paterson) I found on one of my treasure hunts, at a book fair this time.

vintage pieces in new home

boho decor in new house

A large sunny loft space

One of the perks of this new built house in the suburbs of Valencia is its large attic space. It has become a very versatile room, for the kids to play in as well as for guests to stay. Our cat also loves it up here. Peaceful! Sometimes – when I feel disciplined – I roll out my yoga mat once the kids are at school and before I start work. I open the door onto the roof terrace to let the sun in. Bliss. In summer it turns into an oven up here, but right now in winter it is pleasant and warm.

mustard yellow bedroom

Craving for colour

Living Spain has made me want to use more bold colours in my interior. I probably wouldn’t have chosen these bedroom curtains back in Scotland, but here they look fabulous in the bright sunlight. The vintage mustard yellow Welsh blanket is only used in the winter months, as it’s airconditioning on and thin sheets all summer! The artwork above the bed is a relief print by Scottish artist Francis Boag.

mustard yellow bedding

As we are renting this house, it is tricky to make it completely our own. I probably would change a few wall colours or be a bit more adventurous with putting up shelves and pictures, but I mainly used existing picture hooks. The walls are also different here than in the UK and much harder to drill into. Don’t want to make a mess of it! We did use some heavy duty Command strips to hang up white board and pictures on the tiled wall in the kitchen.

white kitchen cabinets

Rescue plants from Scotland

The terraces are filled with mediterranean plants. It even has two plants I once rescued from a dark old house in North-east Scotland, when I was on one of my vintage furniture buying trips. It turns out that they are a money plant and a rubber plant, both native here in Spain. They are literally growing arms and legs and obviously very happy to be in their natural habitat.

mediterrenean garden ideas

roof terrace ideasbalcony ideas

How to create the perfect gallery wall layout

Art is my go to ingredient whenever I want to refresh my decor. I always seem to change pictures around! But a beautiful artwork can really make a difference in your home. How do you style your home with art? Here are some inspirational ways to group art together and create a gallery wall layout. Find some ideas to display pictures, frames, prints and paintings large and small, around the house.



Forgotten corners: turn them into galleries

Image: pinterest

Hang it like you play Tetris

We all have places in our house we don’t really use for anything. Maybe part of the hallway or a corner in the living room. Give these empty spots a job and some interest and use them for displaying art. Floor to ceiling, combine small and larger frames and create an eye catching mini gallery. Start with the bigger frames and fill up the spaces around it with smaller ones. It’s like playing Tetris!

Image: pinterest

Group colours or themes together

Got a batch of black and white photos? Maybe some pencil sketches and drawings? Or some monochrome abstract prints? Combining art in similar colours can produce a striking result. You can create a beautiful gallery wall layout like this.

Buy these six prints as a ready made collection on Etsy

Set of ten monochrome prints ready to buy on Etsy

Gallery wall print set
Set of three mountain prints on Etsy

It doesn’t need to hang perfectly

I know a lot of people get nervous when thinking about hanging multiple frames together. How do you get them in a straight line? If you are one who cares about perfection, check out this tutorial. Otherwise, relax! Frames don’t need to hang perfectly straight if you are going for the ‘boho’, eclectic look. They look good anyway. If you’d rather have a perfect grid, scroll down for some layout templates. Best thing is to lay out all frames on the floor first to decide on what goes where. Then, measure from the top of the frame to where it hangs from, to know where in the wall to put the nail. (Don’t want to use nails? I use some great alternative picture hanging strips in my rental just now!)

Gallery wall ideas
Image: pinterest
ready made gallery wall set
Buy this gorgeous ready made set of five prints on Etsy

Gallery Wall Layouts

Do you like to know what you’re doing? Need a bit of guidance? I understand. Here are some Gallery Wall Ideas and suggestions for layouts to help you figure out how to hang art on your wall.

Gallery wall grid
gallery wall set
This set of six can be purchased on Etsy

Your taste…makes a great collection

You know what? As long as you buy what you love, you’ll probably find that the art you own goes pretty well together and makes a fabulous, colourful group on the wall. Gather lots of smaller framed pictures and one or two larger ones and create a cloud of artworks on one wall.

Not got enough art to do create a gallery wall layout? Try framing some beautiful wallpaper, fabric, a vintage photograph or eye catching concert poster. Or how about some cute abstract scribbles from your children? Anything goes when putting your colourful creative gallery wall together. Don’t be afraid, just try things out. You’ll be surprised how good things look in a frame.




