all you need to know about
house swapping / Home exchanges!
Looking for a way to make savings on accommodation for your next trip?
Like the experience of living like a local?
Like to know the secret to affordable travel?
Maybe you should consider a house swap or home exchange. The money you save will allow you to stay longer at a destination or travel further. You will live like a local while you're there and get to know your area well.
Paulette Reid and Jon Leach are addicted travelers and have been house swapping since the early 2000s. Here are their top tips and all you need to know for ensuring you have a great house swap experience.
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HOW IT ALL STARTED
I first heard about home swapping from my sister-in-law back in the early 2000s. Back then it was all done by catalogues. You would receive a big catalogue full of hundreds of house swaps. When you found one you liked, you could either phone or email the potential house swappers.
Now it’s much easier. It's all on the internet and you can see plenty of photos of your prospective house swap before secure emailing through the house swapping website.
SHARING THE EXPERIENCE- TRYING IT OUT
At the start, we shared a couple of house swaps with my sister-in-law and her husband in Switzerland and France before venturing into house swapping ourselves. We loved the experience so much we decided that this was an excellent way to travel.
CREATING A LISTING
We took lots of photos of our house, wrote up the description, and chose the places we would most like to travel and before we knew it, we were online and ready to go. The initial set up does take some time and work but after that, it’s just a case of updating your post every now and then as things change.
OUR FIRST AMBITIOUS HOUSE SWAP TRIP
Our first trip, back in 2010, was quite ambitious and took a bit of planning as it involved four swaps. We emailed several places before getting some affirmative replies. Then it was just a matter of dates to stitch the whole thing together.
Portugal, Amsterdam, Scotland, United Kingdom
PORTUGAL & AMSTERDAM
The first swap was a holiday home in Portugal. The woman who owned it lived in Amsterdam so we could go there whenever we wanted. She ended up not coming to our house due to her own personal circumstances but her adult son decided he would come instead. We agreed as he offered us his one-bedroom apartment right in the middle of Amsterdam for a week so we got a bonus- two for one.
After Amsterdam, we flew to Scotland where we had arranged a non-simultaneous swap in Blairgowrie. Understandably they wanted to come to our house on the sunny Gold Coast over their winter, but we did not want to be in Scotland for the Scottish winter, so we agreed for them to stay in our house over the Christmas break while we went to stay with family. Then they too went on their summer holidays when we stayed at their place. It worked out really well.
UK & WALES
From Scotland, we drove to England and stayed in our fourth swap in Nantwich. We got to explore the entire area including Wales while staying there.
LONG LASTING FRIENDSHIPS
All four swaps worked out really well. We hired a car for the Portugal swap, but we didn’t need one in Amsterdam. In both Scotland & England, we were able to use the cars at the properties and they used our car as a reciprocal agreement. We still remain firm friends with both the Scottish and English couple to this day and have done a couple more swaps with them over the past few years.
OTHER HOUSE SWAPS WE HAVE COMPLETED
Since then we have completed house swaps in Melbourne, Hunter Valley, Canada, Japan, Italy, France, Austria, and Ireland. The best one by far was in Barbados where we spent six glorious weeks in the holiday home of a couple who live in America. They said they hardly ever used their place in Barbados so it was ours for as long as we wanted. They could only manage to spend a week in our house but they didn’t mind at all that it was an uneven swap.
$$$$ Another option to save lots of money on accommodation and live like a local is to do house sitting. Maybe you don't have a house to swap or are not comfortable having strangers in your home.
House sitting may suit you better
BARBADOS WAS CERTAINLY ONE OF THE favorite HOUSE SWAPS.
HOUSE SWAP ADVANTAGES
There are many advantages of house swapping once you can get over the idea of having complete strangers being in your home. By the time you actually get to do the swap they are no longer strangers as you would have exchanged many emails and sometimes video calls, so you have a real sense of who they are. Plus there is that mutual trust as you are in each other’s homes.
A big advantage of house swapping is the obvious cost factor. Accommodation is one of the most expensive parts of any holiday plus you may also have the use of their car although that is not always a given.
LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
The other huge advantage is that you get to experience living like a local. You can wander down to the local bakery every day, wave to the neighbors, and shop in the local supermarkets. You can really explore the area you are living in, go for long day drives or travel further and stay overnight somewhere.
A VARIETY OF WAYS TO HOUSE SWAP.
There are many different ways of swapping, from simultaneous to non-direct, maybe to a holiday house or their house, you may have a car or not, you can stay for a few days to months depending on the circumstances and what each one wants to do. You will soon find the perfect swap to best suit your needs.
GOLDEN RULE: MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CLEAR
When you are arranging your swap make your expectations perfectly clear and cover as much as you can in terms of what you want, times, dates, conditions, etc. Some people like to draw up a contract so there will be no misunderstandings and include things such as dates, number of people, if a car is involved or not, and insurance details, how you will pick up the keys, if transport is available from the airport or train station, what areas of the house are unavailable, are there any pets involved, cleaning the house afterward, if you have to mow the lawns- well you get the idea.
OOPS! SOMETIMES THINGS DON'T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
We came unstuck when we had arranged to swap with a couple from France. They had approached us for the swap and we agreed. We did a video call and sent several emails and they seemed nice enough.
They had a large four-bedroom double story house so we asked my 84-year-old mother if she would like to join us in France. We have never had a problem in the past with bringing an extra person. On one occasion we had six of us stay in a house swap and the same with guests staying in our house. We would, of course, let them know beforehand and in this case, I had emailed the French couple to ask if it was ok but didn’t get a response from them before they came to our house.
Their expectations of us were far greater than any we had ever experienced before. We were not going to be there before they arrived as we had booked a two-month cruise which left three weeks before their arrival date. They seemed very put out that we would not be there to greet them and asked who was going to pick them up from the train station. We have always arranged our own transport to the house swap houses, as has everyone else we dealt with, so we were surprised by this request. Not wanting to upset them we arranged for a friend of ours to pick them up, even though it was 9 pm at night.
The house had been empty for three weeks but they were expecting food in the fridge for them and complained of being hungry. Our friend dug around the freezer and came up with something they could have. Once again we never expect to have food provided for us on arrival and neither had any guests who came to our house.
The next problem was our cat! The wife had not expected a cat even though I had listed our cat on our site. I suspect that the husband knew, as he had done the arrangements, and not told her. This was a problem as she didn’t like cats and wanted it gone. Our poor, very spoilt, affectionate cat could not understand why she was suddenly being rejected! Once the wife had got used to the idea of the cat they settled down a bit.
The last problem was they wanted someone to take them to the bus station when they left. The bus didn’t leave until 2 am so needless to say none of my friends or family were willing to take them to the bus station in the middle of the night even though this couple rung them all several times asking for this to be done. There were taxis and Uber available and once again this was not an expectation we had ever had to deal with before.
We were due to stay at their house several months later so just after they left our house I emailed again to ask about my mother coming to France. It took several emails and I even emailed the site administrators as I couldn’t get a reply before they finally came back and they said she absolutely could not stay. We were welcome to stay but my 84-year-old mother had to stay in a hotel because only two of them had stayed in our house so only two of us could stay at theirs. We couldn’t believe it as this had never happened before. In contrast, our next swap was in Vienna in a small one-bedroom apartment but the swappers there were only too happy for Mum to stay there too. We learned the hard way that the clarification of expectations was very important.
Aside from that, over the years we have made long term friends whom we continue to see and have experienced places we would not have got to see otherwise. We have had many requests to swap in places we hadn’t even thought of but it got us thinking. Apart from minor breakages, we have never had a problem with our house, and each time it has been left clean & tidy. In return, we have done the same.
JAPAN WAS ANOTHER REALLY INTERESTING HOUSE SWAP EXPERIENCE
HOUSE SWAP WEBSITES
We use the website which is currently in the process of merging with . We are unsure how this new site will work out, but once travel restrictions are lifted I’m sure we will find out. Good luck and happy home swapping.