Since 1985, Canadian-born Lois Sealey has operated an exchange service, Home Base Holidays, from her home office in London, England. Accommodations are available for exchange in over 60 countries, with a particularly large choice in the UK. In this article, Lois shares her expertise with readers on home swapping for a memorable low budget holiday.
Visit the Home Base Holidays website, www.homebase-hols.com to register for the free Home Swappers Newsletter and to browse the listings. Lois also publishes a blog, Travel the Home Exchange Way. She welcomes feedback and questions.
Swapping homes is a great way to get to know a new area or country, living like a local and often discovering little known attractions from your exchange partner’s friends and neighbors.
Home swaps have been taking place all over the world for at least 50 years. However, the concept has become more feasible with the advent of the internet. Finding a suitable swap and then making the most of exchange arrangements has undoubtedly become quicker and cheaper by email. Families with young children appreciate the convenience of having a real home away from home when travelling, but the fastest growing group of home swappers is older couples and singles.
Large Victorian house in an historic district 20 minutes from central London by subway.
The over 50s, often with more flexibility on dates and length of exchange than families tied by school or work holiday periods, have the broadest choice of exchange possibilities. Many prefer to exchange with others in similar circumstances, that is, avoiding families with young children if their homes are not geared to their needs. Others like to travel with grown children and grandchildren and a larger home with plenty of space invariably appeals more than cramped hotel rooms or basic vacation rental apartments.
Although the initial reason for considering a home exchange may be cost savings, convenience and the fun of living in a real home come close behind. New friendships can also be a pleasant lasting bonus. Retired American teacher and experienced home swapper, Richard Boutwell from New Hampshire comments:
Richard Boutwell’s 60 year old house in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, USA in a lovely rural area of New England.
“We have now completed several exchanges and each one gets better and better. In a recent exchange we spent three weeks in North Wales. While there we drove to Scotland to visit two families we exchanged with in 1999. And during an earlier exchange in London, we entertained friends with whom we had exchanged previously. We spent Christmas with them in Cambridge and attended the exquisite service of Lessons and Carols at Kings Chapel. It was a dream come true.”
Typical restored countryside house located in the small village of Monbrun, in the Midi-Pyrenees, South West of France.
Traditional 17th century English thatched cottage near Stratford upon Avon and the Cotswolds.
Picking a Swap Agency
Swaps can be arranged privately through friends or by placing small ads in newspapers or on website notice boards. However, these methods can be risky and ineffective. To optimise chances of finding a suitable swap, join an established home exchange agency that will provide both a good choice plus guidance and back-up support. Look for:
A good choice of listings in countries or areas you want to visit. It is also important to check how long listings have been in circulation and when they will expire. If you can’t readily see this information in listings, be aware that many exchange offers may be out-of-date. Check that listings aren’t a mixture of home exchange and rental offers.
A good balance of listings between countries so that, for example, if you live in the USA, you won’t be competing for the same exchange offers on a site with a large percentage of other American members.
Detailed, step-by-step guidance on arranging exchanges and a prompt and efficient advice service. Look for phone numbers and mailing addresses as well as email contact forms. A professional service will provide various means of contact and give opening hours for enquiries by phone.
Privacy for members, i.e. access to your contact details only available to other paying members.
Modest subscription fees (rather than a free service) in order to ensure that all listed members are genuinely interested in arranging exchanges.
To be able to offer an international home exchange service at an acceptable rate, no agency can thoroughly vet members or visit their homes before they join. Questions need to be asked and past exchangers need to provide feedback. Home exchange is a proactive vacation requiring homework.
Spacious apartment Cottesloe, Western Australia 20 minutes to Perth.
Natural woodland house at Wasaga Beach, Ontario, 15 min. walk to the world’s longest fresh water beach.
Exchange Action List
It can take a few weeks to find an exchange partner. Once you target a potential swap, it’s time for lots of information and photo swapping. Some points to consider:
Remember that, until you get to know each other, your exchange partners will have the same concerns about you as you may have about them! Having someone living in your home at the same time you are in theirs gives each party a great incentive to look after the property entrusted to them.
Check that your household insurance remains valid while you have non-paying guests in your home.
If you decide to swap cars too, again check insurance coverage and agree to any restrictions on car usage.
Agree on household bill payments. Most home swappers continue to pay their own bills apart from the phone bill which can be billed separately for the exchange period (unless you agree to not use the household phones at all but rather use your own cell phones while on exchange).
Ask for, and offer to provide, personal references if this would be a reassurance (past swap partners make ideal referees).
Ask a friend living nearby or a neighbour to act as your agent to welcome your exchangers and help with any problems while you’re away.
Compile an information folder. This will include emergency phone numbers, instructions for operating household equipment, information on local public transport, taxis, recommended restaurants, sports facilities plus maps and brochures for nearby attractions.
Confirm if your exchange partners are willing to look after pets. If so, provide information on care, your vet’s phone number and an adequate supply of pet food.
As soon as you have agreed on a definite exchange, arrange to buy air tickets simultaneously. Exchanging ticket copies is an extra assurance to both parties that the exchange will go ahead as planned. As y0u will have corresponded back and forth by email for some time, it is a good idea to collate everything you have agreed into one document when you both feel you’ve covered everything. This can avoid potential misunderstandings later on everything that has been agreed as part of the exchange.
Tudor style home outside of Oliver, BC, Canada near the best of the southern Okanagan Valley’s wineries, golf courses, and orchards.
Jan Stewart, an experienced home exchanger, describes the lead-up to her first exchange to London, England:
“We wrote lots of ‘get acquainted’ emails beforehand, answered one another’s questions, made plans together and sent information back and forth. We also made several phone calls during our preparations. We all shared the same goofy sense of humor, so that really connected us!
“We appreciated coming home after a tiring day of sightseeing. It was great having laundry facilities, a beautiful back garden, and a barbecue for a cookout. Every little thing was fun and exciting, from watching British telly to figuring out the appliances – all the stuff that makes travel to a foreign country have meaning.
It felt good to share what we have in California, to share our home and family, to share the Peutrills’ beautiful home and family in England, to accept their generosity. It felt politically correct and spiritually magnificent!”