How to hang a picture

The perfect all-in holiday for young families

It is February, which for many of us still feels like the middle of winter. Everyone is longing for sunshine and springtime and dreaming of the summer vacation. This month is the ideal time to start planning ahead and grab some good deals for your next holiday. A friend of mine asked me recently whether I could recommend somewhere to go as a young family. I remembered the resort we booked ourselves two years in a row on Tenerife and for good reason. As a mum of two active small boys I know what it’s like to be in need of a well deserved break, and this place ticked a lot of boxes. It has an outdoor soft play….and a spa!

Be Live Costa Los Gigantes, Tenerife

We never ever thought we would enjoy an all-inclusive holiday, travel snobs as we are, but when we caved in one year, we booked again the next. And to the same resort, what were we like! Be Live Family Costa Los Gigantes, on Tenerife. The first time we went, we had a toddler and a baby in tow and we were quite frankly, exhausted! If you have ever traveled with small children, you know that you often wonder why on earth you even make the effort. To just stay in one place and not having to think about logistics, money, meals and laundry for a week was amazing.



It’s a big resort, with hundreds of rooms. The room we booked was a large family room with a lounge (sofa bed) and separate bedroom. The buffets were very good quality, and all fresh, despite having to serve hundreds of people and such a large hotel. It had something for everyone and enough choice for picky eater too. In between the mealtimes you were able to get snacks and drinks from the poolside bars as well as small meals, fruit and yogurts for hungry kids.

Other things it has are free wifi, a laundry service, a few shops and theatre (with some cheesy shows, but hey, the kids loved it). As in many resorts, there are also many daily activities, such as yoga, tennis and other fitness classes. And a high rope and zip wire for the older children.

Be Live Los Gigantes
Be Live Los Gigantes review

eat, play, swim, nap, repeat

The swimming pools were great for all ages, including a nice bit for babies and the resort was big enough to go for a wander around. The main pool was a a bit lively at times with music and entertainers doing their bit, but there were plenty of other spots you could spend the day. There is a quiet pool on the other end for those wanting to enjoy a bit of zen.

At the resort, we just ended up doing the same boring round each day: breakfast, then down to the outdoor soft play area (where we often met other nice parents from various places around Europe – all in the same phase of life). Then we’d have a splash in the pool, go for lunch, have more pool time or just a nap, and then if we made it, dinner. It may sound like a nightmare for people with no kids, but for it was exactly what we needed!

Best all-inclusive family resort
We spent many hours around this place! Just take a book and your sun screen and relax while your children burn off some energy.

I used to be a backpacking adventurer and we probably will be in the future, but in this phase of our life it was just bliss to be looked after and have a proper rest. I would recommend this place for any of you with children, and especially young children.


Disclaimer: this article includes affiliate links to the hotel website. As with all product reviews, I only recommend things and places I would use myself. In this case, I went twice!

Product review: Abeego beeswax food wrap

The beeswax food wrap is a great alternative for cling film or foil. I have been meaning to try these types of wraps out for ages, so I was very happy when the Ethical Superstore asked me to do a review for them. I am pleased to say, they are not only pretty easy to use, they also smell great! As I want to cut down on the amount of plastic waste in my home, I’ll definitely be using these from now on.

exclusive reader Discount code

Want to make use of a great discount offer? You get £3 off your first order (no minimum spend and you can use the discount for other products too).

Just use the exclusive code X3NNA. Offer ends 31/3/2019. www.ethicalsuperstore.com

Product review Abeego Beeswax Food wraps

I am reviewing the Abeego beeswax food wraps from Ethical Superstore today, which come in different packs. I am reviewing the pack that contains three Abeegos – small (18 x 18cm), medium (25 x 25cm) and large (33 x 33cm), priced at £15.00. They have other sizes, a pack of six and larger packages too. The Abeego is a sustainable food wrap made from certified organic cotton and hemp, and keeps food fresher for longer. Another big plus? They come in a recyclable cardboard box, rather than plastic wrapping (you wouldn’t believe how many ‘eco-friendly’ products do!)

Antibacterial properties to keep food fresh

Although the idea of reusing something to cover your food may sound a little unhygienic, the Abeego beeswax wraps are in fact coated with tree resin for its natural antiseptic properties. In addition to that they contain jojoba oil which is anti-fungal and of course the beeswax which is naturally antibacterial. All good and natural! As Abeego is made from a cloth material rather than plastic, it will allow the food to breathe and naturally age, preventing mould and keeping leftovers fresh.

