- Introduction to the Lifestyle
- Travel and Accommodation
– Getting the Best Flights and Sourcing Top Accommodation
Our recommendations and tips on finding a hotel/ rental home plus the best way to book your flights.
[Read and Review – 40+ minutes]
– Rental Negotiations Cheat Sheet
How you can you save money when organising your short/ long term rental.
[Read – 20+ minutes]
– Air Miles Exposed!
Coming Soon! The ultimate low down on how you can fly for free.
– The definitive guide to your first Home Exchange
Looking to stay somewhere with all your home comforts but in an exciting new destination? Can’t afford hotels or renting when you have a mortgage to pay at home? Like the idea of living like a local? Need reliable internet and somewhere to set up your laptop? Home exchange could offer the perfect solution to keeping a base at home whilst travelling the world. Here we provide the complete guide to getting started with your first home exchange.
[Read and Review – 1 hr + ]
– Rental and Home Exchange Do’s and Don’ts
We made the mistakes so you don’t have to!
[Read – 10 minutes]
– Keep your Costs down Check List
An essential check-list for keeping the costs down while away.
[Read – 20 minutes]
- Your Video
The definitive guide to your first Home Exchange
What are home exchanges?
A home exchange is where families exchange their homes for short periods. The benefit of this is that you get to arrange a family holiday or experience a new destination without any of the usual costs associated with renting or staying in hotels. No money changes hand; it’s a system that relies on trust, integrity and agreeing clear boundaries both about what you want and what you can offer in advance.
You can do a home exchange from your main or a holiday home. If you rent there is no reason you can’t do house swaps providing your landlord doesn’t have any issues. It’s up to you how you handle it (for instance, would they expect to be informed if you were having friends to stay for a week or two while you were away?)
How does it work?
There are plenty of websites you can have a look at which explain all the rules and details in depth, but we will go over some of the key info below. The sites we use are:
http://www.intervac.co.uk/ (more European focus)
http://www.homeexchange.com (this one has a larger database and covers more properties further afield).
If you decide to give the idea a go you would join a website for a yearly subscription fee. Once you are a member you can upload your home profile, listing your preferred exchange destinations and all the particulars of your home and local area.
As existing members we can save you 50% off your membership which usually costs $120 a year. Use the discount code ATW2012 for a year membership for only $60
Which areas are eligible?
Homes can be anywhere at all. Even if you aren’t sure anyone would want to visit your town, village or suburb (as it isn’t a traditional tourist destination) you may be surprised. There may be parents who want to visit their son or daughter at a local university; there may be a conference a couple are looking to attend; a family may have relatives in your area; they may have been brought up nearby and wish to revisit. It’s always worth creating a profile and seeing what offers you get.
How do you find homes to exchange?
You can either make offers to homes you like the look of, or wait to see what offers are made to you.
To select possibilities yourself, you browse the site for homes offered to see if there is anything you like. For instance, if you are looking for somewhere in France, next summer for 2 weeks with internet access and a pool, you can browse according to those criteria. An example is shown below from homeexchange.com
On the screen shot below, the destination (France) is in the top left hand corner, above the map. You can narrow this down further if you wish to a specific place or region.
Below the map we have clicked ‘open to any destination’ as this will also include profiles which have not specified where they wish to go (i.e. they are ‘open to offers’). Below that you also specify that you are looking at listings where they have specified they would like to visit your country e.g. the UK.
The more flexible you are on dates, the more options you will find. Not every listing in the search will be clear on what dates they are looking for. Some profiles can be out of date e.g. their profile asks for an exchange from 2 years ago! Don’t be put off, if you like the look of their property, drop them an email.
You will also find that you can specify in more detail who you wish to exchange with in the bottom left section i.e. senior citizens, people without children, experienced exchangers etc.
On the right hand side of the page you will check the boxes according to what is important to you. There are plenty of options to help make your exchange perfect.
This is just an example of one page on one site. The system will look a little different on each site you use but will all cover the same fundamentals.
This search brought back 445 properties that match the search criteria.
People will include their preferences in their own profile, for example, you might find a lovely villa in the South of France but the owners have stated that they are only interested in exchanges in Germany or Italy this year. You can search according to owners who have specified that they are ‘open to any offers’ or have stated a wish to visit your home country.
