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Could you handle a swap?

Running a business from another country is all very well, but how on earth do you manage it without spending everything you earn on rent or hotel bills? Even a laptop needs a desk from time to time and the thought of living out of a suitcase for months at a time would exhaust even the most seasoned traveller.

So what’s the secret?

Well, there are a couple, but the one I want to explain today is quite simple- it’s house swapping.

Now this is not for everyone. We have talked to a lot of people about it, and the conversations tend to go like this: ‘home exchanges are such a great idea! How do you do it?… oh, so you have other people stay in your house?….hmm, I’m not sure I could do that actually….

I am writing this as I am sat at someone else’s dining room table. I’ve never met them, but I have been sleeping in their bed for a month; I have taken their wedding photos off the wall above the bed because it freaks me out a little; I have been overcome with envy at the extent of this woman’s Tupperware collection and the fact that her linen cupboard is actually labelled; I curse her non-stick pans, drive her car, and have even lifted her husband’s weights. If I think about Pam and her husband sleeping in my bed, critiquing my cupboards (there is plenty to comment on) and spitting meat juices all over my vegetarian oven, I don’t like it too much. But then, I don’t go to a hotel and wonder who has occupied the bed the night before me, or eat in a restaurant and wonder whose mouth my fork last visited. Do you?

What a lot of tubs!

View from out balcony in our Australian house swap

The mechanism for house swapping seems a lot like internet dating to me. You put pictures on line; you browse what other people are offering; if you like what you see, you make a tentative approach; if others like what they see, they make you an offer; if it isn’t for you, you say how lovely their offer is, but it’s just not a good time for you; if they aren’t into yours, they do the same. It’s all very polite, very uncomplicated. You are all looking to find a good match.

So first step might be to think about, what’s stopping you? It can be helpful to have a recommendation, have someone you trust go ahead to see how it works. My sister and her family tested the waters first; when my nieces were growing up they stayed in no end of family homes in places like Austria and France. Think about what your reservations are, then think about the benefits. Holiday accommodation with no rent? No car hire fees? All the comforts of home but in a new country? Everyone looking into this has a different set of criteria, so work out what yours might be. We are lucky that we aren’t tied to school holidays or even location, so we can consider any offer, as long as it fits in with our checklist;

  • Broadband internet connection;
  • Walking distance to bars/ restaurants;
  • Near to beach, parks, forest or hills;
  • NO badly patterned carpets or garish flowery curtains Preferably some outside space.

Our Canadian house swap

Canoeing near our Canadian house

Maybe a good place to start is to have a browse round the different websites. See what homes are on offer, where you might like to go. Think about what countries you might like to visit, and when. Work out what your list of essentials would be, and what would be a deal breaker for you (we will take on other people’s pets, tend their veggie plot and even help out their neighbours but don’t ask me to look at ugly furniture every day). There will always be someone who wants to come to your home, wherever it is (us fanning ourselves in Australia while kind Aussie folk shiver in sub zero UK temperatures amply proves that point). You just need to take the first small step.

We would love to hear your comments or questions, just use the box below.

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5 Responses to “Could you handle a swap?”

  1. I have always wanted to do a house swap. Some day…

    • Hi Charles, highly recommend it if you get the chance. We have had only good experiences.

      • Hannah & Chris
      • Reply
    • Hi Charles, we also highly recommend home swapping, it a fantastic way to travel and like Hannah and Chris we have only had fantastic experiences.

      • Carolyn Russell
      • Reply
  2. Certainly not all home exchanges go well. I have done 51 home exchanges and will be setting off soon to do 52-54 in Europe.

    I have had exchanges that have gone well and exchanges that have not gone well. Dirty houses and broken down cars are the worst. When people say they “have had only good experiences”, they have not done a lot of home exchanges. All experienced exchangers have had homes that they would not recommend. Please check my website for all of my home exchange stories–bad and good.

    Differing standards of cleanliness and cars cause most of the problems. Most recently I had a home in Sydney, Australia, where there was a jacuzzi full of dead flies. While I did not want to use the jacuzzi, the home exchangers put their clothes drying rack in the jacuzzi and did not use it themselves. However, if your clothes fell off, they would go right into the dead flies–gross. They had a magnificent well located home, but were not strong in the housekeeping/insect removal department. You have to be prepared to overlook things you do not like when you home exchange.

    While I never considered myself fanatically clean (that was my mother), I spend a lot of time making my home welcoming. I have gotten used to the fact that only a minority of home exchangers put as much effort into that as I do. When I get a less than satisfactory home, I do remind myself that I have stayed in a lot of unsatisfactory hotel rooms too. The only difference with a unsavory house swap home is that, if you move out, it is going to cost you a fortune in unanticipated expenses. As with all methods of travel, home exchange is not for everyone.

    For the nasty side of home exchanging (what the websites tend to overlook in their effort to attract new members), you might want to have a look at http://altecockertravels.weebly.com/the-nasty-side-of-home-exchanging.html

  3. Currently on 52 home exchange in Colomiers, France. Once again dissatisfied with cleanliness–a problem that does not arise as much in the US (from a US perspective) as it does in Europe. Things tend to be a bit too “relaxed” in the cleanliness department in Mediterranean countries, but that is the way it is and some people are just not very clean.

    On the positive side, the car runs.

    Again, there is really no way to know about the down side in advance. You take the location. Photos look fine, but you don’t see the real deal until you get there–and when you do, the cure is just to get out of the house and tour during the day so you don’t have to look at what you don’t like during the day.

    Not to appear too much of a kvetch, last summer in Scandinavia, both homes were more than adequate and one was immaculate.

    Please be aware that, if you give someone a bad reference on a website, they could trash you back, so that whole business does not work well either.

    Hoping for a cleaner home in during home hospitality in Bordeaux (that should be fine as I met the people when I hosted them and they were fabulous and considerate) and in Salamanca, Spain, where the heads up from an an exchanger who is there now is that the place is fine.

    Next summer I am going to Poland and the people there have good rapport, so hoping this will go well. I really would like to go back to more deals in North America but it does seem easier for me to attract offers from abroad and I’ve been so many places in the US & Canada.

    Happy home exchanging & good luck with clean homes!

    For my take on how to put a home exchange together, check here: http://altecockertravels.weebly.com/how-to-do-a-home-exchange.html


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