Beeswax food wrap review

What do you use beeswax food wraps for?

The Abeego beeswax food wraps are great for wrapping sandwiches, fruit and veg for picnics or lunch. If you have leftover dinner or salad, the wraps are also perfect for covering your dish or bowl before putting them in the fridge for next time. Basically, if you would use cling film for it, you can use a beeswax wrap.

How to care for your beeswax food wrap

Don’t use warm water when cleaning your Abeego beeswax food wraps! Just wipe clean with cold water and a little bit of gentle soap. Using warm water could cause some of the beeswax to rub off. When cared for properly, your Abeego wraps can last for at least over a year. After a while the wraps can contain some stains, as it is a cloth material and staining is likely but this will not affect its performance. Please note that tree resin and beeswax are soluble in alcohol so use alcohol free dish soap to wash your Abeego. Dry them with a towel or hang over a dish rack. Abeego is not suitable for the dishwasher, microwave oven, direct heat or high temperatures.

Moving to Valencia with kids: where to start

We moved to Valencia in February 2018 and have now been here almost a year. Valencia is becoming quite popular with foreigners moving to this wonderful city and I think we are all struggling with the same questions. Moving to Valencia with kids means questions around schools, family friendly neighbourhoods, healthcare and other issues. Where to live, which schools to choose and where to start with your paperwork.

valencia expat tips

So how do you organise an international move like this? Where do you start when moving to Valencia with kids? When still living in Scotland, where we came from before settling in Valencia, we were already planning our move for about a year beforehand. Once we picked our destination, I did a lot of research online, printed out info about neighbourhoods and schools and I joined a number of online forums and facebook groups. Some useful groups to join beforehand are:

Internations

Internations is an international forum for expats all around the world.There are free and paid for memberships and I chose to pay for a basic membership for six months, to get access to the forums and being able to ask questions to other members. It was worth it, as I ended up making a few great contacts and even friendships, before we even moved. To already know a few people in Valencia who had made the move before us, felt comforting and reassuring in the run up to our actual move.

Facebook groups for expats in Valencia

This is a bit of a hit and miss in my opinion, because there are all kinds of people in these groups, from all walks of life and each with their own very personal opinion. Ask a question about schools – or anything really – and you are often none the wiser. Still, you may get the odd gem of information or end up making a few contacts who you are on the same wavelength with.

Type in ‘Expats in Valencia’ in the search bar and you’ll get a number of groups you can join. If you are a mum with children under the age of 14, the (private) group Bumps and Babies has been the best source of support, information and friendship in my opinion. If you are a ‘digital nomad’ or you run your own business, the groups Valencia Coffees and Co-working and Expats and Business in Valencia have been useful for me to make contacts and even find some freelance work.

Handy maps to buy: know your whereabouts

I love maps and I am very happy we bought some before we moved. We stuck them on our wall in the study and used them to circle our favourite neighbourhoods, school locations and potential places to move to. It really helped to narrow down places to look for accommodation, as well as to understand the city and surroundings, distances and the whole region better. These maps were very good in my opinion:

Michelin map Valencia spain
Valencia region michelin map


Schools: where to start?

Moving to Valencia with kids means you have to find schools. Many parents worry about this as of course we all want to do the best thing for our children. Most of us expats are worried about the kids struggling with the Spanish language and school system and maybe not thriving. Most kids do perfectly fine though and pick up the language in no time, especially when they are young. It is good to prepare yourself for an initial adaptation period which requires a bit of extra love and support from the parents (we had this too! Read my post about that here).

International, bilingual or Spanish?

There are a LOT of schools in Valencia. I don’t think there are many other cities where there is such a vast choice in public, semi-private and private schools; Spanish schools, bilingual schools, American schools, French schools and British schools; and then there is the choice of curriculum. My advice? Write down your criteria for a school and don’t let yourself get caught up in the heated online discussions about which school is best. It is VERY personal and what works for someone else may not work for you.

moving to valencia with kids

My other bit of advice? Visit a number of schools beforehand so you get a good idea of the different facilities, atmospheres, etc. Many expats end up choosing one of the big private American or British schools, but your children may actually be just as happy in a public Spanish school (which could save you a ton of money and your kids may end up speaking Spanish a lot quicker). It all depends on what you want for your family.


moving to Spain with children
This is handy book with lots of useful advice on how to move to Spain as a family with children. Recommended! 15,44 € BUY

Catchment area

One thing to remember is that to get into a public or semi-private school (called a ‘concertado’), you will need to live in the catchment area as the local municipality will decide whether your children get a space or not, if they have availability. The private schools do not have this criterium. Alhough you can try and get into a school all year round, the general enrollment time is one week in May, where you can apply for a spot in the schools of your choice. Your local municipality, wherever you end up, will have the dates on their website around that time.