If you don’t have a fixed idea of where or when you want to go you can simply wait to see what offers are made to you. You will receive emails from interested home owners specifying what they are looking for and when, and asking if you are interested. We tend to receive an average of 5 offers a month. It’s often quiet from October to February and picks up from then up until September with people trying to organise their summer breaks, either well in advance or last minute.
Example Enquiry Email
From: Marie XXXXX
Sent: 23 June 2011 08:18
To: Chris Alford
Subject: Exchange Inquiry from #XXXXX (Avignon, France) to #XXXXXX
Dear Chris Alford,
Inquiry from: (Avignon, France)
To: (Westbourne, England, United Kingdom)
Marie XXXX has written regarding your home exchange offer.
Hi. We are a family of 3 (two adults and one 20 months old), looking for an exchange for 10 days/ two weeks in the South of England this summer, 2011. We saw your home on the website and thought it looked great! Our home is available from July 24th to August 10th.
Avignon is a lovely old city set in beautiful Provence. It has excellent links to Marseille, the coast and the Luberon. Avignon airport has direct flights to Exeter and Southampton.
We are restricted to Summer School Holidays as my husband is a teacher. Please let us know if you are interested as we have left this a little bit late to organise an exchange.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Marie, Jérôme and Léonore
LISTING PROPOSED FOR EXCHANGE:
Typical Provence XVth century three bedroom house with antique furniture in Avignon
If you like the look of their profile and find their offer interesting you email back and the dialogue begins. If you either don’t want to go where they are offering, or don’t like the look of their properly you politely decline.
Thanks very much for exchange offer.
We are unsure where we will be for June next year so would not be able commit to an exchange at that time.
Good luck with your search,
From: justin XXXXX
Sent: 11 August 2011 16:59
To: Chris Alford
Subject: Exchange Inquiry From #XXXXX (Thornton, Colorado, United States) To #XXXXX
Dear Chris Alford,
Inquiry from: (Thornton, Colorado, United States)
To: (Westbourne, England, United Kingdom)
justin XXXXX has written regarding your home exchange offer.
would you be interested in coming to denver next June for the whole of June
please have a look at our house
LISTING PROPOSED FOR EXCHANGE:
Gorgeous quiet sunny home in beautiful Denver, Colorado
WHAT DO I DO NOW?
* As a courtesy, please reply to all inquiries (even to politely decline)
* To answer justin XXXXX personally, just reply directly to this message.
* To plan your trip, visit our Resources page at http://homeexchange.com/resources.php
Please contact us if we can be of further service.
Is it for you?
Of course not everyone likes the idea of allowing ‘strangers’ into their home. However, the benefits may make it worth a closer look i.e. free accommodation, free use of their car if agreed, staying somewhere with all the creature comforts you are used to whilst experiencing another place or country. It is definitely worth considering – it can open up all sorts of doors which may otherwise remain closed to you. You certainly get a different experience when staying in a home rather than a hotel, plus you get all the inside info from people who actually live and enjoy the area all year round. This can be much more rewarding than just following the usual ‘tourist trail’.
Is house swapping popular?
There are many websites and organisations which facilitate home exchanges, some of which were established over 60 years ago. Most people who do it have done so for many years, having found it works really well.
House swapping has been around a lot longer than some of the newer concepts popularised by websites such as www.couchsurfing.org or www.airbnb.co.uk, but which are also gaining in popularity. Airbnb did recently have an unfortunate incident whereby a home owner experienced damage and theft. Because of how unusual and disappointing this was, the article about the occurrence went viral. Airbnb now have greater security in place i.e. a significant amount of insurance cover. The main difference is that with airbnb (and similar schemes) money changes hands. With home exchanges it does not.
House swapping has a fantastic reputation. In fact, recently a BBC journalist contacted a popular house exchange blogger http://homeexchanger.blogspot.com/ to try to get some information about the scheme. The journalist was hoping for information which would help her get a more ‘balanced viewpoint’; basically, she was looking for horror stories and was disappointed to find only consistently glowing reports!
Is it safe?
There are misconceptions about house swapping, mainly around security and trust. Surely, given a free reign people are going to run off with the family silver? Surely they can’t be trusted to keep your home as clean and tidy as you would yourself? Surely they will wreck the place and you will return to mayhem and heartbreak?
