*A sophisticated condo in the heart of Vienna.
*An elegant apartment on the top floor of a regal palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice.
*A 500-year-old village home in a hilltop town in Tuscany.
*A modern, bungalow on a top-rated golf course set amidst the mountains near San Diego, California.
*A spacious 4-bedroom French country home with pool and classic provençal blue shutters and doors set in the middle of a private vineyard in the south of France.
*A simple studio in Antibes with a dropdead view of the glistening Mediterranean just steps away.
These are just a few of the properties that have been home to us on some of our home exchange vacations. For those unfamiliar with the term “home exchange,” in simple terms it means vacationing in someone else’s abode while they stay in yours.
In today’s uncertain economy, there’s no question that untold numbers of travel plans and vacations have been shelved. Often the cost simply squashes dreams.
The solution I offer you right here, right now… in fact go ahead and Google it as soon as you finish reading this… two simple words… HOME EXCHANGE.
As seniors, many of us have the option of taking a longer trip but the cost is prohibitive. Home exchange makes this possible since the cost of accommodation is eliminated. You can spend a month in Paris… or wherever, settle into the neighbourhood and live like a local.
A simultaneous exchange is when you stay in your exchange-partner’s home while they stay in yours. A non-simultaneous exchange is when the exchanges don’t happen at the same time and you stay at an exchange-partner’s second home or vacation home. A less common, hospitality exchange, where you stay as a guest in an exchange-partner’s home while they are still in the house.
Every one was a trouble-free, happy experience and we have remained friends with several of our exchange-partners.
Full disclosure: I am a travel junkie. There’s nothing about the travel experience that I dislike. The annoying aspects of air travel today do not bother me in the least. When I go to the airport I know I’m on my way to a special destination and flying is how I’m going to get there. That’s all I care about. “Relax and chill” is my travel motto.
Some people are happy to never venture any great distance from where they live. Ever since I spent a year working and traveling in Europe at the age of 21, I’ve been hooked. I love to experience life in different parts of the world, some more than others. I appreciate my wonderful hometown of Toronto and all it has to offer. But when I have the opportunity to go further afield, I do my best to make it happen.
There are many parts of the world I have yet to visit but I believe the greatest travel lesson I’ve learned is this: if you have a desire to go somewhere, no matter how unattainable you feel that dream may be, chances are you can make it happen. If this idea calls to you, then read on.
I seriously looked into this concept of swapping homes about 20 years ago and was instantly intrigued. After hearing about it for a few years, I finally decided to check it out. Why on earth had I waited so long? You’ll ask yourself the same question!
The first step is to join a reputable website and there are several, some of which I list at the end of this article. The best reference is longevity and you will soon see for yourself which agency appeals to you. As one of the websites states, “Home exchanging is a bit like dating, where a house swap service plays the equivalent role to a dating agency. It helps you to meet, but the rest is up to you.”
When my husband and I first mentioned to friends that we were exchanging, the reactions ranged from horrified, “You’d let perfect strangers stay in your house?” to excited, “I’ve always wanted to do that!”
One person screwed up his face and asked, “You’ll sleep in a stranger’s bed?” We asked how many strangers had slept in the bed in his last hotel room. Think about it.
Every one of our exchange vacations has been wonderful and the truth of the matter is you connect in a personal way with your exchange person/couple/family. With some, we have developed a close friendship and others we simply keep in touch from time to time but a connection certainly occurs.
Living in a home in a different part of the world, whether it is a foreign land or a different area of your own country, provides a more complete cultural experience than staying in a hotel. You are instantly part of a community and neighbors or friends of your exchange family will have been asked to introduce themselves to you to see if you need assistance with anything. It’s an amazingly friendly and personal process.
Having all the amenities of a house at your disposal makes the travel experience so much easier. This absolutely doesn’t have to mean you are tied to your normal housekeeping chores as you would be at home. However if you feel like eating in, you can. Want to do your laundry (and therefore be able to pack lighter)? Go ahead!
We always make sure that there is someone who will come in and clean the house before we leave so that is not our responsibility and I make the same provision at our end.
When you arrive at your home exchange destination, you will find a detailed booklet put together by the home owner. In this will be every bit of information you might need to know, from a list of important phone numbers to information about appliances, doctors, dentists, shopping, entertainment and attractions.
For families with children the benefits are even greater as there are homes with toys and yards. Car exchanges are often offered and specifics such as non-smoking homes or pet-free or child-free can be requested. On the other side of that, you can also find pet owners looking to swap. There’s something for everyone!
Our longest exchange was two months (September, October) in a beautiful home in the middle of a private vineyard in the Var region of France. We were living in the midst of scenic hills but just a half-hour from the coast.
We even got to help with the grape harvest (at our request). Some of our other exchange holidays were in Portugal, Italy, London, Vienna, California and five in the south of France.
Since I began writing novels set in the south of France, we return there every year and choose to stay in Nice or Antibes. For the past two years we repeated our exchange with the same couple. This year we will spend the last two weeks of June in Arles and the month of July in Antibes.
We have a condo in Toronto and a two-bedroom home with private pool in southeast Florida. We use the latter for our exchanges as Europeans love to visit Florida in summer and that’s when we like to go to Europe. Our exchanges usually are non-simultaneous.
Without getting into all the details here, there are excellent house exchange websites that have been established since long before the Internet. In those days they produced catalogues of their listed properties. With e-mail, the ability to connect is simple and before you ever commit to an exchange you can get to know each other.
Not only do you find compatible homes to exchange, you also meet people who share your values and with whom you will feel confident about exchanging. Interior and exterior photos are shared as well so you can determine if the property is acceptable to you in every way. Comfortable furniture and appealing décor is as important as a lovely exterior.
On their website, HomeLink International offers these words. “Respect. Trust. Caring. Generosity. We understand that these are the foundation for every great home exchange holiday.”
All the websites have FAQ pages and are usually only too happy to answer personally any other questions or concerns. Obviously, the cost of your trip becomes significantly lower when accommodation is free. We have never experienced one problem and find our home as we left it (or possibly even tidier!) when we return.
What I love best about exchanging is that it reaffirms my belief that most people are good and honest and just like you. You will hear these words from the many people on these exchange sites who write about their experiences. Give it a try!
There are many excellent exchange websites, well organized and detailed. Memberships are very reasonable. Some are specialized with regard to age, profession, or culture. Here are a few in no particular order, just to make it easy for you to get started:
HomeLink International – established in 1953 and spanning 27 countries
HomeExchange.com – 39,000+ listings in 143 countries
Seniors Home Exchange – exclusively for the over 50 age group
Intervac Home Exchange – since 1953, over 30,000 listings, 80% in Europe
Home Base Holidays – read their informative home-swappers blog
HomeForExchge.com – excellent intro video
All of our exchanges have been through HomeLink or HomeExchange. Here’s an article to which I contributed in Living France January 2015 and more of your questions may be answered there.
Try Home exchange! Whether it’s a weekend enjoying The Big Apple, a romantic rendezvous in Paris, a month hiking and taking cooking classes in Italy, golfing in Ireland, sailing in New Zealand, visiting relatives wherever, or simply exploring whatever corner of this wonderful world beckons you. Home exchange can enhance your experience and make your dreams affordable.
Live like a local. You might like it!
Have you ever tried a home exchange? What was your experience? What are your biggest fears when it comes to this kind of travel strategy? Please join the conversation.