Valencia school enrollment information

Check out my post about schools for our own story.

Healthcare in Spain

Public healthcare

As an expat arriving in Spain you will not be able to join the free public healthcare system unless you have a Spanish work contract and are an employee. If you are registered as an autonomo (self employed) person and are paying into the social security system you also have access.

Private healthcare

So what most do, is get private health insurance which then gives you access to the private hospitals. We have done this for our family. To give you an example, for our family of four we are currently paying about 200 euro per month with Adeslas, one of the main insurance providers. We have been happy so far as you get very quick appointments with any specialist in hospital and good care overall. The public system however is also very good in general, but of course, waiting lists are a little longer than with private healthcare.

VALENCIA expat tips

Accommodation in Valencia

Now, where to find a house! Again, a bit of research beforehand is useful, so you can narrow down the areas you would like to focus on when house hunting. Most expats start renting first, which is a good idea as you just don’t know how you’ll feel until you’ve lived somewhere for a while. With that in mind, it should take the pressure off a little bit about whether a flat or house is perfect or not. As more people are moving here, great rental homes are becoming a little more in demand, so prepare for having to be a bit more flexible with your preferred location, budget or space criteria.

Renting an AirBnB to buy time

For us, the main criterium was location, because we wanted to have our children in a certain semi-private school, so we had to live nearby. We were lucky to secure a rental agreement on a house before we actually moved, but many expats rent an AirBnB for a month or longer when they arrive after which they take their time to figure out where to rent or buy.

Property websites for homes in valencia

The main websites to look on for houses are Idealista and Fotocasa, although there are others too. These two have the largest amounts of property advertised. Most estate agents will ask for one month of administration fee. They will also ask for at least one month deposit. Some landlords require a few or more months rent up front if you can not yet provide enough proof of income or have only just arrived here. Private landlords will not ask for the administration fee, but a deposit and some rent up front is usually standard.

Hiring help: a relocation agency

It can be useful to hire someone to help you with all the paperwork. It can take a lot of headaches out of the process and you will save a lot of time. We hired an agency and it was worth every euro. They helped us set up a bank account, arranged all house viewings, organised rental agreement and liaised on our behalf, set up the internet and accompanied us to acquire our NIE number (tax number) and Empadronamiento (registration with the local council). These last two things are essential papers to get as soon as possible as you’ll need them often.

Moving to Valencia was the company we hired. We still hire them for help sometimes when we need that extra bit of reassurance when tackling the Spanish bureaucracy. They have a lot of information on their website about how to organise paperwork like NIE, how to find accommodation, articles on neighbourhoods and more. So even if you decide to do it yourself, it’s a helpful site.

Valencia city guide lonely planet

The most beautiful art for kids rooms

Are you looking for some beautiful art for kids rooms? No room is complete without some art on the wall and you can’t start them young enough! There is so much whimsical art for kids available nowadays and what better way to encourage their imagination than to add some art to their bedroom or nursery? And you really don’t have to limit yourself to cute bears, unicorns and balloons. Children are very good at looking at art with an open mind and a lot of joy. They love discovering shapes, faces and all things weird and wonderful in an artwork or poster.

I have been looking around the net to find some beautiful art for kids on various websites, focusing on animal themed illustrations in particular. Here are my picks:

Animal art for kids rooms and nurseries

When you think of art for kids rooms, you can’t really get away from pictures of animals. I love these Scandinavian style framed art prints by TheWhistlingWren  on Etsy. Colourful, cute and just lovely to look at. Not too expensive either, at €24.61 for a set of three A3 prints.

art for kids
Scandinavian prints for kids rooms by TheWhistlingWren

Smallable has a lot of gorgeous products for kids rooms (and adult things too) and although they are not specialised in art in particular, they do have some very nice posters in their collection. I love this print of jungle animals by French illustrator Charlotte Janvier.  It is €26.11 for an A3 size print.