What we have learnt from doing home exchanges
- Most people are perfectly nice and normal. They aren’t going to trash your house because they are decent people. If that’s not enough, bear in mind, you are in their home too – they also have something to lose! Often, they have travelled a reasonable distance to get to yours. Who is going to be walking off with a flat screen TV when they have a flight to catch?!
- You don’t actually do exchanges with ‘strangers.’ Most participants engage in a lengthy ‘getting to know you’ process beforehand, through emails, phone calls or even meeting up if circumstances allow.
- There will be a bit of trial and error before you settle on an arrangement. You might start discussions with a family but for various reasons (either on yours, or their part) it doesn’t work out e.g. you can’t agree on dates, their plans change etc. This is fine, it tends to happen pretty early on. Sometimes people will say ‘that’s fine, we love the look of your home so bear us in mind in the future,’ so avenues don’t always have to close fully if the fit isn’t working this time. This early dialogue also means that if it doesn’t feel right to you, for whatever reason, you can just let them know ‘it’s not going to work this time.’
- There are far more experienced house swappers on the sites than newbies. If anything, they will be taking more of a risk with you because you won’t have any successful exchanges under your belt to prove your sincerity. You can ask experienced exchangers for references from previous swaps if you are uncertain, and make sure you only consider exchanges with people with a clear track record.
- There are plenty of negotiations before getting to the final agreement stage. These may cover length of time, exact dates, use of car etc. A contract is formally agreed usually around the time flights are booked, so no-one can pull out and leave you high and dry.
- The contract is a formal document provided by the website you use. It is basically an agreement of what you will and won’t do in relation to the exchange. Once the contract is signed both parties have to stick to the agreement. For instance, if someone from your planned exchange has a change of circumstance, they will need to honour your agreement and make other arrangements e.g. stay with friends so their property is still vacant for you.
Example Home Exchange Contract (Details taken from a house swap we did to Canada)
| My partner and I hereby enter into a Home Exchange Agreement under which both parties agree to allow the other party to stay in our respective homes for the period defined below.
We hereby agree as follows:
1. By entering into this Home Exchange Agreement, we agree to abide by the Intervac Terms and Conditions of Membership and Governing Behaviour between Members as displayed on the Intervac website.
Each Exchange Party shall:
1. be fully liable for any action, inaction or damage resulting in costs, loss or damage of any kind to the other Exchange Party, including but not limited to their property, possessions, motor vehicle and pets.
2. Where some damage to a home occurs, take all reasonable steps to mitigate any loss. Home owners will also undertake their best efforts to recover any loss on insurance and reimburse the Exchange Party causing any damage for any monies paid towards such loss but recovered under insurance.
| Myself ( GBXXXXXX )
Chris Alford & Hannah Vallance
From:June 28, 2010
To:July 27, 2010
|My Partner ( CAXXXX )
From:June 28, 2010
To:July 27, 2010
About Our Cars
CAXXXX Specific vehicle exchange documents have been signed outside this agreement.
<✓>Insurance requirements for my auto are in place
NOTES: Specific vehicle exchange documents have been signed outside this agreement.
Regarding long distance calls
CAXXXXX — GBXXXXXX
NOTES: Discounted long distance calls are available, please let us know which country and we can let you know the rates. All Local calls to landlines are free
Special Cleaning Requests
CAXXXX NOTES: In Quebec, upkeeping the lawn will be outsourced to a contractor at Dominic XXXXX’s expense. All other housecleaning is up to participants in both homes.
NOTES: Housecleaning is up to participants in both homes.
Regarding the key to my home
CAXXX NOTES: Keys will be left at the airports 24 hour information counters. Any fees for holding the keys will be paid by the group picking up the keys.
NOTES: The Keys to the car will be picked up at the airport car park desk. We will organise this for your arrival, if you can book it for the way back (I will provide further details of this).
<✓>Chris Alford & Hannah Vallance guests are welcome in our home.
<✓>Our exchange partner is welcome to use our linen.
<✓>Dominic XXXXX guests are welcome in our home.
<✓>Our exchange partner is welcome to use our linen.
