All Change – Home Swaps Make a Great Holiday

December 17, 2017 European Travel, Features, How to Travel, Travel Blogger Jane Lovatt's Holiday Memoir

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Make London More Affordable with a Home Exchange

Exchange your Home and off you Roam

The View from my Flat at Dusk

If you’re short of cash or like the idea of living like a local, exchanging homes is a great option. You don’t have to pay for accommodation and you walk straight into someone else’s world.

I didn’t want to rent out my flat in Valencia. It’s a delicate period piece, with original wooden doors and windows as well as beautiful floor tiles. It didn’t seem suitable for renting and I was worried that anyone who had paid to stay, might not treat my little treasure with the respect it deserves.

Home Exchange seemed like the obvious way to arrange a holiday. I reasoned that if I was staying in someone else’s home while they stayed in mine, there would be a mutual bond of respect.
So far I have been delighted by my swaps.

I wanted to spend time in London, a very familiar city as I lived there for 30 years. I am lucky enough to be able to stay with a friend, but sometimes I want my own space and to enjoy the charismatic capital as a total tourist.

London hotels are expensive, so swapping my Spanish apartment for boltholes in Bethnal Green, Bloomsbury and Kensal Rise has provided a free and fun alternative to paying out for hotel rooms or renting a flat for an extortionate fee.

I have also enjoyed a week in New York, with another week yet to come. An American couple spent two weeks in my Valencian home as part of a bigger trip to Spain. They kindly agreed that my part of the swap could be split in two so I got two shots at staying on Manhattan, in easy reach of my daughter, who lives in Brooklyn.

My flat is full of charm and character as well as quite a lot of dust, which is hard to eliminate as the windows are old and rickety and it just seems to blow in. I decided the best way to find swappers who could see beyond these minor flaws was to seek out like-minded people. So I turned to my bible, The Guardian, for help. Guardian Home Exchange has worked well for me so far and it’s been interesting to look at the book shelves in my temporary bases and see that we’re all on the same page. We even have the same spices in the cupboards and the same DVDs on the shelf. This has suited me very well. I even met up with one couple who were coming to stay in Valencia. I tentatively mentioned Brexit, but I knew before I finished speaking that we would be of the same mind. So it’s been like extending my network of friends.

How it Works

You have to pay to be on the site but after you have enrolled for one year the price goes down. Initially I paid £95, but the most recent time I paid £49.

You will need good, clear photographs of each room of your home and you can also include pictures of the surrounding area to make your listing as appealing as possible. Information about your home and the area is also required as well as some basic details about yourself. You can include a personal photograph, but you don’t have to.

Once your listing is up on the site, you can look for places/properties where you would like to stay and make offers. You will also receive offers. From there’s it’s up to you negotiate with the various property owners and come to an agreement. You must reply to all offers made, even if you’re not interested. There are different types of swaps and it’s possible to do non simultaneous exchanges if you own two or more properties.

It’s an interesting process but pretty clear to follow once your listing is live. I have had exchange offers from all over the world with chances to stay in some amazing places, far grander than my own simple apartment. But if you don’t particularly want to go to the place in question, it’s not worth the paying the airfare. Next year, I have resolved to be more flexible and adventurous, although I also have a list of destinations I would like to visit.

Do Your Home Work

After you have agreed to swap, there’s fine tuning to be done. How to get the keys, how to get there, what to do when you leave. Some swappers exchange written contracts, but the fact that you will be in each other’s homes is an initial bond of trust.

I have a very thorough and clear list of instructions for my flat and this works well. It stops me worrying about anyone blowing up the cooker and it makes it easy for visitors to get settled in.

I am looking forward to lots of traveling in 2018 with home swapping a key part of my plans.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re flexible and adventurous and you’re interested in tuning into other peoples’ worlds, as you explore the world, it’s worth a try.

Writer and Fellow Swapper Jim Westover gives his view

An exchange of scenery

Me and my partner started home swapping four years ago because we were looking for cheaper ways to escape London than staying in B & Bs. Because when one of you has got a snoring problem – me – and you don’t normally share the same room, it feels like bad economy to go away and pay for a bad night’s sleep.
But it’s not only that no cash changes hands, home exchanges are more than just airbnb without the money, the key is in the word ‘exchange’. You are temporarily exchanging what you have – in our case, a comfortable ex-council flat in Bethnal Green – for what you temporarily need: a taste of rural scenery, or simply the opportunity to see a different part of the country. Or even the world.
My impression is that people come to our place and load up their senses with cultural experiences, like the big museums and galleries, and line their stomach with food from all around the globe. And we usually go to their place to walk and rest. Big long walks in areas we may never of thought of visiting before, places, if not quite off the beaten track, then off the tourist map, where even Premier Inn haven’t yet been. Like lovely Eye in Suffolk, or Newburn in the North East. And both parties are able to afford to treat themselves to a slap-up dinner, because they haven’t had to fork out for accommodation. So everyone’s a winner.
But it’s funny: when you tell people about home swapping, they nearly always think it sounds like a great idea and it’s something they’d like to look into. But they never do, or at least they never end up doing it. Why is that? Perhaps, like those who don’t like the idea in the first place, they’re not keen on having a stranger in their house when they’re not there, or worry what might happen to their stuff. And that’s when we get evangelical: no, it’s all about trust. You’re in their place while they’re in yours. It’s equal. It’s an exchange. It’s everything capitalism doesn’t want us to be: free; trusting; unmaterialistic; not really thinking about security.
And anyway, we do it through The Guardian, and the average profile of our fellow swapees, seems to be, recent retirees who still have a lot of curiosity and energy. But they’re not going to come to your place and have a party. Trust me. We’ve exchanged about ten times already, and every time we’ve come home, our place has been exactly how we left it, except there is probably a card to say what a great time they’ve had. And you get a warm feeling, from the trust you’ve put in your fellow human beings, and from the trust they’ve put in you. And in most cases you’ve never even met. And then you think about planning the next trip.
But you have to be active. The exchanges aren’t necessarily going to fall in your lap. You may have to go digging and send out plenty of emails, before you find something that is mutually beneficial and convenient. And although there is no money involved, there is an unwritten value system at work. I’m not going to go looking for a penthouse in Edinburgh or a place with a pool in the shires, even if I wanted to. When those people come to London they look for posher pads and postcodes. But that’s how it goes. I suppose we all end up finding our level.
And you receive offers that you couldn’t have imagined. We’ve been given the opportunity to exchange in Berlin, Brooklyn and Sydney. And though we weren’t able to take them up. Who knows? Maybe next time we will.

Jim Westover. October 2017.

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