RedGateArts on Etsy sells fabulous original prints by a number of artists, many of which would make fantastic art for kids rooms. I love the colourful prints by Kate Simpson. So much to look at! They are priced at €44.54 for the large A1 size.

Print by Kate Simpson on Etsy
Print by Kate Simpson on Etsy

Alphabet charts for kids rooms

Children love studying a poster for ages, discovering lots of new things each time they look at it. This one has plenty to look at, plus it has the added extra of the alphabet thrown in. This print can be found on Etsy by seller PaperPaintPixels and is €26.37 for size 33 x 48.3cm.

I know quite a few children who are mad about sharks and anything creepy crawly from the sea. What better poster to buy them than this Sea Life Alphabet? This one is by Etsy seller Penelope and the Ducks and is priced at €15.82 for an unframed A3 print.

World maps for kids rooms

World maps are great for kids rooms in general. Always something to study and discover. This wonderful illustrated map in water colour may not give a too accurate impression of countries and continents, but for younger children it makes a great print to stare at for ages and just let their imagination wander. It is by artist FrauOttilie and costs €17.90 for a 70 x 50cm print.

Another great illustrated world map with lots to look at is this one by Hannah Owen. And remember, these maps don’t have to be accurate, these prints are to enjoy as an artwork in the first place! For the largest size poster A1 you pay €45.70, an A3 is €19.91.

Want to browse some more beautiful original art prints for kids? Here are some collections to try out:

Art for kids on Etsy
Art for kids on Redbubble
Animal prints on Artfinder

Would you swap your home with a stranger?

Have you ever thought of doing a home exchange during the vacations with a total stranger in a totally different country? The first thought that pops into people’s head is often “oh, I don’t fancy having strangers going through my drawers and what if they wreck the place?” But we have now done home swaps on a number of occasions and we absolutely LOVE it. Here’s why.

new toys and a home from home

The first time we swapped was with a family in Edinburgh during the October holidays and it was amazing. All we needed to do was drive for a couple of hours and we didn’t spend much more money that week than entries to the zoo, a few meals out and normal food shopping. We enjoyed experiencing life in a city neighbourhood, in a gorgeous Victorian house. The kids had the best time, discovering millions of ‘new’ toys. Since then we have done it a number of times, nationally and internationally and it is positive every time.

stranger-danger

Risky? Stranger-danger? Sure, there is always a little bit of risk doing something informal like this, but from experience I can say that most house swappers are kind, caring, helpful, generous and welcoming people. They are willing to give you the keys to their house after all. It is a matter of trust. And, by the way, we have always found our house ten times cleaner than we left it and our cat spoiled rotten.

Home swapping for the holidays. Would you do it? Tips, pros and cons for house exchanges around the world.

The pros of home swapping for the holidays

Well, I could make an endless list, because I am such a fan of the concept, but here are my main reasons for opening my house to people from around the world in return for a stay in theirs.

You cut out the accommodation costs

Let’s be fair, home swapping is not just fun, it also saves you a heck of a lot of money. Imagine having to fork out nightly hotel costs or the rental of a holiday home for a couple of weeks. Even doing AirBnB adds up for a week, no matter how low the price per night is. Home swapping can drastically bring down the cost of your holiday, especially if you are already paying for flights.

It is a home from home

No swanky hotels during a home swap but the comforts of a home. You literally move into someone’s house, so you find their fully kitted out kitchen, comfy sofa’s, a beautiful terrace or garden, shelves full of books and – if you swap with a young family – plenty of ‘new’ toys for your own children to get excited about. You move into a whole new neighbourhood for a bit, get a feel for what it’s like to actually live here. In fact, we once felt so at home during our home swap with a family in Valencia that we ended up moving here permanently, haha!

You get to stay in incredible houses around the world. For free.

You can keep it local and swap with someone in your own country. We have just agreed an exchange to stay a week in a beautiful house in the mountains near Alicante, Spain, which for us is just a short car journey away right now. You may find surprising locations just on your doorstep.

Someone with a quiet cottage in the wilderness may love to come and stay in your inner city apartment. But likewise, someone with a beach house in a hot climate may just be dying to come to the misty west coast of Scotland. Also, if you have always wanted to visit Canada, Australia or the Far East, you can try and swap with someone over there. The flights will be the only pricey aspect, but you’ll be saving a LOT on accommodation. And what better way to travel and get to know a different culture, than by living like a local?