<✓>Dominic XXXXXXXX may bring pet(s) to our home.
I understand that the cancellation of a holiday agreement, unless for very exceptional reasons, may result in exclusion from future membership. I promise to be respectful of my exchange partner’s property and belongings, and to settle promptly any additional expenses incurred during my visit.
<✓>In case of cancellation I am willing to help my partner to find accomodation.
<✓>In case of cancellation I am willing to help my partner to find accomodation.
- You choose to exchange with people who you feel comfortable with having in your home. For instance, if you have children yourself it makes sense to exchange with another family with kids so you both have all the toys and equipment you need. If you don’t want young children in your home you simply need to stipulate this on your profile. Both our most recent exchanges have been with retired couples who are more flexible in dates when they can travel, tend to be happy to exchange for longer periods, probably aren’t going to make a lot of noise and are unlikely to damage our white furniture!
- Spend time getting to know your potential exchangers through emails and maybe a call or two. If you feel you have things in common and like them you will feel better about lending them your home, and appreciative of them doing the same for you. Even experienced exchangers will have some of the same concerns as you- no one wants to open their doors to people they don’t think they can like or trust.
- We all feel the same about our home, it’s our sanctuary which we feel very protective of. People are hugely respectful of this. You don’t go snooping (you have better things to do!), you just look in cupboards where you need to find things i.e. kitchen and linen. Make it clear in your ‘Welcome Pack’ (further details provided below) for what can be used and what can’t. Lock away or move anything you would be upset to find broken, just in case.
- Some doors or drawers may be locked, you may choose to do the same. If you have anything private or valuable you can ask friends to look after it or lock it away. We have a locked filing cabinet and we take a file of financial papers to my sister’s for safe-keeping until we return. Other personal but non valuable items are hidden away at the back of a very inaccessible cupboard.
- After the house swappers have moved in, ask a friend to pop round to ‘see how they are settling in’. This means your friend can check that everything is in order, and people on home exchanges usually appreciate the opportunity to quiz someone with local knowledge! If you know your neighbours they will also be happy to keep an eye on things, plus it’s nice to be able to point the exchange family in the direction of nearby assistance if they run into any problems.
- Accept that when you return items may have been moved, especially if the stay was for a few weeks. It’s easy to forget what goes where, and doesn’t take long to return your things to their rightful place. You never know, they may have made improvements!
- With the Welcome Pack each family does it slightly differently; some have a contact number or procedure for every eventuality, others have a much more laid back approach. Some want to have quite a lot of contact before the exchange and to stay in touch during the visit, others keep this to a minimum once the arrangements have been made. It’s up to you to establish what you need and what you want to provide.
- If you are worried about the level of cleanliness you will return to arrange for professional cleaners to come in and give it the once over. The chances are your home will be left exactly as you left it (and as you left their home). But if you have any doubts it’s better to make sure you can return happy.
There are a couple of things you can do to get the ball rolling. Firstly, check out the websites homeexchange.com intervac.co.uk, or any others you like the look of (we chose these ones through recommendation, the size of their database and for low subscription costs). It can be fun browsing through the options and considering where you could end up!
Something to consider to get you ‘warmed up’ is doing a house swap with friends or friends of friends, even just for a weekend. This might feel more comfortable because there is some familiarity with the person. This might give you an insight into whether you will be comfortable with other people being in your home when you aren’t there.
A tip I would recommend is not to think about it once you have left your house. If you start to ponder on strangers using your things or sitting on your sofa it does feel weird. But then it’s weird to think about who last used your fork in a restaurant, or who slept in the hotel bed before you. Once you have left, put it out of your mind and focus on where you are going, and what you will be doing.
What made us start doing home exchanges?
A family member has been doing them for over 20 years. When her daughters were young they always arranged their family holidays in Europe (France, Austria, Italy) via house exchange organisations. Since the children have grown up the couple do occasional house swaps to more distant locations. Many people who do home exchanges have been doing so for many years.
Our first exchange
Our first experience was a month in Quebec, Canada. We exchanged with a French Canadian family- parents with two daughters aged 9 and 12.
The transition was very smooth. We left our car at London Heathrow, leaving the car and house keys at the main desk in an envelope (more details below on car insurance and key exchange etc). A couple of hours after our flight left the Canadian family arrived at Heathrow and collected our car. We had authorised them to do so with the purple parking staff.
