The apartment in a landmarked building overlooking Amsterdam’s Vondelpark was filled with light, and the music library was to die for. We’d been to Amsterdam once before, but a week in a cramped hotel room in a tourist area hadn’t given us much sense of the city. Now we were locals. We chatted with neighbors on the stairs, shopped at the neighborhood market, became pals with the owner of the café at the corner, hopped on and off streetcars as if it were no big thing. All this cost little more than airfare: We were doing a home exchange. While we were enjoying life in a new city, our exchange partners were settled into our suburban Marin County home.
Amsterdam wasn’t our first home exchange. Over the years, we’ve experienced the benefits of home exchange first-hand, staying in a sprawling apartment in Barcelona, a tiny flat in Paris’s fashionable 7th Arrondissemont, a gorgeous hilltop home in San Miguel de Allende, and comfy vacation home smack on the beach in Santa Barbara. Home exchange is a great way to travel! Here’s why.
Home exchange helps to expand your horizons
On one transatlantic flight my seat partner continually reviewed and re-reviewed hundreds of photos from his whirlwind tour: In five days, he’d photographed the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, London Bridge…all the major tourist sites on his route. That kind of traveling is not for me. I want to taste life in the place I’m visiting. I want to experience a new culture and gain a new perspective. With a home exchange, I get to see what it’s like to live in a neighborhood, learn about a place from a local’s perspective, and connect with people I’d never meet on the top deck of a tour bus, creating memories to savor long after I’ve returned home.
Home exchange helps you save money
When Jeff and I first started traveling, we were severely limited by how long we could be away and how much we could spend. Time is no longer much of an issue, now that Jeff is retired and I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection, but our travel budget is still pretty limited. We still have to pay for airfare and other transportation, and our incidental expenses are usually a little higher because we get out and do more. But home exchange frees up dollars we’d otherwise spend on hotels and restaurants. With free lodging and a kitchen of our own, we can afford to stay longer, travel farther, and do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to do.
Home exchange is more comfortable
Even a small apartment or cottage has more space than a hotel room (unless you can afford the Presidential suite), so you can spread out and put some space between you and your family members. An exchange home is a home, with places to sit and read, a sofa for stretching out, a table for your meals, and space for your clothes and personal items so you don’t have to live out of a suitcase. You might have a deck, patio, balcony or back yard, even a pool. Chances are there will be books, games, DVDs, and, if you exchange with a family, toys for the kids. Best of all, you feel less pressure to be on the go every minute of the day. After all, you have a home in which to relax whenever you need to recharge your batteries.
Home exchange is great for families
Traveling is tiring enough without being squashed into a hotel room with cranky children. Kids need regular meals, naps, and places to run off some of their amazing energy. In your exchange home, you can put the kids to bed, close the door, and relax for the rest of the evening. You may have a washer and dryer so you can keep up with the laundry. When you swap with another family, you’re likely to have toys, cribs, safety gadgets like electric socket covers and stair gates, child-sized furniture, plastic dishware, and more. Best of all, living like a local can expose your kids to new experiences and different ways of doing things.
With home exchange, you get “insider” tips
Most travelers rely on guidebooks and hotel concierges for suggestions about where to eat and what to do. Home exchangers typically share “insider” tips: the best places to shop, favorite restaurants and cafes, where to have your hair cut, out-of-the way museums and sights, hidden walks and bike trails, and more. Your home exchange partner is an on-the-ground guide, offering suggestions for places you’d never know to visit and things you’d never know to do.
Home exchanges help you challenge yourself
My mother’s idea of travel was a cruise ship or a resort on Maui, where everything was provided, predictable, and safe. If that kind of traveling appeals to you, fine. But what I like most about traveling is the challenges and surprises that keep me alert and present, leading to more intense, rewarding experiences and a deeper understanding of myself. Home exchanges not only take you to new, unknown places and present you with different ways of living, they are seldom predictable. They force you to be flexible and expect the unexpected so you can deal with whatever comes your way, from a quirky hot water heater to a last-minute cancellation.
Home exchanges provide the security of knowing your home is being cared for
I am reluctant to leave our home empty for more than a few days. Not only might our houseplants die, I worry that our vacant home will attract the attention of the thieves who are always cruising neighborhoods like ours. Knowing that our home exchange partners will be there to spot a burst water pipe before it causes serious damage (this happened to us!) helps me relax and enjoy my trip. There’s no guarantee that our home exchange partners will care for our home the way we do, but we’ve found that they nearly always do. After all, we’re living in their home, too.
Have you done home exchanges? What do you like most about them?