You get insider tips from the home owner

Most home swappers, including myself, find real joy in preparing a welcome pack full of insider tips, hidden gems, maps, brochures and itineraries for lovely days out. It is a great way to get to know a new city or area through the eyes of someone who lives there.

You have pet care sorted

Got cats (or goldfish or chickens…) that need looking after during the holidays? Many home exchangers are happy to look after your pets as well as your home while you are away. Saves additional expenses on catteries and they can stay in their own environment. Of course check with the people you invite whether they are happy to do this kind of thing.

You can even swap cars

If you are not too precious about your vehicle, this is another great saving you can make during a home swap. In the UK you will need to put an additional driver on your car insurance, which won’t be much more than 60 pounds usually and most home swappers are happy to pay this as it is way cheaper than hiring a car. In Europe the car itself is insured, hence you won’t need to pay for additional drivers on your insurance. Not everyone will want to swap cars, but it is especially great when you are unable to bring your own because you are traveling by plane, so worth asking!

The cons

Are there any cons at all? Not many in my opinion, but of course there can be issues which would make you not want to do a home swap.

You will have to tidy up and clean your house beforehand

We underestimated this the first time we swapped, haha! But yes, before you leave your house to your visitors, it is only good manners to clean the house top to bottom and put the clutter and stray clothes and toys away. This can take longer than you think, so good to start early. On a plus note: you will probably come home to your house in an even cleaner and tidier state than you left it. After which my home returns to its usually happy, messy state within half a day.

Things may break

Got a Ming Dynasty vase from your great grandmother on the sideboard? A beautiful, delicate set of glasses you don’t want anyone to touch? Your kids got some new or expensive toys they don’t want to break or get lost? While 9 out of 10 times nothing will go wrong, we are all human and things can break. Guests broke one of our plates, we broke one of their toys. People are mostly honest and tell you immediately, offer to replace the item or leave a bit of money as a ‘sorry’ gift. Still, if you have stuff you definitely don’t want anything to happen to, put it away safely.

If you have a spare room that doesn’t need to be used during the swap, put all your private or fragile stuff in here and ask your guests kindly to respect this room and keep it closed. If you have a key, lock it. We usually let friends of neighbours look after our computer and financial documents for the time we’re away. Not because you expect the guests to rummage through your files and steal your money, but since you haven’t known them for very long, it is only common sense to keep your valuables safe. The rest? Just stuff.

Home swap tips and home swap websites

home exchange websites

Want to give it a go yourself? There are a number of websites you can advertise your house on. You usually pay an annual subscription fee and then you can swap as often as you like. We are currently members of Guardian Home Exchange, which is a UK based website part of the Guardian (newspaper) but it has many international houses on it – including our own one in Valencia. We pay 59 pounds a year membership, which really is not much if you think what you would spend on one night in a B&B alone. There are many others you can try of course, including Home Love Swap, which is the biggest of them all.

find Pet sitters

Another website, which is a slightly different concept, is TrustedHouseSitters.com, a site which doesn’t offer home exchanges (although you can swap in some cases), but on here you’ll find people who offer pet sitting services for free, in return for a stay in your home while you are away. You can also offer yourself as a pet sitter, to find somewhere ‘free’ to stay during the holidays. Again, a huge saving because you don’t have to fork out money for a kennel or a cattery, plus your house is looked after during your vacation. And vice versa, you get to stay in someone’s house for free in return for walking a doggie.

We invited a couple into our home over the Christmas holidays as we were unable to find anyone to look after our cat Buster. I must admit I was slightly apprehensive at first, as it wasn’t a straight swap…Total strangers would pick up our keys from the neighbours and move in…without us having the keys to their property. But I needn’t have worried, because the retired Belgian couple who came were the sweetest cat sitters we could have wished for and when we returned they welcomed us back in our own home with tapas and cava. It seems that it is a certain type of person who is attracted to this kind of holiday. Open-minded, caring, curious, kind and interested in other people, other customs and exploring new locations.

How to prepare your home for listing

Take good photos

A tidy house gives better pictures and better pictures attract more home swap requests. make the beds, clear the clutter, put some fresh flowers on the table, etc. You can shove all the clutter into one room just for the time being until you got your photos done, it doesn’t matter, but make sure that that first impression of your house is good. It’s a bit like getting your house ready for selling. Make it look fab!

describe your house

Place yourself in the shoes of someone who is looking for a house to exchange with. They will want to know how many bedrooms you have, bathrooms, sofabeds etc. Also what kitchen equipment perhaps or things like baby cots and high chairs if you own them. Each exchanger is different, but it is good to describe how your house is suitable for different types of people. Not want tiny sticky fingers on your wall? Make this clear in your listing that you rather want older families or couples only.