When we arrived at Montreal Airport we picked up an envelope from the concierge desk and went to the car park our host had explained the car would be in. The keys to the house were in the glove box along with directions to their home and a full tank of petrol.
Their home had 4 bedrooms and was set in an acre of forest and lawn with a swimming pool. It was wonderful for local hikes and evening BBQs.
Unexpectedly, 2 weeks into the exchange, the mother of the family was taken ill and we received a phone call explaining that they had to return home early as she wanted to see her own doctor. The family assured us that this would not affect our stay and that they would honour our arrangement.
This was very much the case. The family arrived back to the house and collected their camping gear and left again in their second vehicle- we still had use of their other car. The only time there was any cross over was when they returned three days before we were due to leave. It was actually really nice spending time with them, getting to know the people who’s home we had lived in for a month. They extended us every hospitality, insisting we remain set up in their bedroom and actually sleeping the whole family in the basement so we still had the ‘run of the house’.
When we had left the UK we had had our car cleaned, emptied some space in our wardrobes and drawers for their clothes, tidied cupboard space in the kitchen. The Canadian family had very much left the home as it was, we just fitted in around their things i.e. a half full wardrobe, a fridge full of jars and sauces. We learnt from this exchange that it isn’t always necessary to reorganise your home to accommodate guests (although everyone has different standards so it would probably be worth checking).
Our second exchange
We spent a month on the Gold Coast in Australia in November. The retired home owners were visiting the UK to see their adult son.
From the airport we got a bus to their apartment block and the envelope with the keys was at the reception desk. The Australians collected our car from the airport. The apartment had three bedrooms and overlooked the beach and ocean from a wrap around balcony and floor to ceiling windows. The apartment block had a pool and tennis courts. The owners of this home were very tidy so we were pleased to have left our home in similar (if not quite as organised!) condition . However they were very low key and we had very little contact with them throughout our stay.
Our third exchange
The trip to Australia involved more logistics as we did two consecutive exchanges i.e. we went from a month on the Gold Coast to a month in a coastal town in New South Wales. We had actually met the retired couple who owned this home as they were doing a six month tour of the UK, going from house swap to house swap. We met and had lunch with them in the August before we arrived in their home in the December.
This couple were regular house swappers and had had to be incredibly organised to facilitate six different families staying in their home while they were away. We were the fifth set to arrive at their home, which was still very clean and tidy; everyone had left it as they had found it.
This home was different again in that there were instructions and labels for everything so nothing was left unclear in the running of their home! There were detailed manuals or rules and instructions for everything they had learnt from many years of exchanges. Their car was new and in pristine condition. We made sure we returned it as such. In fact, with their consent we drove their car several hundred miles up the east coast of Australia to Brisbane where conveniently the next home exchange couple were visiting. It meant we could arrange to meet up with them and hand over the car and keys- saving us both the cost of a long bus journey.
Writing a great profile
You want to represent your home and local area in the best light possible so that it appeals to the widest range of people. Here are our top tips for wring a great profile that will get you lots of interest-
- 1. Take clear, clean pictures of your home. Try to take them on a sunny day with good lighting.
- 2. Tidy up, removing clutter from the shot. Show your home at its very best, even if it means moving things to behind the camera which will go straight back on the shelves afterwards!
- 3. Add nice touches like a vase of flowers in the bedroom or lit candles to make a bathroom more appealing.
- 4. Take multiple pictures of all the main rooms in your home, if possible take some of the garden and outside of your home.
- 5. Fill out all the information boxes in your profile, the more information you can give the better. Write as if you are trying to sell the property to someone.
- 6. Don’t forget to sell the ‘lifestyle’. For instance, if there is a great local pub up the road with regular live music, include that; if there are wonderful walks, mention it. The more you can create a picture of what it is like to live there, the more prospective exchangers will be able to see themselves holidaying there.
- 7. Make a note of what profiles grab your attention, and make sure your profile is designed along similar lines. It is often the ones which are more personalised that get the most interest.
- 8. Include information about who you are, what you do, smiling photos of your family. Its human nature that if we ‘like the look’ of people we will feel more comfortable approaching them.
