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.
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.
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!
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.