Describe your location and area

You may not think of your street or neighbourhood as much, but your guests are excited, it is all new to them and they want to explore. Describe the highlights of your village or town, maybe there is a fine bakery around the corner or some splendid woodland walks. Describe how far larger towns, cities and other attractions such as beaches or mountains are. Tell them about castles, museums, swimming pools or zoos in the area. Anything that will persuade them to get in touch with you for a swap. The nice thing about a home exchange is that you often end up in places you would never normally have gone to, but they turn out to be real hidden gems.

Respond to your messages

If you own a fabulous house in an even more spectacular location, be prepared for lots of messages. We certainly received a few more now we are in Spain than we did when we still lived in Aberdeenshire! Just make sure to respond. You decided to list your house on the site so be polite and reply to people who are interested in coming to stay in your house. Of course you don’t have to sit and wait for an email, you can also fire off requests yourself. Most people are lovely and will tell you straight away if they are happy to arrange an exchange.

Make a welcome pack

A welcome pack can be as simple as an A4 with the workings of your TV, oven and heating system. However, it’s nice to include some ideas for excursions, directions to the nearest bank, shop and public transport, etc. I usually include tourist brochures that I pick up from around town, cultural agendas and business cards of my favourite restaurants. People are very grateful if you take the guessing out of their visit. Provide them with some tried and tested tips for visits you enjoy yourself. Also include some emergency numbers, names of neighbours that may be able to help out in case of anything happening and other info you may think is useful during their stay. I usually also leave a bottle of wine or a yummy delicacy from the local area on the table for the guests on arrival. It is nice to make people feel welcome, and you will likely find similar kindness on the other end.

Make your own home scent with this Christmas potpourri recipe

Stove top potpourri, ever heard of it? Forget the chemical scented candles and expensive room scent diffusers, just put a load of fresh fruit and spices in a large pan and let it simmer on the stove. Just a wonderful scent filling your home, with only natural ingredients. The perfect welcome for your guests on Christmas day, before they sit down for their Christmas dinner. Or just to get you in the Christmas spirit the days before.

How do you make it? Here’s the Christmas potpourri recipe for this lovely DIY home scent. Merry Christmas!


Christmas potpourri recipe for stove top

Just check now and then if it still has enough water so it doesn’t boil dry and let the heat do the work. Enjoy your own homemade Christmas potpourri!

The most beautiful natural Christmas table settings

Whatever you will be serving on Christmas day, beautiful natural Christmas table settings will make your table look even better. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need a degree in design, less is more. You can keep it simple and make a big impact by using natural materials like branches, twigs and leaves. Be resourceful and have a look around the house for what you already own. Use your beautiful vintage glassware, silver cutlery, linen fabrics, burlap and plain white candles in clear bottles. Here are some ideas.

rustic christmas table settings
christmas Image: Boxwood Avenue

Rustic Christmas table setting

Go all natural and rustic by using a linen table running in the middle, topped with natural fresh tree branches. Use some vintage or other solid brass candle holders as well as candles or tea lights in glasses. Simple white dinner ware and linen napkins add to this look, which is both very understated and very stylish.

Rustic natural centerpieces

Gather some greenery, branches and pine cones from the forest to create beautiful centerpieces for your natural Christmas table settings. To make the vases or pots, use large tins and wrap them with burlap or other fabric.

rustic table centerpiece
Image: A Piece of Rainbow

Table centre pieces with glass bottles

Festive decorating can easily become over the top with ribbons, dancing santas, flashing fairy lights and bottle brush trees on every surface. Using natural materials in your holiday decorating will bring back a bit of peace and tranquility in this busy time of year. Try going ‘Scandinavian‘ in your decorations and reuse your white wine bottles as candle stick holders, and fill them with water, leaves and sprigs.

natural christmas table decoration

Don’t forget the napkins: attention is in the detail

Don’t bother with trying to fold twelve napkins into the shape of a snowflake. Who has time for that? Just roll your simple linen napkins up and tie them with a pretty bit of string, ribbon or even leather. A tiny sprig finishes the look.