- 9. Take pictures of the local area attractions, such as country side, shops, beaches, historical buildings etc. You can be creative i.e. we mention Stonehenge on our profile which is at least 30 miles away from our home, but many exchangers are prepared to travel to see the sites.
- 10. Add info such as time to airports, travelling time to Scotland, Dublin, London or France, proximity to a city or famous attraction.
- 11. Be specific in the countries you would wish to exchange to, this will stop you getting unwanted emails from countries you do not want to go to.
- 12. Try to be specific on the dates you would like to swap with. If you are unsure try to narrow it down to a specific month and the length of time you would want to be away. (or, like us, leave it very open if you really can go anywhere at any time!)
Example of a less detailed profile (taken from Intervac.co.uk)
Example- The full text of our profile HOME
| We love our home and think you will too! it’s perfect for adults- with white sofas, big televisions and a large drinks fridge! We have beautiful wooden floors but the best features are the huge living room windows which look out over trees and gardens.
Both bedrooms are double with ensuite shower and toilet. We also have a main bathroom with large bath perfect for luxurious soak after a hard day cycling or exploring the beaches (we have 2 bikes). Our bed is super comfortable, with a memory foam mattress and Egyptian cotton sheets, for a luxury hotel feel.
Our terrace is flooded with sun (weather permitting!) from midday until sunset and is not overlooked by any of our friendly and quiet neighbours.
Our kitchen is fully equipped, as is our office, for those of you who want to keep in touch with the outside world!
We like to take care of our plants and ask that you water them too. In season there are also herbs, salads and vegetables growing outside of our roof terrace- the perfect way to avoid bugs!
|OUR FAMILY AND PETS|
| We are Chris and Hannah, and we have been married for 5 years. We run our own business from home, and are lucky enough that it is very mobile. We work really hard when we are here, and also work (maybe a little less hard!) when we are away. As long as we have an internet connection we can travel as often as possible.
We enjoy visiting warmer places during the winter months, although also love snowboarding!
It’s just the two of us, no pets or kids which gives us plenty of freedom to explore new places and experience new things. We are looking forward to what the next few months will bring.
| Bournemouth is one of the south coast’s best kept secrets! we have the beautiful new forest on our doorstep, with hundreds of walking trails, ponies and traditional cottages for you to discover. We are also less than 30 minutes by car from the world heritage site of the Jurassic coast, famous for outstanding natural beauty, dramatic cliffs and coastal paths.
We are less than 2 hours from lively and cosmopolitan Brighton, the picturesque towns of Cornwall, historic Dartmoor, and of course the cities of Bristol and London.
Bournemouth has an airport for both internal and international flights which is only 20 minutes from our home. It also has direct trains to London. You can also get a direct ferry to France which only takes 2 hours.
Feel free to use as a template and simply insert your own info if this saves you time!
Example of a different style of profile (taken from Intervac.co.uk)
Creating a home exchange information pack
This is a pack that contains all the information your house swappers will need to fully use your home. A home exchange welcome pack must include-
- Directions to your home
- Bin/ recycling information
- How to control the heating
- Watering of the garden or plants
- How to access the internet
- Guidance for using the telephone
- How to use the TV/ games console/ PC etc
- Instructions on using kitchen appliances
- Contact information for friends or family if your guests have a problem
- Maps of the local area, nearest supermarket/ restaurants/ shops etc
- Tourist attractions in the local area
- Travel info
If you would like a copy of an example information pack please contact us via in the forum.
Cars and Keys
Most home exchanges will include the use of their car with the exchange; this is normally offered in the initial email. If you decide to include your car as part of the exchange, do check with your insurance company regarding the details for adding an additional driver to the policy. We had to change our car insurance to another company to enable us to put an international driver on the policy, it was slightly more expensive but still worked out cheaper than hiring a car.
Exchanging home keys can be related to the car exchange i.e. the house keys are on the same key fob, or in the glove box. Alternatively you may want to leave them with a neighbor for collection; you can post them before the exchange – it’s up to you! If your exchange partner is more experienced they may be able to suggest best approaches.
It’s probably a good idea to leave a spare set of keys with a friend or neighbor. We also keep a set with us.
Summary of recommended links: