If you’ve been reading Tiffin for any length of time, you will know that Mr Tiffin and I do home exchanges. This is where you go on holidays and stay in another person’s house, whilst they stay in yours. You can also agree to a non simultaneous exchange. We’ve had some absolutely amazing holidays, all over the world. People often ask me about home exchange so I thought I’d share some tips to get you started.
Before I share some tips, I thought I’d respond to the most two common question we’re asked.
‘Why do you do Home Exchange? Isn’t a hotel easier?’
We started exchanging when we were travelling in Europe for 18 months. Home exchanges were a cost-effective way of seeing the sights and sounds of a town in the relative comfort of a house rather than a hotel room. It saved laying out huge wads of money on room rental (which we all know can be better spent on food, wine and theatre…) It was the best thing we could have done and opened up a whole new way of holidaying.
Not only have we been able to travel far and wide on a modest budget, but have also made connections with people that we may not have otherwise encountered. And there are always stories to share. Such as the time a bunch of Spanish octogenarians invited us to dinner in a cave.
Home exchange is about scratching the surface and understanding more about what day to day life is like in another culture.
‘But what if they wreck your home?’
Treat your partner how you would like to be treated. Pack away your grandmother’s dinner set if you don’t want it being used for everyday. If you are worried that exchangers don’t know the right washing power to use, leave a note. Take a common sense approach.
I remind doubters that it’s highly unlikely that people will travel half way around the world, just to damage your house. Of course, the other thing is, whilst they are in your house, you are in theirs. Would you ruin the perfectly nice house you are visiting? No. Well neither will they.
So, let’s get started on those tips!
1. Try a Couple of Sites
Before you sign up to a site/s, do your research. There are many sites around these days. You want to go with one that is reputable, has a long history with home exchanges and, most importantly, has houses in the locations you want to visit.
We used two sites when we were away for 18 months as we needed a wide-spread of options and places to stay. We are back to just one site at present, which is Intervac. They have been going since catalogues were published and letters were exchanged by post! These days, they have a nifty website with lots of properties and experienced exchangers. We had several great exchanges including a week in Barcelona. Don’t spread yourself too thin though as it’s a lot of work to keep multiple listings up to date.
The site we use is based in Europe (with houses all over the world) and, I prefer them to the US based sites. Frankly, people from the US, on the whole, are not great travellers in the wider world. We have been to the US many times but have yet to broker an exchange there – there’s a distinct lack of flexibility – see tip 5.
2. It Takes Time
Don’t expect to send a request to a potential partner one day and hope for an exchange the next. You will send a lot of messages before you find someone who is keen to visit your town on dates that are mutually agreeable. There is nothing wrong with sending unsolicited messages, via the website. If you let people know you’re looking, they’re more likely to visit your homepage and start getting itchy feet as they imagine the possibilities. When you send your introductory message, think about your audience. If you want to visit Europe in winter, use a catchy title. For example: ‘Do you fancy a sub tropical Christmas in Australia?’. Who could resist reading that message? Locking in a confirmed holiday with a formal exchange agreement takes time and lots of conversations back and forth, so be patient.
3. Be Open to Different Destinations & Dates
You may think you want to visit Paris in July but if someone from Piedmont, Italy asks for an exchange in June, you should give it serious consideration. Maybe you can add Paris on at the end, after you’ve exchanged in Italy. Maybe you’ll look for a second swap in Italy and give France the flick altogether.
Of course, everyone wants to stay rent free in Sydney or London or New York but your best chance of an exchange is actually outside the major cities. Let’s face it, most people live in suburbia or small towns and they’re just as keen to exchange as you are.
If it wasn’t for an exchange in the tiny Spanish resort town of Alcossebre in the dead of winter, we would never have had the opportunity to visit the walled city of Morelia or watch the 4pm Fish Market in Peniscola. Every exchange provides unexpected opportunities and memories.
4. Think About How You Can Help Your Partner
Once you’ve agreed on the dates and signed an agreement, it’s time to think about what might be helpful to your partner.
- Do they know how to get from the airport to your house?
- Can you leave some travel cards with a small amount of credit to get them up and running?
- Send them a link to a website about a special event that is happening during their visit that they might be interested in.
It’s common to have a ‘Guide to the House’ to help those who are visiting. We go one step further and send it electronically ahead of time so people can translate it in to their own language if they wish or, ask questions before they arrive. Think about what you would need and do the same for your partners.
The websites have lots of information to guide you through a home exchange. Formal agreements include information about insurance, internet, other costs etc, are also on the site. Think about your requirements and rules and customise accordingly. We always go for a car exchange if possible but realise that it doesn’t suit everyone. (Car exchanges can save hundreds on your overall travel costs).
5. Flexibility is the Key!
I am the absolute master of organisation. I am a Project Manager by trade and like to have everything organised, locked in and in minute detail. But, that’s not always possible in the world of Home Exchange. Exchange partners get sick and can’t travel (but may offer for you to stay at their home whilst they are there); set dates need to be altered due to erupting volcanoes and train strikes; temperature soar to such extremes you need to seek comfort in an air-conditioned hotel.
There’s nothing you can do but just go with it. It’s part of your holiday experience and will make for a great story to dine out on.
Right now, we are in the middle of organising a domestic exchange with Tasmania and can’t wait to see what it holds. Home Exchanges aren’t for everyone but we definitely think it’s worthwhile from both a hip pocket and in our personal enrichment.
Do you have a questions about home exchange? Or your own home exchange story? Leave a message in the comments, to keep the conversation going.
*Looking to fly to Brisbane? Visit Virgin Australia to search for flights. This is an affiliate link – I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) from any purchases made via the link.